Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pride Week: Show Pride, Not Division

Chris Mason blogged about the current "controversy" surrounding this year's Pride festival. Here's the gist:

To the right of the stage that hosted the Pride Committee, Marshals, and Boston City Counselors was a group representing the Ask. Tell. Act. Coalition. During the ceremony they held a sign that read "Radical Queers Resist".The President of the Boston Pride Board of Directors, Linda DeMarco, mentioned the controversy over this years pride theme. She welcomed the demonstrators, saying that they were being true to themselves and to their idea of Pride. While her message may have been sincere, it came off as patronizing.

Maybe - and maybe she should have been, too. It's counterproductive to the extreme: we're about to see a vote on our rights - one we could very well lose - and we can't unite behind a stupid theme for Pride Week? If this is the best the gay rights movement can do, no wonder marriage rights only exist in one state in this country. No wonder we may just lose those rights, if things go wrong on June 14th.

I get that Pride could have picked a better theme for this year's events. Heck, I think themes in general are pretty stupid and usually ignored. Is coming together in "Pride" no longer good enough for a theme? I always thought "pride" itself was the theme. However, it seems to me that "radical queers" are pretty much 'resisting' for the sake of resisting - because, you know, those big, bad, baddies are, well, deciding things and stuff. (Did those people think of weighing in on a Pride theme beforehand, when the decision was being made?)

And don't get me wrong - I don't think the conventional, 'non-radical' organizations representing gay rights are doing us a whole lot of favors. In fact, I wrote a column that was deeply critical of MassEquality that appeared in InNewsWeekly as early as March. I thought it was pretty scathing. I don't have much knowledge about the people in charge of Pride festivities, but clearly they have a lot of things to learn and ought to take more community input next year, but it's a little late to complain now.

It's especially late to complain when the theme itself isn't really all that bad.

Proud to Serve:
Our Community
Our Country
Our World

And the problem is?

Pride week is an opportunity to reach out to the rest of the world. For once, the world pays a little extra attention to us. With all the free publicity, it's important to showcase to everyone all the many positive aspects we add to the human collective. Just like any other part of humanity, society is nothing without its gay members. Non-GLBT people are a lot more likely to support us if they know we support them in our community, country and world. We are some of this country's best volunteers and community activists and have been for decades forever. As hardworking and equal participants in this world, we deserve equal treatment in whatever avenues we pursue.

Is the theme militaristic? It can certainly be interpreted that way - and, gee whiz, I wonder why? Maybe because this country is deeply discriminatory toward its military forces. Many people consider repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell almost as important as DOMA.

I'm one of those people. Gay members of the military already serve - and they ought to be able to be out and proud, not forced in the closet, living in fear. There are over one million gblt veterans. There are probably tens of thousands of glbt soldiers in Iraq today, fighting because they were ordered to - even if most of us don't like the war.

Part of the reason this "controversy" frustrates me is because people who are against it seem to be saying that because this war is bad, or because war is bad, we shouldn't have this theme. Well, the theme isn't about Iraq or war or anything of the sort. It's about service - and gay people already serve in the military. Shouldn't they be able to do so proudly?

I'm against this war and have been from the start. If we had the numbers, I'd advocate impeaching President Bush and Dick Cheney. I'd give Donald Rumsfeld over to Geneva, if they asked. Clearly, I have strong feelings about this, but that doesn't mean I'll join in the small chorus that's against this year's theme.

We have a military in this country. Gay people want to serve in it. Gay people are serving in it, in the tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands). Heck, I know a few of them. That said, every year hundreds of gay people are thrown out of the institution they've been so willing to serve: their dishonorable discharge allows the government to strip any benefits they should recieve as veterans after the discharge. It's demeaning, homophobic, stupid, sad and everything in between. I wouldn't be shocked if some career military people have had their entire lives ruined, losing everything (pensions, health benefits, housing, etc), because of a dishonorable discharge.

Obviously, Don't Ask Don't Tell is important. We've finally seen a lot of political will to get rid of it this year, at least before Marty Meehan announced he was going to retire. It's one of the last frontiers in the battle for full equality and we have a democratic House and Senate that ought to be removing the law. If Boston's Pride event wants to touch on that importance, kudos to them. With the press that Pride festivals will receive, perhaps it could remind people about the inequalities that still exist today. After the Goodridge decision, many people in Massachusetts have deluded themselves into thinking equality has been reached - and they need to be corrected.

What disturbs me most of all is the fact that the people who are making a big stink about this are being very hypocritical. They're the same people who have pointed out that groups like MassEquality have focused exclusively on marriage equality, to the detriment of dozens of other exceptionally important issues - and the people they effect. Obviously, to anyone who read my InNewsWeekly column, I wholeheartedly agree: MassEquality has a lot to learn, as does HRC, as do any number of prominent GLBT organizations. The dissenters are also the same people who routinely point out that many who claim to be a part of the GLBTQ movement are a little too worried about GL and not BTQ - something I also agree with.

Yet, now they're essentially saying that the military is bad and we shouldn't have this message - when there are thousands of people who fall under our "umbrella" that serve - and would like to serve openly, with Pride, but can't. Are we going to say that transgendered people deserve more respect, but not gay people serving in the military? Should we push harder for the quest to eliminate workplace discrimination - and not care at all that gay people are discriminated against in the military every day? We may not like the fact that many glbt people choose to serve, but they do - and we should support them, just as we would Log Cabin Republicans. It's what an inclusive movement would do.

The message certain people are sending by being so vehemently against this year's Pride Parade is far worse - and far more divisive - than anything Boston Pride did, even if they clearly aren't perfect. This is a time where we need to be fighting for everyone in the movement and not excluding anyone. Just days before the Constitutional Convention that will decide our most basic right to marriage equality as gay citizens of this state, this is a time to be united. Instead, we tear each other apart - days before our relationships may be at risk to being torn apart too. This is a time to work together. This is a time to show the world just why we deserve equal status in all realms of society, from marriage to the rights to serve our military with both honor and pride.

Go to the Pride events. Go there with whatever message you want. But, for the sake of all that's at risk, let's not attack one another days before June 14th for not having the "right" message. This isn't math class; contrary to popular belief, there's plenty of room for grey on a Pride Parade float. Let's not give the MassResistances out there that kind of unnecessary fodder. They'd want nothing more to see than infighting in the gay rights movement - that's how people like them win. Life is too short and way too important for us to be tearing each other apart. Ask, Tell, Act... Serve. Do whatever you want and can to make sure our community is working cohesively to both protect and expand our rights as basic human beings during one of the most important moments our movement has ever seen in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

1 comment:

Mark D. Snyder said...

Ask Tell Act has spelled out clearly why this theme is troubling, beyond the militaristic aspect.

We are not being divisive, the theme is divisive.

We are continuing the legacy of radical queers in our community who are brave enough to stand up against the current culture and norms.

We are succeeding at our goal - to get people discussing issues of war & occupation, racism, classim, and the corporitization of Pride.

Most of the people in the audience at the flag raising appreciated our presence. I know because I talked to almost all of them one-on-one when I handed out flyers, and because many of them our my friends. Among the small LGBT organizations in Boston I am confident to say that most of their staff support the efforts of the Ask Tell Act Coalition.

Many older folks in our community have memories of the old days when pride parades were more political, and when Act UP was creating headlines worldwide. They are happy to see that there are people continuing those sorts of efforts.

We are NOT resisting just to resist. We are not attacking any individuals, or trying to be divisive. Our message has always been one of solidarity in Pride.

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