Debate forum: 06/03

Forum center: Gay pride events go mainstream, but some say they need to stay ‘queer’

By Alex Culpepper

Illustration: Jed Helmers

Gay pride events today can trace their lineage back to an infamous night at a popular bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. In late June of 1969, NYC police raided the Stonewall Inn because of its reputation as a gay bar – and that was not a good reputation to have back when all states but Illinois declared homosexual sex illegal. That night, as a result of the raid, violent protest broke out and continued for six days, as demonstrators took to the streets to show their anger and frustration. The events from that week received national attention and are credited with creating a spark for the LGBT civil rights movement. It was also commemorated one year later in a parade, also known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day march. At the beginning of the day, just a modest group of uneasy but determined marchers left Christopher Street, but by the time they made it to Central Park later that day, thousands of people had joined the march, chanting and holding signs. 

That first march 44 years ago eventually led to gay pride parades in many cities across the world. They were considered wild, raucous events bursting with sexuality and spectacle. Some of them still follow that pattern, but recent parade events have shown signs of tempering the wildness and even making them more of a family-style celebration – attracting heterosexuals, politicians and corporate interests. This cultural alteration has some longing for the good old days when rambunctious and unfettered gay pride was the norm. They want to keep these parades “loud and proud,” and they fear the new push is forcing the parades to lose their character and purpose. They even have a name for the mainstream, family-oriented type who walks the parade train: assimilationist. 

Opponents of the family-friendly style Pride parades believe taking the adult-themed, wild and “out-and-proud” elements from these events contradicts why they began in the first place. They say the expression of their sexuality is part of these parades and toning it down is essentially the equivalent of going back to the closet. They further say these parades are not meant to satisfy the broader sensibilities of heterosexual culture.

People in support of the move toward more inclusive, family-friendly parade events see the move as a maturing of the LGBT rights movement in a way. What they want is to keep the nudity and lewdness under control because they just enable a stereotype and make corporate sponsors uneasy. They say parade organizers want to deliver a friendly environment for everybody, and no one is attempting to reign in expression or try to throw a cover over someone’s right to be gay. 

Not all Pride parades are the same, and they usually reflect the spirit of the city in which they happen. Parades in San Francisco can be different from parades in Dallas, and the mood and tone of a Pride parade may ultimately depend on who is organizing it. But as more gay people form traditional-style families involving marriage and children, some parade organizers want these events to have a general festival appeal to suit as many types of people as possible. Others, however, insist on the brassy, burlesque pageantry and “out-and-proud” attitude associated with original parades and what they represent.

Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

How should communities celebrate gay pride?

Debate Left: Keep Pride queer

By R.J. McKay

During Pride, the LGBT community and our straight allies celebrate who we are and what it means to be a part of our community. Pride is a time of remembrance, celebration and social activism. We remember those who have come before us and those who have made sacrifices for equal treatment. We celebrate who we are and how far we’ve come in the fight for equal rights. We show off the great diversity within our community and bring attention to the fact we are still not equal.

Pride is a sexual celebration because it is a celebration of sexual minorities. Pride may push the limits of acceptance because we are expressing what our minority identities represent. While that expression may be uncomfortable, it’s the reason we have a Pride celebration in the first place. Pride is our time to express who we are and to celebrate our diversity. As with any community, some members are more conservative, while others are more extreme.

I have occasionally heard rumblings that the LGBT community is not helping itself by being so “out” or extreme during Pride. Just this past Sunday, after Cincinnati Pride, a friend posted on Facebook he wished Pride could be more family-friendly. His post ignited an immediate firestorm of comments both for and against the extreme flamboyancy of Pride. There were some good points for both sides, but we can’t ignore the reason we celebrate Pride in the first place.

Pride has always been a time to be who you are without having to hide in fear. It started as a remembrance of the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

Those riots started after patrons of the Stonewall Inn [in New York City] stood up against police harassment during a raid on the bar. Those riots were not toned down, conservative or family-friendly.

The LGBT community, with all of its awesome diversity, took a stand: loud and proud. Pride celebrations today need to follow in the spirit of those who came before us. Our community is made up of a diverse population, and asking anyone to tone down who they are is a disgrace to the whole idea of Pride. Pride shows off every facet of our community. Beyond the sex and flamboyance you will also see the churches who support us, the companies that employ us and the families we have built. We are all in the community, and we are all represented at Pride. We all know those who oppose our views will use the most extreme images against us in our fight for equal rights, and that will happen no matter how much we tone down or clean up our Pride celebrations. We just need to counter those images with the images of our social and religious organizations to balance out the rhetoric.

In the years before social networking and instant online news, Pride was the one place where a closeted LGBT person could safely be themselves. While more LGBT people are living out and proud now, there are still those who can’t live open and free because of various family or work situations. Going to Pride and being your true self, even for one day, is such an undeniably positive experience for those who are forced to live a closeted life. Pride is a release from the lies of the closet. Anyone can go to Pride and be included – celebrated for who they are. They can dress or act how they want while being accepted with a relatively safe amount of anonymity. Not only can they be “out” for the day at Pride, but they can meet and interact with others who are just like them. Just for those few short hours of Pride a person can live and breathe and celebrate their existence as the person they are. If Pride becomes less queer, even if we tone it down a little, the experience just won’t be the same.

We are a community of sexual minorities and Pride is our expressive festival. Pride wouldn’t have the same meaning or impact if we asked transgender men and women to dress their physical gender or if we asked the leather community wear khakis and Polo shirts. Would we suggest men at the Celtic Festival not wear kilts? Would we ask Hispanic Heritage Festival to not feature traditional Latin attire because some of it shows too much skin? The obvious answer is “no,”  because toning down or mainstreaming these festivals would take away from the celebration and ruin the meaning of the entire event. The reason we have these types of festivals is to celebrate the diversity among our greater communities. Pride is no exception.

I can understand watching a parade float of men dancing in their underwear, followed by a float of gorgeous drag queens performing, followed by a float of leather daddies grinding on each other followed by a float of lesbians in bondage may not be your idea of acceptable, but these are the members of our community.

It is unthinkable to ask members of our community to tone down their expression of who they are during Pride. If no decency laws are being broken, it is not our place to ask someone to change the expression of who they are. Not only is it disrespectful for us to even ask, but it goes against the whole idea of Pride.

Reach guest columnist R.J. McKay at

Debate Right: It’s time to advance the tradition

By Ron Anderson

The first gay pride parades were held 44 years ago this month in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities across the United States. The events were held one year after riots broke out in the Greenwich Village area of New York City, in and around a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. Now recognized as the most significant event to ignite the gay liberation movement in the United States, police officers forcibly raided the Stonewall Inn in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, arresting and humiliating innocent bar patrons and employees alike, inciting a weeklong series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations which, to a large degree, got the better of the NYC police. Police raids on gay bars were fairly common in the 1960s. In June of 1969, I had just finished my first year at Kent State. “Mother’s” was the only nearby gay bar, and I remember my first police raid vividly. “Stand still and don’t say anything,” my friend advised. “They’ll probably check your ID and move on.” They did. It was frightening. It was not OK to be gay in New York, Kent, Ohio, nor anywhere else in the country. I can imagine the tremendous courage it took for gay men and women to participate in New York’s first Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day march that summer day in 1970.

In a world where gay life was virtually invisible to the country as a whole, and where gay people were reluctant to readily share their identity with friends and coworkers, gay pride provided a platform for gay people, for the first time, to say, “Hey, I’m actually proud to be who I am.”

The movement grew rapidly, and in an attempt to foster positive interdependence among groups with similar values, others were rightfully brought into the fold. We began to see a greater representation of lesbians, transsexuals and bisexual citizens. In that attempt to be inclusive, gay pride parades often featured controversial participants whose participation was questioned even by those who were most supportive. Some parades included scantily clad and eccentric participants who were members of fringe gay organizations, but not what many – if not most – gay parents would want their younger children to see. And many gay people would be uncomfortable attending such celebrations with their moms and dads. For the sake of inclusivity, those events often excluded those whom we most hoped would accept us for who we are.

Now, the world is different. The world knows that LGBT people do indeed exist. Gay marriage is virtually inevitable in all 50 states. Gay parenting is not at all uncommon. Openly gay people can hold public office, teach, serve as judges and even deliver the word of God on the Sabbath. I think the time is right for Gay Pride to evolve – to take a giant leap forward.

It is now time to shift the focus from an event planned by and for LGBT people to an event supported by the community as a whole and embraced by the same. It is time to focus less on our personal confidence in being out and proud, and time to focus more on those who have worked hard to advance LGBT culture. It’s time to become more inclusive of our children, our parents, our friends and our coworkers in the celebration. While none of this is a criticism of the tremendous work that has gone before and the significant work that is being done currently, I do invite them – indeed all of us – to look forward.

My vision is a gay cultural festival, a weekend attended by, and appealing to, a broad cross section of the Miami Valley. An event at RiverScape Metropark would provide an appropriate venue for the cultural festival and it’s proximity to downtown would allow more adult-themed events to spill over into nearby establishments during the evening and on into the night.

The event would be sponsored by multiple entities including the City of Dayton, Montgomery County and perhaps even the Dayton City Paper. The weekend would begin with the traditional Pride dinner, honoring both gay and gay supportive individuals who have advanced gay culture and the quality of life for LGBT people through medicine, support for those with HIV, philanthropy, athletics, community development, public service, literature, film, dance, music, theatre and art. It’s time to publicly acknowledge the contributions of these amazing individuals.

During the day, there would be food vendors, arts and crafts vendors, exhibition sports and entertainment at RiverScape. The Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus would perform. Dayton Gay Volleyball would compete in an exhibition game. And Dayton’s performing arts groups could honor the contributions of gay playwrights, composers, choreographers and artists. Of course, the traditional parade would be a centerpiece of the celebration, and the Neon Movies (already known for curating gay film festivals), the Victoria Theater Association and others could add to the mix. Evening activities could include a Natalie Barney Soiree – a virtual gay pride gala, pushing the limits of creativity in costume, food and entertainment to new limits. And finally, our local gay bars, already so supportive of gay culture in Dayton, could do what they do best.

Dayton is truly the city of invention and an incubator for innovation. Here’s the chance to prove that one more time.

Reach guest columnist Ron Anderson at

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