New York City Pride: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

New York City Pride is an orgy of rainbows, half naked bodies, hot pavement, the smells of bodies and melting condoms, and a cacophonous soundtrack of house music, screaming, and chanting. It never calls itself a parade, but always a march for equality. It was expected that Pride 2015 would be an intensely felt one, and it was. Why, then, in the aftermath, do I feel so sad?

Those who keep track of such things have said that 2015 was New York’s most-attended Pride march in its forty-five-year history. More than two million people flocked to the march route, standing five, ten, twenty, twenty-five people deep in the more popular sections of the route. Before the march, the organization responsible for putting Pride together, Heritage of Pride, estimated, based on the numbers each participating organization registered with, that 25,000 people would march. I would imagine that that number would be revised significantly upward.

I marched this year, as I do every year, with the non-profit organization my partner founded, the CUNY LGBT Task Force. This year, we joined forces with the larger City University contingent. We had a pretty substantial turnout, even though a lot of my friends bailed because of a light drizzle.

The police department went out of their way to protect and celebrate with the queer community, a stark contrast to the way things were during Stonewall. That the police could improve relations with our community, even only for a day, is possibly more progress than marriage equality. The police installed and maintained barricades to separate the marchers from those watching. This has been done for every parade in New York City since 9/11, a precaution to protect everyone. They maintained those barricades when appropriate, ignored infringement upon the barricades when young queer people hopped over to join the university’s contingent at the request of one of us, even danced with several marchers (there are photos and videos all over the internet of various cops doing this, it’s pretty priceless).

The March’s organizers made Edie Windsor, the eighty-something plaintiff of 2013’s Supreme Court win, the repeal of DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act), a judge. It was sort of incredible to see her. Several of the people in my marching contingent ran to take selfies with her. She wore a pale blue t-shirt with black lettering that read: “This is what a lesbian looks like.” I think it was a nice gesture, albeit one only politically-aware people would truly appreciate. Sirs Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi were the grand marshals, which was adorable, although I wish they’d chosen American grand marshals for this particular Pride.

Everyone, marchers and watchers alike, was incredibly excited to be there. People cheered and screamed until they lost their voices. They jumped and danced until their feet blistered. People kissed, hugged, and celebrated with complete strangers. The human connectedness of Pride was beautiful, as it usually is, amplified by an exponent of ten. But it wasn’t all beauty and body glitter.

One of the things that vexes me most about Pride is how corporate it has become. Sure, it’s kitschy and cute. Sure, many of the corporations that bring their floats through Pride give out freebies and discount coupons for their stores. That’s all well and good. In fact, Chipotle handed out coupons for buy-one-get-one-free burritos, tank tops reading “homo estas,” and buttons that say “I eat burritos” and “I eat tacos” (a little food-based sexual humor is always good in my eyes). Yes, all fine. However, the primary drive of a corporation at Pride is to court the queer community, especially white, cis, gays with a lot of disposable cash. They’re there to post lip service to their ‘commitment to diversity’ and line their pockets. In many cases, they don’t want trans or queer people even frequenting their places of business, as it ‘scares’ the normal people away.  Now, I’m probably being a little harsh. Some of these companies probably do believe they are helping us by being there. Regardless, their reasons for being there are selfish, not truly for our benefit.

What we now know as New York City Pride began in 1970 as the Christopher Street Liberation March. As the name suggests, it was a march to memorialize the Stonewall riots and to demand equal protection and rights. From its very inception, this march was political. During the AIDS crisis, the march was funereal. People ‘fornicated’ on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. People were arrested for waltzing up to the line of propriety and daring to cross it. Pride has always been political. The Pride of today has become something else entirely. Floats are very common; floats are for celebratory parades. Pride is not a parade. We are not zoo animals, or purebreds on show. We are human beings. We are human beings who are treated as less than by society. We march for visibility, we march to prove a point. We take to the streets to demand equal treatment. The goal in our hearts, at least in the hearts of activists, has not changed since 1970. The priorities may have, but the fire has not.

Part of me thinks that my generation has just realized that in New York City, anyone can legally walk around topless. In my contingent alone, there were eight topless 18-24-year-old girls. This is not a problem. In fact, I am so for that on multiple (mostly political, I swear) levels. The way they were received was disturbing. Men, presumably straight, touched, attempted to lick, and overwhelmingly photographed their breasts without consent. They handled it extremely calmly, but this is so fucked up. These types of things also happened to the twinks we had with us. My best friend was groped more times than he was comfortable with. What the fuck? Pride is not the place to sexually assault and harass people, especially people as young as college students. This is not what Pride is for. Consensual sexual play, absolutely. Harassment? No. Straight people, this is not a place for you to ogle queer people. You’re not edgy or queer for this behavior. You’re gross.

Worse than corporate intrusion, sexual harassment, and straight appropriation, though, is the rampant transphobia. If I had a dollar for every time I heard the t-word while marching the two-miles of New York City Pride, I could put off my job search for a month or two. Straight, as well as LGB, people were yelling at drag queens and speaking amongst themselves as to how Pride isn’t for the trans community. I overheard a few people bullying a young trans boy who was watching the march, a trans pride flag draped over the barricade. I, as a trans person, did not feel safe or welcome.

Collective amnesia is a helluva thing. Stonewall was spearheaded by really brave trans women, drag queens, and butches, mostly of color, and both the trans/gender non-conforming and POC communities have largely been dropped from the mainstream eye on LGBTQ issues. If it hadn’t been for the bravery of incredible role models like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson, there would be no same-gender marriage. There would be no non-discrimination bills. I urge the A+ gay community to remember that before screaming the word tr*nny on the corner of Christopher and Greenwich Streets.

Pride is political. Pride is a time to push boundaries, to raise awareness. Pride is not a time for silence. There is more colors to the rainbow than red, and there is more to fight for than marriage. We have to continue the fight and resist the urge to turn everything into a glittery party.

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4 thoughts on “New York City Pride: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

  1. To sum up your post in one word: Unapologetic. I never actually attended the parade only the ruthless aftermaths. This year I completely decided to stay in and sleep through the shenanigans before work. Maybe next year I will give it a swing…

  2. When people talk about the issues surrounding big city Prides like this one, I like to point out (as a source of comfort, I mean) that smaller Prides aren’t like this. My city’s Pride is only about two city blocks, has no parade, no naked people, and only a handful of entertainers throughout the event (all musicians, I believe). Tacoma Pride is 100% a way to bring the community together and give folks from all walks of life a chance to connect with community resources. Sure, there are a few corporate booths – MultiCare, BECU, banks, etc – but even those tend to be organizations that really truly do support the community. The rest of the booths are local businesses, non-profits, and churches, all of whom are there to show support, not make money. It’s really a wonderful experience, totally family friendly (if you skip the S&M store’s booth and Hustler Hollywood), and feels inclusive. I’ve only been once, and this year I’ll be wearing a shirt that says “Proud Ace, Proud Queer” so we’ll see if that inclusion extends to people like me. But I just want you to know that not all Pride festivals have become, well, excuses for massive partying.

  3. Wow. Wow. That is so messed up. Since I didn’t see any of the sexual harrassment and transphobia during my experience at pride, for me it was overwhelmingly positive; it’s important to keep in mind that that is not everyone’s experience. Dyke March on Saturday was a more radically inclusive and political experience; even though I was so excited about pride because I could see on some marchers’ faces how they were finally getting celebrated for something that can cause (and has caused) them so much shame, and even though the homophobes are a small minority, the transphobia and sexism still persists, which is what Dyke March was about. Thanks for bringing up this less shiny corporate side of things.

    1. I typically don’t go to Dyke March for worries of appropriative behavior (since I don’t identify as female/lesbian and never have). Perhaps I’ll give it a go next year, though.

      I think that I had a pretty unique vantage point for the Pride March, since I was in it with a very diverse group of people; I was also carrying a banner, so I wasn’t able to run around and could get an interesting objective panorama view.

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