I'm gay. Unapologetically, unashamedly, praying-for-a-husbandly gay.
But I've never marched in a Pride parade.
When I tell this to my gay friends, they get confused and sometimes even angry.
"But you're gay," they remind me. "Why wouldn't you march?" It's a no-brainer to them. I should march because my community is marching.
Let me say outright that I believe there are many good reasons to participate in public demonstrations against inequality and injustice. In the wake of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969, the gay community was absolutely justified in organizing a Pride parade to draw attention to their struggle. The march was to be an annual reminder of the ongoing conflict between gays and the mainstream culture that wanted to make them invisible. To show they would not be forced into silence, the LGBT community took to the streets, parading in front of government buildings, churches, schools and post offices, announcing their presence to those who denied their existence or legitimacy. "We are here, and we are numerous," they chanted. One of the original goals of Pride was, in a word, visibility.
There's a certain sense in which these early marchers succeeded. Turn on the television, search a hashtag, browse your Facebook newsfeed: the LGBT community is not — repeat, we are not — invisible. That fact was made more than plain in this week's Supreme Court decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and restoring the right to marriage equality in California — something that would have been inconceivable not long ago. I'm not sure it's necessary to take to the streets of Baltimore to announce my presence to a world that already knows I'm here.
But surely there are other reasons to march. What about dignity? Maybe I should have marched in Pride to show that I have dignity as a gay man. But if that's the reason to march, then some of the goings-on of the parade confuse me. It would be hard for me to convince my parents that I take pride in myself were I to march down their block in butt-less chaps and high-heels. I mean, in the proper contexts, sure, those things can be great, campy fun, and I understand the value of celebrating the queerness of queer. But I don't know that those things are really helping me make the case to my parents that gay people, too, have traditional family values.
Whether or not these marches are actually typified by hypersexual antics, the point remains that those on the outside looking in sometimes see it that way. We can't just say, "So what? Who cares what your parents think about Pride?" because isn't that missing the point? While there certainly is a fraternal component to Pride, it seems to me that the event is designed to be a public statement — if not, then why have a parade in the first place?
I raised a similar point to a friend who was angry that I didn't go to Pride events. He told me that I didn't know what Pride was all about and that I was buying into homophobic views of the parade. He told me I should have come and experienced the diversity of our dynamic community and networked with gay-friendly organizations, vendors, churches and political lobbyists. I told him I was encouraged to hear these things were happening at Pride because, judging from the several hundred photos he put up on Facebook, I assumed Pride didn't have much else to offer me besides shirtless men in neon beads getting their abs fondled by drag queens. He thought about it for a second and then told me that maybe his Facebook pictures were misleading. (He also told me — and I quote — "maybe next year I will wear pants that cover my cheeks.")
One of the things I'm trying to do is to remind my friends on the political right that they don't own the market on traditional family values. I, too, desire to be in a committed, loving, monogamous marriage and to raise children to love God and their neighbors, to be productive members of society, to work for social justice, and to march against oppression when necessary. I understand that this is a personal goal and that different gay people have different aspirations. By not marching, I'm not downplaying their goals; I'm just trying to remain faithful to mine.
If my point to my conservative friends is that "we're the same," then I don't want to participate in an event that seeks to highlight how countercultural I am. In this way, not marching is a conscientious decision for me: I'm making a strong statement for gay equality, but I'm going about it in a different way. I think there is a subversive power in living out my gay life in a way that seeks to emphasize the common ground I share with straight communities.