June 26, 2012

Queer Reflections On Pride

San Francisco Muni Buses Promote Equality!
San Francisco Muni Buses Promote Equality!

By Roy Steele

This year’s gay pride parade in San Francisco, by most accounts, was a smashing success. I don’t know what people experienced in other parts of the country, but exuberant optimism was in the rarefied air. The feeling was palpable and exciting, and it made navigating the crowds at the parade and celebration, more tolerable than in years past.

I’ve been to countless pride parades in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  I haven’t attended a New York pride parade in a long time, but after looking at a lot of Flickr photos of both events, it looked like the exuberance wasn’t limited to the left coast.


When I was living in New York in the nineties, pride had become very grim. The gay community was decimated by the AIDS epidemic, and the pride parade was an enormous political protest march. I appreciated that the political nature of the parade was necessary. It was important to stand in solidarity with our community, just as it is today, but there were times when it was difficult and immensely sad. I never made it through those parades, without shedding more than a few tears for the absent friends lost to the virus, largely caused by the havoc that was wrought on our community by bigotry and homophobia.

Act-Up  New York City Pride Parade 1990's

There is still a political purpose to our pride parades, and I hope that during my lifetime, after we achieve full equality in the eyes of our governmental institutions, and the law, that we can spend the day that marks the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, as a day full of nothing but celebration.

Act-Up  New York City Pride Parade 1990's
I visited Australia with my friends Bob and Kevin a number of years ago, for their Mardi Gras celebration, and Australians know how to put on a party and a parade. Mardi Gras in Sydney is the Aussie equivalent of what we call gay pride in Western Europe and the United States. The parade was held on a Saturday night, and televised across the country. It was so much fun, and filled with so much humor, that you couldn’t help but be caught up in the festivities and enjoy yourself.

When we watched the Sydney parade, we were seated in a grandstand. I was shocked at the number of straight families surrounding us, with their picnic baskets, strollers, and toddlers. I remember asking a woman sitting nearby with her family, why they came to the parade. She looked at me incredulously, and said she’d been going to the parade for years. She said urban Aussie’s considered Mardi Gras to be a big holiday jubilee, that straight and gay people celebrated alike.

On Sunday, I saw quite a few LGBT and straight families lined up along Market Street, to watch the parade. A few dads had toddlers perched on their shoulders, and some moms were holding rainbow flags. They cheered when the dykes on bikes rode past, and after former mayor Willie Brown passed us, a visiting mom asked me if Willie was a drag king or queen. I laughed pretty hard at that one,  and said “no, Willie is our colorful former mayor. I’m sure Willie would have no problem being a drag queen, if he was looking for your vote.”



Pride 2012
Standing in the bright sun we smiled at each other, caught up in the unabashed exuberance of the crowds, and the spirit of the day. After the parade was over, my feet were aching, my nose was sunburned, and I was feeling tired. I had gotten separated from my friends, and the lovely mom who’d asked about the old hizzoner Willie Brown, so I decided to head home.

Smiling exuberantly and breathing the rarefied air of optimism made my day. I hope that reading about it here, made your day too.

Happy Pride for yesterday, today and in the future!










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