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Too Edgy? Too Tame? Gay Pride Parades Spark Debate

by David Crary
Monday Sep 16, 2013

Initiated as small, defiant, sexually daring protests, gay pride parades have become mainstream spectacles patronized by corporate sponsors and straight politicians as they spread nationwide. For many gays, who prize the events' edginess, the shift is unwelcome - as evidenced by bitter debate preceding Sunday's parade in Dallas.

At issue was a warning from police and organizers that rules related to nudity and sexual behavior would be enforced more strictly than in past years. Police said anyone violating indecency laws in front of children could be charged with a felony.

The warnings outraged some local activists, whose reactions swiftly echoed through gay-oriented social media nationwide.

"To make the parade more 'family friendly' and to accommodate comfort for the increasing number of attending heterosexuals and corporate sponsorship, participants are being asked to cover up!" activist Daniel Scott Cates wrote on his Facebook page. "The 'queer' is effectively being erased from our pride celebration."

Another activist, Hardy Haderman, wrote an aggrieved column for the Dallas Voice, a weekly serving the gay community.

"The assimilationists insist we tone down and throw away all our joyous sexiness," he wrote. "Why? To do that turns the Pride Parade into a We-Are-Ashamed parade, and I refuse to be part of that."

Despite the controversy, the Dallas Voice reported that the parade was "business as usual," with larger than normal turnout marking the event's 30th anniversary. There were no reports of arrests, and some marchers did dress in skimpy underwear, despite pre-parade speculation this would not be allowed.

The parade is organized by the Dallas Tavern Guild, an association of gay bars. Its executive director, Michael Doughman, said the change this year did not involve any new rules - but rather a warning that existing rules would be more strictly enforced.

These rules, he said, were drafted to conform with the city’s public nudity ordinance and the state’s anti-obscenity law, which bars the parade from featuring sexual paraphernalia and "real or simulated sex acts."

"Most people abided by the rules - but we had some individuals who decided to push the envelope a little to see how far they could go," Doughman said of recent parades. "So we asked our police security officer to bring it up as a reminder."

"We aren’t trying to stifle anybody’s right to be gay or express themselves," he added. "We are trying to create a friendly environment for everybody. We can be gay without being naked."

Among gay activists beyond Dallas, the dispute elicited sharply divided opinions. Those agreeing with Doughman included John Aravosis, a prominent Washington-based blogger.

"I got involved in gay politics 20 years ago in order to win the right to serve in the military, have a job, and get married, among others," he wrote. "It had nothing to do with public nudity... I’m open to a good explanation of how this links back to our civil rights, but I’ve not heard a good one yet."

However, Michael Diviesti of Austin, Texas - leader of the state branch of the gay-rights group GetEQUAL - said pride parades were in danger of losing their essential character.

"This is my celebration of myself," he said. "Why should I have to tone that down because someone else might be looking? It’s like putting yourself back in a closet."

Nationally, there’s no question that pride parades have become more mainstream and family-friendly as more gays and lesbians raise children, and more heterosexuals turn out to watch. With the surge of corporate sponsorships, they’ve become a big business in some cities.

As a result, there’s disagreement within the gay community as to what sort of imagery the parades should present.

"It’s something we’ll continue to struggle with," said Gary Van Horn of Pittsburgh, a co-president of InterPride, which represents organizers of pride events across the U.S. and abroad.

InterPride avoids taking sides in disputes over the character of a given parade, Van Horn said. "I don’t think there’s one-size-fits-all answer."

Richard Pfeiffer, an organizer of Chicago’s annual pride parade for 40 years, said rules on lewdness and nudity vary from city to city, dependent on local laws and attitudes.

"We have our rules in Chicago, and on the whole our entries follow them," he said. "If people step over those guidelines, we will just say, ’For next year, don’t do that.’ We don’t pull people out of the parade on the spot."

One group with a keen interest in the debate is Family Equality, which represents families in which the parents are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

The group’s executive director, Gabriel Blau, says he and his husband marched earlier this year in New York City’s pride parade with their 5-year-old son - even though there were parts of the parade they considered too risque for him to see.

Blau described the debate in Dallas and other cities as "a healthy conversation" and said Family Equality encouraged parade organizers to keep children in mind as they orchestrate their events.

"We are not a family-values organization that’s going to say what children should and shouldn’t see," he said. "But we’ve been working with pride celebrations to create family-friendly spaces, so that the whole community can participate."

These areas might include a "bouncy castle" or kid-oriented entertainers, Blau said.

A gay father, Chase Lindberger, who recently married in Minnesota, said he and his husband had no qualms about taking their two young children to the Twin Cities Pride Parade this summer.

"It’s an important event for the community that my children are a part of," Lindberger said. "They see people being very dramatic and colorful, and I think that’s wonderful."

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


  • cc, 2013-09-16 17:57:52

    Our daughter has gone to gay pride parades since she was a baby. She is now 22 and a senior in college. She brings her boyfriend and they have a great time. Because my wife and I are gay it has never bothered her to see the likes of San Fran Pride Parade. Personally, I’d rather not see people’s junk hanging out. Skimpy outfits, fine. Save the other for the Folsom Street Fair.

  • Bob K, 2013-09-16 21:16:35

    GAY RIGHTS AND GAY PEOPLE HAVE MATURED --It is no longer either necessary or smart to flaunt sexual behavior and give skin shows to the public. THE BEST MESSAGE IS THAT "GAY IS ORDINARY, IF SOMEWHAT FABULOUS"

  • Edward Ghera II, 2013-09-17 10:57:18

    In response to Bob K: I agree with your general argument; the idea should be to present the Gay Community not as outlandish sex-driven ghouls with ignorant one-track minds. I disagree, however, that our motive should be to portray ourselves and our lifestyle as "ordinary." I am in every way different from anyone else I have ever met, and that difference is what makes us human beings. We are not like every other moron in this country that knocks up his girlfriend straight out of high school; we are better. The message that gays are socially, fiscally and emotionally responsible is the proper backdrop to these Pride festivals. As a 25 year old young man, I have never had the slightest interest in attending one of these events because they in no way represent me, the way my partner and I live our lives nor do they present the solutions to the serious issues that matter to me and most of my friends. I was always very fortunate to grow up in areas comprised of great social diversity. This is the story of humanity and the 21st century. We should be using these festivals to highlight what is wrong with the rest of the world and present sustainable solutions to our nation’s expanding issues. I, for one, am so thankful to be gay and to have developed an atypical understanding of the nature of man. It is from this experience that I understand what it is to be a sexual creation, very healthy, intelligent and educated, and just how hopeless most straight people are. They have never beem presented with a viable alternative lifestyle. We have the opportunity to use these venues to show off what we’re doing right, how we raise children to be well rounded, emotionally and socially responsible citizens of the world. If to you, being gay means only homosexual physical encounters, I would question what exactly you are doing with your life. We were given a great gift being born different, this is a chance to celebrate that diversity, to show all the "straight" folks how we do it better, and to enlighten bigots to a new, better alternative. I’m a young man with a very healthy sex drive and I’m anything but a prude. There are certain things, however, that are appropriate to proceed in a public venue and others that belong at private functions. If you want to walk around naked, go for it, but first question what exactly your actions say about you as an individual and additionally, how they represent the group for whom you are (supposedly) aiming to improve. If one’s actions do not support the greater good, perhaps he should rethink those activities. My partner and I are both under 30 and we live as openly as any other couple would. We use our notable differences, however, to bring people together in showing how well we live, how little we consume living very sustainably, and how much good one person can accomplish when they devote themselves to improving his or her community. I challenge the next Pride event to consider a theme of Social Sustainability and Progress. From what I have seen, progress is the last thing coming out of these events; progress being what this nation and planet needs far more than another naked queen walking the streets. Be proud of who you are, but make who you are something to be proud of! Gays are anything buy ordinary, let’s show the world how much better we are than the traditional status quo. At things stand, I don’t envision myself attending a Pride event anytime soon. If you want to get naked and fool around with a bunch of people, go to the White Party in Palm Springs. If you want to advance our cause, get responsible and use these venues to highlight how to live better and get along wig each other! 

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