Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The MAD Voter -- Of Pride and Politics

(Originally published in the Liberty Press in June 2008)

In case you haven’t noticed, this June issue of the Liberty Press celebrates Pride. We traditionally celebrate Pride the last Sunday in June to honor the Stonewall riots of 1969. The Stonewall riots changed the way gays and lesbians wanted to appear in society. Many still wanted to work for acceptance calmly, with women in skirts and men in ties, peacefully carrying signs on July 4th, while others wanted to loudly demand acceptance, expanding the counter-culture revolution to include gays and lesbians.

Pride and politics have been intertwined since gays and lesbians decided to speak up. Early on, we wanted our appearance to match that of Leave it to Beaver: clean cut and normal, without actually showing homophile affections. This accommodationism (I usually hear “assimilationist” these days) angered many people. Gays and lesbians, after all, didn’t always conform to these dress standards. Some men wore dresses (illegal in many states, including New York at the time of Stonewall), some women wore pants, and many dressed the style of the times.

It is still a major question today. Most of LGBT activism today seems to navigate around relationship recognition, adoption, and military service with some casual mentions of HIV/AIDS and youth bullying. After all, we’re normal people with the same concerns as mixed-sex couples. We want the tax breaks, kids, for them to be safe at school, to live in crime-free neighborhoods. We’re family people, just like the rest of America.

No where is this dichotomy more apparent than at Pride. Usually, drag shows are confined to gay bars and the occasional HIV/AIDS fundraiser. But each year, PRIDE shows off drag queens and kings in public parks across the United States. Bears, cubs, leathermen and –women, cross-dressers, and many others come out every year at PRIDE. For some, PRIDE is the one place they can go out and feel themselves, even if not everyone else is like them. And yet every year the debate continues: do we really want ass-less chaps in our Pride parade?

And who pays for Pride? Well, that depends. If you want in free, it’s usually mostly paid for by alcohol producers and lubricants with retailers paying a pretty hefty fee to sell rainbow jewelry. Some Prides reject alcohol and lubricant sponsorship. We’re not drunks and sex-fiends, after all.

All the things we debate year ‘round come together at Pride. Do we present ourselves as family-oriented or do we show the diversity of the “gay community”? Do we want the news to show ordinary couples, gay soldiers, and families? Or do we want drag queens and leatherboys on the cover of the newspaper?

The questions raised by those who do not fit within a modified nuclear family model go largely unasked any other time of the year. With so many other problems facing otherwise “normal” LGBT folks, from employment and healthcare discrimination to youth suicides and ex-gay programs, is relationship recognition really our top priority? Should it dominate our news and our conversation?

As marriage recognition continues to grow (five states now recognize same-sex marriage while New Hampshire is currently debating religious exceptions), domestic partnership recognition fades away. Massachusetts and Connecticut have dropped their statewide registries while New Jersey’s limits registration to couples over 62 (as marriage would affect Social Security benefits for widows).

Companies also drop their domestic partner benefits citing the ability to marry. All couples who choose not to marry now find themselves punished for expanded rights for gay and lesbian couples. And, still, LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers according to a 2006 study of Massachusetts students.

Pride affords us the opportunity to come out of our closets, whether with our partners, our children, our wigs, and our leather. It should be a great day to celebrate the diversity of our community. Yet it is quite often politicized. It remains open to everyone, LGBT folks, allies, the media, and even those who wish we would just stay in our closets. For this reason, PRIDE organizers and LGBT rights organizations sometimes wish to keep their PRIDEs “family-oriented” (an odd phrase for family).

Diversity fills our vibrant community and includes families as well as those who choose other paths. This June, celebrate your own diversity! Attend a Pride in your area, and if there isn’t one, what’s stopping you?

The Mad Voter combines a bit of anger, a bit of crazy, and a bit of passion to Make A Difference (MAD) through simple actions and “armchair activism”. This column provides ideas to be involved and to know why. Follow @themadvoter on Twitter for faster updates!

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