Being part of (or even just watching) the Gay Pride Parade in New York City was never considered an extraordinarily cool thing to do. In fact, very few of the self-proclaimed fabulous people I'd regularly encounter in Gotham after dark would be caught dead at it. It was considered declasse, it was too early, and no one wanted to be seen in daylight. Plus, the idea of bonding with LGBT community members you didn't know seemed totally pointless to the terminally jaded. But from the second I burst out of the closet in tap shoes, I was always there -- sweating my ass off and waving like a Queen on a float for the Pyramid Club; shaking the hands of politicos and Stonewall survivors; ogling go-go boys shimmying to the inevitable Weather Girls song; and taking in the glory of the after-event, where you could roam the Village and schmooze, cruise, and learn.
In 2017, when we have more rights and visibility than ever, many gays feel assimilated and don't want to be part of this ritualized experience, which they feel is a ghettoized throwback to a darker time. But just as I treasure LGBT media (created by LGBTs for LGBTs) because the point of view is so vital and appreciated, I also value the chance to get together with my sisters and brothers and celebrate our connection, which is actually more crucial than ever. Where else can gay men, bisexuals, lesbians, transgender people and our supporters all come together, with flashy outfits and important messages? The parade becomes a flamboyant excuse for a sort of mass symposium, and it's important to spend the day reuniting.
Ah, the memories. Way back in 1987, I pranced around the Village with a friend on Gay Pride Day, as documented by videographer Nelson Sullivan. (The clip is on YouTube, for all the world to see.) At one point, a solitary float -- a flashy if homemade looking promotion for the LGBT Center -- rode up an avenue, somewhat outside the parade route, and spotting it was a Felliniesque moment of surreal beauty for me. As the music blared, my friend and I started impulsively dancing to the beat, then zanily chased the float to try and be part of it. "That was the entire Gay Pride Parade," I cracked, as the flatbed truck rode away into the distance. "That's all that's left after everybody's dead," replied my friend, poignantly.
On a lighter note, one Pride Day in the '90s, I met a guy who was clearly just coming out of the closet and enjoying the day of unity. He even came on to me, which was ridiculously exciting! (And I chalked it up to him being new at this and not knowing anything. But the communal jolt provided by Pride can be very sexy.)
The parade has long been there to memorialize people we lost to HIV (or hate crimes) and to also preach safer sex and awareness. And on a glitzier note, celebs have been a part of the mix, from Cyndi Lauper (who was yay-gay well before most famous people considered such a thing) and RuPaul, who had a float in the '90s, the first time she was famous and drawing crowds.
This year, as always, I will be there, dancing, cheering, and not only glowing, but not being afraid to let it show.
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