Should we take gay pride parades seriously?

| Forum Editor

Last week in Serbia, the Serbian government canceled the national gay pride parade, despite warnings from a European Union caucus that the cancellation would harm their entry into the EU. While this comes as no surprise (given Serbia’s history with progressive issues) this case seems unique, and one that directly relates back home: How seriously should we take gay pride parades?

Whether in the United States or in any country, the purpose of gay pride parades is to raise awareness and money for HIV research, as well as to promote acceptance of homosexual activity across the nation.

As far as fundraisers go, the gay pride parades are great: They make quite a large contribution toward funding extremely important research that aims at finding a cure to a deadly disease.

However, when it comes to promoting acceptance of homosexual activity, all I can see is the exact opposite. The problem with gay pride parades as I (and I think to some extent, Serbia) see it is that they’re too extreme. Since this opens the floor for all sorts of attacks on my character and intent, I’ll make myself clear: I don’t think that gay pride parades should or should not be run a specific way, nor am I trying to attack the gay and lesbian community. Rather, I think that if the community’s goal with the pride parades is to raise awareness and acceptance of non-heterosexual lifestyles, the way gay pride parades are set up is at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive.

On the rare opportunity that I get to catch the Chicago gay pride parades, I don’t find myself watching for too long. The amount of blatant, overt and offensive sexuality makes it hard for me to take the gay pride parade as anything other than attention seeking (and perhaps rightfully so, since at heart, the parades do provide plenty of charity money). However, it’s hard to have a calm, rational discourse that clearly explicates the position of your interest group when the members involved look like they came straight out of a porno.

While everyone does have a right to their own lifestyle choices, if the goal of the gay and lesbian community is to gain acceptance within mainstream culture, it’s a terrible idea to shock and offend those very same people you wish to persuade to support you. If anything, all the shock factor serves to do is reinforce the negative and false stereotype that gays and lesbians are wild, immoral sex fiends.

Instead, I think this would be a better approach: Have a parade with completely gay and lesbian people, dressed as they would dress to go about their daily lives, and put an emphasis on their work and home life, their interests, their hobbies.

The best way to remove the social stigma of homosexuality is to show people that gays and lesbians are real people, with texture and substance—not mere caricatures of weird, abnormal freaks. Of course, this doesn’t only extend to the parades themselves: This message should be carried by homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Gays and lesbians are people too and fairly well adjusted people at that.

Of course, all of this could just be seen as enforcing heteronormativity and marginalizing the voices of minority subcultures. Perhaps this is just an “Uncle Tom” approach to appease those who seek to oppress the gay and lesbian communities. These points are valid, but ultimately there will be no gay pride parade in Serbia. My emphasis is on the goal: If homosexuals are okay with being unfairly stigmatized for their behavior, they should express their individuality and solidarity as social groups in any way, shape or form. However, I’m sure that at least some people are sick of being treated unfairly and simply want to be treated normally. If that’s the case, the closed-minded, ignorant population isn’t going to change all by itself—it has to come from within the community itself. Consider this an outsider’s view.

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  • Anonymous

    What disturbs me even more about these pride parades is that anytime anyone even simply disagrees with the obnoxious image the parades are sometimes creating, many people go and pull the “homophobe” card and try to label that person as a closed-minded hate monger. That kind of response is just a cop-out to evade the responsibility of their actions and the consequences that follow. Remember, you can’t force other people to accept your sexuality on a personal level. Getting to the point where you viciously attack even peaceful disagreement only makes you as the bad as the people who viciously attack you just for being a homosexual.

    Disliking the parades does not automatically mean a person is intolerant of homosexuality. I know homosexuals who also do not agree with these pride parades. They are tired of being associated with events that paint them with an image of sex-crazed lunatics having no self-control.

  • jenni

    “I’d rather see a gay pride parade where they showed the sexual side, but not only the sexual side”

    I am from San Francisco, and have attended a number of LGBT Pride Parades. In addition to a celebratory display of homosexuality, and this does entail flamboyant costumes, dancing, etc., that seems to offend you, there are a number of people that represent themselves as what you would call normal. For example, LGBT police officers march in uniform and families with same-sex parents march with their children in strollers. Clearly you have never been to a pride parade. Perhaps you should take your issues up with the media outlets that choose to show only the provocative aspects of the parade. Better yet, as a reporter, attend one for yourself and report on the many diverse aspects of the parade. That said, pride parades aren’t a meant to be an intellectual debate about what it means to be human. They are meant to be a celebration of a very diverse community in which many members are proud of their sexuality and want to display this very aspect of their identity that they have been marginalized for.

  • Anon

    Who said that “the goal of the gay and lesbian community is to gain acceptance within mainstream culture?” Gay pride parades are not advocating “non-heterosexual lifestyles. They are, and always have been, about rebelling against the stringent rules of the heteronormative hegemony. There is a difference between heterosexual and heteronormative. Please look it up.

    Gay culture back in 60s, 70s, and 80s used to be about freedom and exploration. But as gay culture became more and more incorporated into the mainstream, it was forced to adopt the rules of the mainstream. Homosexual relationships must be monogamous, partners must be of the same race, both partners must be successful, contributing members of society, etc.

    I advocate more outlandish behavior at gay pride parades. Keep it about freedom, not about acceptance.

    • Anonymous

      With freedom comes responsibility. Much of the outlandish behavior only shows a lack of self-control.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aj.sundar AJ Sundar

    Really quick…
    Dan: Research the topic again. The government of Belgrade banned all public gatherings the weekend of the parade, effectively banning it. Check wikipedia or Belgrade Parade’s website.

    Jamie: All gay pride parades are registered as fundraisers, and historically, raising money for AIDS awareness and treatment/prevention have been strongly linked to gay pride parades. Maybe it’s not the only purpose, but it’s definitely one of them (as I mention in the article, along with promoting awareness and acceptance of the community), and very, very few parades (if any) don’t have a fundraiser associated with AIDS.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aj.sundar AJ Sundar

    Jason:

    Please read my reply to David again. It’s not that I personally care about what they do, but that I can’t take them seriously on an intellectual level because their message (a valid one: that society should accept differences in sexual orientation) comes packaged with things that undermine the point they’re trying to convey. Perhaps my word choice of saying “offensive sexuality” was amiss (I was trying to get at the notion that it offends my intellectual sensibilities), but regardless I think the tone and thrust of my article is clear enough that nitpicking at one word in the entire article is pretty trivial (along with the fact that I mention multiple times in the article that I am not anti-gay, nor am I offended by homosexuality).

    I did write that it’s a terrible idea to shock and offend those very same people you wish to persuade and support you. That doesn’t mean me – they don’t need to persuade me, I’m already on their face – it means a large part of the general public at large that are offended by the behavior at gay pride parades. I’m not offended because I know and have worked with gay people and understand that there’s more to them than what goes on in the parades. A lot of people, on the other hand, have never done so (either because of ignorance or homophobia), and only see what’s on TV, leading them to conclude that what’s on TV is the whole picture. Frankly, I don’t see how anybody can think that it is.

    I’m not really offended by what goes on in gay pride parades (I’ve seen far worse; 2 minutes on 2girls1cup took care of that), but you ask me “then why not watch the parade?” The answer to that question is the whole point of my article, which you missed in your attempt to pigeonhole me into being anti-gay. The reason I don’t watch the parades is because I think they’re counterproductive – I’d rather see a gay pride parade where they showed the sexual side, but not only the sexual side. I’d like to see informed, intellectual debate that takes into account all aspects of what it means to be a human being – straight or gay, white or black, man or woman. One thing that is worth mentioning is that it’s not just me saying this – people within the gay community espouse similar views to mine (something I found out after writing the article, and something I was glad to find).

    If you would like to continue this discussion, please e-mail me at [email protected]. Thanks for the comment.

  • jamie

    ehm, i don’t think the purpose of all gay pride parades is to raise aids awareness money.

    obviously aids is a super important and pressing issue, but as an lgbt activist, i’m pretty uncomfortable with people always putting aids and gay together. we’re trying to fix that.

  • Jason Clevenger

    Did AJ Sundar actually read his own article? In his response to David, he claims, “I don’t find any shock and offense in homosexuals nor in the parades, even if you erroneously claim that I do.” Yet in the article, he states, “…I don’t find myself watching for too long. The amount of blatant, overt and offensive sexuality…” and then several sentences later, “it’s a terrible idea to shock and offend those very same people you wish to persuade to support you.” Which is it Mr. Sundar? Are you shocked and offended or not. If not, then why not watch the parade? If you are, then own up to it. More importantly, if you are not shocked and offended as you claim, why are we to assume that someone else is? The weight of your argument rests on the shocking and offensive nature of the parades. Yet you disavow both attitudes personally. For all the other problems with your argument, it fails down at the basic level of relying on unsubstantiated claims.

  • wu 2010

    Yeah, if those gays would just stop being so gay, then maybe we could treat them like people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aj.sundar AJ Sundar

    David:

    I’m writing a response, but to be frank, I don’t think it will make a difference. You clearly missed the point of the article – I am not anti-gay, I am not offended by homosexuality in the least, and I think that mainstream understanding and acceptance of homosexuality is a good thing. Just because I’m criticizing a specific practice of the gay community doesn’t mean that I’m criticizing gay people or the gay movement as a whole. I’ll just point out specific things in your comment:
    – When I say “homosexual activity,” I’m not using activity to refer to sex, but rather intentional actions to bring about progressive values and change in society. Perhaps activism would’ve been a better choice, but I wanted to avoid negative connotations associated with the word.
    – The whole point of my article was to bring an outsider’s perspective (read the last sentence of the article proper), so calling me unqualified is not helpful (then again, what name-calling is helpful?). Sometimes the boy on the street has more important things to say than the emperor and all of his assistants.
    – I don’t find any shock and offense in homosexuals nor in the parades, even if you erroneously claim that I do. I just can’t take the parades seriously on an intellectual level when the message is literally contradicted by the way that the participants act (they want to foster acceptance of the community and yet act in a way that actively prevents acceptance of the community)
    – My message is not to “make LGBT normal,” but rather to show what’s already there. I strongly disagree with you when you say that sexuality constitutes the identity of a person in the community. Sure it plays a part, but there’s much more to being a human being. What about their career, interests, hobbies, passions?

    Your sentiments mirror those embodied by the spirit of the parades, but this sentiment is horribly misplaced, because it reduces a human being to mere sexuality.

    A homosexual is no more defined by their orientation than I am by my heterosexuality – and just as two heterosexuals can be completely different (compare me to a white football player at Ohio State), so it is with homosexuals. The point that needs to be emphasized (and one that you seem unwilling to consider) is that gay people are just as complex, deep, and multifaceted as any other human being, and emphasizing that is the key.

  • Dan

    Gay pride grew out of the Stonewall riots in NYC…
    Gay pride is meant to communicate to other gays that you are not alone…you are part of a community that allows you to be who you want to be…to dress and act like you want to act…and to comunicate to the rest of the world that “we are here, we’re queer, get used to it” and we don’t care what you think of us. For decades gay people hid in the closet..afraid of being “outed”, they dressed conservatively, they watched how they walked, how they talked and they were still subject to ridicule and attack from straight bullies.

  • Jason

    For what it is worth, the official story is that the organizers of the gay pride parade, not the Serbian government, cancelled the parade.

  • David

    Here’s the problem: you claim that you ” don’t think that gay pride parades should or should not be run a specific way,” and yet the article is about how pride parades should not be run. You speak of “promoting homosexual activity.” People who are LGBT are not practicing an activity, they ARE LGBT. Its telling that it is a “rare opportunity” that you even see a pride parade, and it is quite hard to accept that you are qualified to express an opinion on this issue. As you fail to acknowledge, the shock and offense people feel towards the LGBT community is the same shock and offense you feel towards pride parades. The fear is of sexuality, but this is what makes someone LGBT, and you cannot remove the sexual without removing their identity. Your message: make LGBT “normal,” and then we can accept them. I’m deeply sorry that you are offended by other people’s sexuality. I sincerely doubt that anyone who is LGBT wants to merely appease you. I hope to see a response from Safe Zones or Pride Alliance or anyone in Stud Life who can bring a reasonable perspective to this issue.

    • Anonymous

      He’s not offended by their sexuality itself. He’s offended by the lack of self-control they show with their sexuality in the parades. I’m sure he’d be just as offended if there was a “Straight Pride parade” showing the same sort of lack of self-control.