The Problem with Pride
June is, among about a dozen other things, official Gay Pride Month (at least it always was under the Clinton Administration, Bush refuses to follow suit by recognizing it.) and to mark the occasion, the boys at Photojunkie
want Bloggers to discuss pride and gay related things in their blogs. Naturally, Toronto hosts one of the biggest Pride weekend events in the world, so I thought that before writing what I think, I would try to gain a little public opinion. Consulting message boards, discussion groups, and other such forums, I noticed that there is a large and vocal group of people who really, really don’t like pride. I guess I never noticed before. After all, there are literally thousands of people at Toronto Pride every year, including a great deal of straight people, and our own mayor, riding a fire engine.
The issues that people seem to have with pride (apart from the rampantly homophobic who simply hate it for everything it represents) fall into two categories:
1. Pride does nothing to promote a more accurate image of homosexuals, but actually perpetuates stereotypes – by being so overtly sexual and intentionally explicit.
2. Pride days, and Pride parades, constitute preferential treatment by endorsing one sexual orientation. We would never have a straight pride or a pedophile pride, so we should not have a gay pride either.
As I said in response to these topics in other forums, I agree with the former argument (although conditionally) but not with the latter. The reasons are as follows: Pride does perpetuate stereotypes – it really does. For many people, the only “gay” event they see throughout the year is the annual pride parade, and event which in sexualized in every way possible. Oiled boys gyrating on top of floats, marchers in all states of undress, and a general atmosphere of overt sexuality – there’s no arguing with this, because it’s precisely the point of the parade.
Pride parades were started for two reasons: to allow openly homosexual people to celebrate who they are, and to force anti-gay elements in society to confront homosexuality full on. The idea being, to force change in the country by making the homosexual contingent so noticeable, and so unrelenting in their expression of their sexual identity, that they simply could not be ignored, or suppressed. This approach worked. Gay activists seized control of their own image, reclaimed stereotypes and turned them into tools of empowerment when it was needed most.
However, there was always an element of satire and drama involved in Pride parades. They were supposed to be over the top, they were supposed to be unrelenting in their sexuality, because it was both hugely fun for those involved - and politically useful. But today, things have changed. Not to say that everything is better (many things are, some still are not), but the social view of homosexuality has been altered, and it seems time that, to some extent, Pride needs to change as well. Firstly, because most people don’t get it, and secondly, because it’s less about politics and more about the party. Pride is, in many ways, too much fun. It’s such a huge celebration for so many people that it seems impossible to keep it serious, to focus on social change and not just fun.
It’s been so long since Gay Pride was fresh, provocative, and politically charged, mainstream society has forgotten all that subtle business about reclaimed stereotypes (who wouldn’t?) and just see a bunch of wackos in skin tight clothes dancing and flaunting their sexuality. It’s lost it’s ability to confront prejudice, and begun to perpetuate it. If Gay Pride wants to remain relevant and effective, it has to grow up. It has to be about inclusion, not controversy. The goal should be to bring gay and straight together with events that appeal to everyone, not simply to show off your abs.
That takes care of point number 1. Now for point number two:
A great deal of people (at least the one’s I talked to on internet message boards, as unscientific a polling method as there is) feel that the entire institution of Gay Pride is in fact prejudicial, and constitutes special and unfair promotion of homosexuality. Some say that there should be straight pride as well - while others go so far as to say that, since we would never have a parade for pedophilia or bestiality, we should not have one for homosexuality either. The latter point differs from the former by suggesting that homosexuality is a harmful perversion, but that aspect of their objection is neither here nor there to this discussion, so I will ignore it (as I so often have to do.)
The point is, why should gay people get a parade, and not straight people? What about people with hazel eyes, they were born that way too, so why can’t they have a parade? (I’m not trying to be facetious, I really heard that argument.) The answer seems to patently obvious that I feel dumb just point it out, but its too late to stop now: If straight people, or people with hazel eyes, were treated the way gay people were in society, they would be more then entitled to a parade, or a weekend festival, or a pride month, or whatever they wanted, to combat anti-hazel-eyed intolerance. Having hazel eyes, they are correct, is like being gay, in that one has no choice about it, however that is as far as the similarity goes. Nobody has ever been tortured or murdered for having hazel eyes. Nobody has been told they cannot fight and die for their country because of their eye colour, no child has ever been beaten and harassed at school, or any of a thousand other things, that happen to people simply for being born gay.
When such hate and intolerance are directed towards minorities, those groups fight back by public shows of strength and unity. Thousands of Jews march in support of Israel and against anti-Semitism, schools and government continue to endorse Black history month, or the cause of feminism. These things are not done because someone things that blacks, Jews or women are better people, deserving of special attention for being who they are – it is precisely the opposite. All these groups have, at one time or another, been seen as lesser people by society, and punished for being who they were.
The point is that “Pride” isn’t about celebrating the fact that someone is gay. Nobody should be proud or ashamed of being gay or straight. “Pride” is about being proud of surviving intolerance and discrimination, because these are things that people really do have power over – unlike their sexuality.
Whenever questions of one group versus another group come up, I get nervous. I don’t particularly like affirmative action programs, which more often then not just become reverse racism – punishing people for the inequality that existed generations ago. Equally so, I wouldn’t want something like Gay Pride to become an event which celebrates homosexuality itself, because that would be completely contrary to the idea of tolerance and diversity it claims to base itself on, but that’s exactly what I see going on. Where we go from here, I honestly don’t know, but the solution I think, lies in separating the party from the politics, because in their current arrangement, the politics can never win.