This Sunday is the Gay Pride Parade in NYC. It's my favorite of all parades and I love the message of inclusion and fun. I know it's not just "fun" for everyone, but is cathartic. I have friends who faced unbelievable challenges for simply being themselves and having the courage to live their lives honestly. My beloved John told me that he was called a "fucking faggot" on Fifth Avenue in NYC (and not just by me!)
Last weekend, my BFF P.K. participated in Spartanburg, South Carolina's first ever gay pride march. Even more impressive, she organized it. I know how hard she'd worked on it for a good part of a year and I'm just so proud that I am smart enough to be friends with someone who not only talks a good game (like me), but who actually got something done.
Because for me, a gay pride parade is a gorgeous party. For someone else, it's a lifeline.
P.K. generously agreed to blog about it. Here it is:
On June 20, 2009, the town where I live (Spartanburg, SC) had its very first gay pride march. More than 100 protesters, mostly from area churches, lined the streets holding Bibles and signs. For a group of straight men (there were very few women and children among the protesters), they seemed unduly concerned with sodomy. Weird.
But the marchers were the real story. More than 500 gay, straight, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, intersex, and maybe a couple of people lying somewhere else along the sexuality spectrum, lined up in 97-degree heat, awaiting the word that it was 11 a.m. and time to take our first steps into the streets of downtown Spartanburg. The joy on our faces and the energy that buzzed around us was in sharp contrast to the dour look of the protesters, many of whom were wearing dress shirts and ties. Looking later at the photographs, I thought they looked like they were all from 1962. (Marinka, however, thought they all looked like pedophiles. Yes, she’s even funny in other people’s columns.)
If you live in a place like New York or San Francisco or Key West, you probably can’t understand what this gay pride march meant to the people in my area. I can’t even say my “town,” because people came from all over the state, along with a few from other states. Heck, if you live in places a lot less gay than New York or San Francisco or Key West, you probably can’t comprehend what a momentous occasion this was. I live in a place where Christian undertones are everywhere. The largest club at my son’s high school is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. One of the first questions people ask newcomers is, “What church do you go to?” There’s prayer at school sporting events and before the local school board meetings. And lest there’s some confusion, these prayers are made in Jesus’ name, Amen.
A couple of days before the march, the local newspaper ran an online poll asking, “Do you object to the gay pride march scheduled for Spartanburg?” The result showed that 60.8% were against it, and 36.9% were in favor of it (2.3% were unsure). Even more interesting was that 834 votes were cast in the poll, by far the most number of votes received in one of their polls for as far back as the archives showed. Gays are a hot button in this area of South Carolina.
How did I -- a 50-year old happily married straight woman and mother of four straight (as far as I know) children -- wind up as the chair of the organizing committee of this historic event? It started as a joke. I’m a member of an ultra-liberal church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spartanburg, which is an absolute oasis of liberal religion in this All-Christ-All-The-Time area. Following a two-year program educating our congregation about GLBT issues, we were looking for ways to expand our ideals into the community at large. In November of 2008, four of us were sitting around a table in the Fellowship Hall early one Sunday morning, and during the meeting I said, “How about a gay pride parade?” We all laughed, because it was ridiculous, of course – a gay pride parade in Spartanburg? Yeah, right. A couple of minutes later, though, I said, “Why NOT a gay pride parade? Has it ever been done here?” (Duh, it hadn’t.) From there, the four of us agreed to investigate what was involved in getting a permit, and we started putting together a database of names of groups and individuals we thought might be interested in participating in such an event. As I said at the introduction to the Festival that followed the march, “Some people said it couldn’t be done. Some people said it shouldn’t be done. But we at Upstate Pride said it must be done, because like our theme for this year says, The Time for Pride is NOW.”
One story from the event explains exactly why The Time for Pride is NOW: As people were lining up in the church parking lot for the march, a 17-year old high school student was dropped off by her father. She was alone and seemed nervous, so I started talking to her and introduced her to my two daughters. She said that she doesn’t have any friends at school and that her family doesn’t understand her. She participated in the march and then stayed for the festival, which featured live entertainment, speakers, food vendors, retail vendors, and non-profit booths. Towards the end of the festival, as she was getting ready to call her dad and ask him to come pick her up, she told me that spending the day at the march and festival was the first day she remembered being happy in her whole life. That’s why Spartanburg needed this.