July 06, 2007
V 35 Issue 27

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Tuesday, Aug 11, 2020



Gay Pride Day
Gay Pride Day
by Janice Van Cleve

It was a surreal moment. There I was, typing the names and e-mails of a whole host of archeologists into my database from business cards I had picked up from the III International Maya Congress in Honduras where I had spent the week before. These were leading men and women in the fields of anthropology, archeology, epigraphy, statistics, history, and other social sciences whose work is exploding our knowledge of the Mayan civilization.

The first Congress was in 1946 and the second was not called until 2001, so this third one was a major event. The Ministry of Tourism spared no expense. We enjoyed state of the art equipment, comfortable accommodations, free food and drinks, and very stimulating presentations and round tables.

The cocktail parties with wide-open bars were fun as well and a great place to continue discussions. So here I was, entering the contact information from all these incredibly brilliant and friendly people into my database when I was disturbed by a loud noise.

There was a roar or a rumble coming from outside. At first I thought it was construction or maybe an airplane. I kept working in the hopes that it would go away but it just got louder and more persistent. I went out on the deck to see what it could be. It was only then I realized that what I was hearing was the Dykes On Bikes roaring up and down Broadway for the opening of Gay Pride Day.

I was stunned. How could it possibly be that I was standing here on my deck when the most important day of my Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered (LGBT) year was occurring just four blocks away? How could it be that I was not there, marching in one of the contingents?

After all, I have been marching in the Seattle Gay Pride Parade every year since 1988. I've been a member of many of the organizations that proudly carry their banners down the street. For that matter, I founded some of those organizations, and I've been an officer in several more. In my first parade, I marched with Dignity, the Catholic Gay & Lesbian organization. I have marched with the Legal Marriage Alliance, with Timberline, with various political groups, and I even marched on my own behalf when I ran for office.

Gay Pride Day was an important, even central, date on my calendar. How in the world could I have forgotten it this year completely?

It used to be that I would get up early on Gay Pride Day. I'd shower and eat and hurry to get out on the street where the units were assembling. It was such fun to go from group to group meeting people and recognizing old friends. It was a gathering of our family. Whatever differences we had during the year, this was our day to come together as one people.

What color and variety we LGBT people display! Drag queens and diesel dykes, activists and anarchists, flamboyant exhibitionists and study veterans in military uniforms-we are a kaleidoscope of the human race. I'd stand at the corner blocking the Christian hate mongers with their "God Hates Fags" signs and wait for my group to pass so I could join in. As I would walk down the street, I reveled in the hugs and greetings from friends along the sidewalks. It was always a day full of joy.

Gay Pride Day in Seattle is marked on the last Sunday in June. It commemorates that fateful birthday of the Gay Liberation Movement in New York City on June 28, 1969. The cops were raiding the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street near Greenwich Village on a sultry summer night. This time the drag queens fought back and the crowd joined in. Bottles and coins were thrown and a riot lasting five days ensued. It was the first time that Lesbians and Gays stood up for themselves against oppression by the government. It was the beginning of a movement that is now reaping official recognition and respect for ourselves as persons, as citizens, and as couples all around the world.

In fact, I even visited the Stonewall Inn back in May 2002. It was like a pilgrimage to a holy site. The bar is still there - grungy, dirty, dark, and with sticky floors. I was tempted to order a beer just to drink one in the place, but I thought better of it for hygiene's sake. Instead I sat in the little triangular park just outside the bar. There are two statues there, bronze pairs of people holding hands: a Lesbian couple and a Gay male couple. I sat there and tried to project back thirty-three years to that historic night. I wasn't having any luck, when a young female sat beside me on the park bench. She was a teacher from Long Island here for the same purpose as I was: a pilgrimage. We came out to each other and enjoyed a blissful, relaxing afternoon here at the Bunker Hill of sexual independence.

So how can it be that just five years later, I could so completely blow off this day of days? Part of it has to do with, I'm sure, the pestilential, petty squabbling rampant in Seattle's LGBT community. We used to have just one parade, and it was mainly a political protest, demanding equality. We protested because we were challenged by hateful initiatives, AIDS, and a gutless state legislature. We were pounded by the Catholic church and right wing fanatics. Lesbians and Gays were being bashed and even killed for being the way their God created them.

Some of that hasn't changed. We still have bashings right here on Capitol Hill and AIDS is still with us. We are still the scapegoats of religious fundamentalist hatred and we are still not equal. We still have laws to change and hearts and minds to win. Yet we have made great strides in anti-viral medicines, non-discrimination, and marriage and those are certainly worth a celebration. And we still have many of our people in the closet who benefit from this one moment to be out and open and happy to be who they are. There is still a need for a day to be Gay and proud!

The problem is, Seattle now has three parades and two festivals vying for attention! We have corporate sponsors and star performers. Our money now pays for entertainment instead of political action. The competition of multiple events and purposes severely dissipates the unity that Gay Pride Day was supposed to celebrate. It scatters us when this is the only day of the year when we are supposed to come together as one.

I suppose that I have evolved as well. The organizations with which I am involved today have nothing to do with sexual orientation. My priorities are focused more on the best use of my time and energy than on some external cause or agenda. I am accepted and welcomed in the mainstream on my own credentials, and not as a member of any group. So, I guess my pride comes from within and is no longer in need of a parade to evoke it.

Still, I felt a twinge of nostalgia as I heard the Dykes On Bikes thunder by and listened to the cheers of the crowd. I could even hear the loudspeakers at the Seattle Center the next day and thought about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered people and their friends and allies having fun and celebrating their diversity. I hope that next year we can get our act together and rally around one parade, one set of speakers, and one party. Either that, or acknowledge that we have mainstreamed as a community and demand our place in all the other parades in Seattle neighborhoods all year long.

Janice Van Cleve is a writer and veteran lesbian activist in Seattle.


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