In the past I was always the one watching the parade file by instead of being a part of it. I never thought that I could be a part of something, to be one of those that took a public stand to say you stood in support and as an out Gay Male. This year for Pride in the CLE, I got a chance to change that. One of my closest friends works for Jones Day and asked if I would like to walk with them in the march. He knew how much doing something like this meant to me, so how could I turn it down.
Sure, you may sit there and think walking in the march is not really a big deal. I ask you how could it not be? You stand out for the entire city to see you, see you standing with others who are there in support, waving rainbow flags, waving at onlookers to show you see them as well, and just being visible. That is probably almost as big as actually coming out. And yes, it is also a small thing, a simple decision to take a stand and do something different than your day to day. Let me tell you though that small things often times make a bigger difference in one person’s life. When you are just coming out and you feel alone and overwhelmed and you go to a Parade to feel some sort of connection and happen to notice that a mile long line of people showing that they support you and your choice and welcome you as equal can be enough to change the entire course of their decisions.
I am not claiming a super hero status, in fact the reasons I marched were much more self aligned and selfish. I wanted to feel like I was actually giving back in some small fashion. Returning the energy I get from my readers here or those I see living their truest self and giving me the hope and strength to keep going. As I stood there noticing the people standing excitedly waiting it was more than I could process. Children, adults, grandparents, those that were disabled, and strong standing side by side, conversing like old friends. Sharing in the excitement of the event and who they recognized. Watching to see if anyone they knew would be in the same grouping as they were and checking out what business had come in support. The sunny cool spring air was filled with electricity and a chorus of voices talking all at once.
As noon approached the crowd started moving with the anticipation to be seen. The announcement was given and the crowd started to move nervously. The din of conversations quieted as they lurched forward. The first turn was filled with a crown of volunteers who sole purpose was to build your excitement back to the levels you had before it started. As you moved past, they called to your group and how awesome it was for you to be a part of this and getting you worked back to a frenzy. Then you saw the first groupings of people who were there to see you march, and the energy just took you. They waved at you in excitement and you returned it a thousandfold. Slowly the march forward continues, slowing only to make sure we all don’t bunch up on one another.
As I looked around it was then that I realized just how many of us had turned out to march. Just in the Jones Day group, there was over a hundred people dressed in their “We Walk With Pride” t-shirt. This day is not about the individual as much as the group as a whole. Showing just how many of us there are and how many support us, openly. We become the bundle of sticks that is so much harder to break than the one individual twig. With each turn in the route, we saw more and more people lining the sidewalks to witness the march. Signs speak of equality and love. For equal rights of women, trans, gay, lesbian, and bisexuals. Seeking kids in the teens and twenties flying signs proclaiming resist and fight. It gave me hope that there are still those individuals out there willing to fight and keep pushing until all discrimination is erased.
As we approached the end of the route, I could see drag queens, garishly clad LGBTQ youth, women who were wearing only pasties covering their nipples, and people blurring gender identity lines and emotion swelled in me. It’s hard to describe how you feel when you are in a place where it feels that each and every person is welcome, no matter their differences. Everyone waving and cheering you on as you enter into Public Square. Waves of cheers sweeping the crowds, seeing Public Square filled more than the previous year. We are in a time where it is still very dangerous to be out, but the Cleveland Police department stood with us in support. Each of us moved and interacted as if there were no fear, a utopia for LGBTQ for a single day. This is as it is meant to be.
Sure there were naysayers present; the religious zealots claiming we will be dying a horrible death for the “love that dare not speak its name” and even those among our community who feel that some of us are over the top. Those of our community who feel that expressing ourselves too much is counter to what we should be doing. Saying dressing in rainbows and painting as such is embarrassing, showing public affection is detrimental to our cause, and that open sexuality isn’t what we are about. To those I say go back and read our history. Look at the early Pride Marches and read interviews with those that were the early instigators. I can promise you that not a single one of them ever thought they would be the driving force of change for their people. Harvey Milk only wanted to make the neighborhood he belonged to more welcoming for gay men. He wanted a safe place for those that came there looking for an escape to the direness they belonged to. HIs actions change the Castro district in more ways than he originally dreamed.
What we have to remember is that Pride is something different to each and everyone of us. It cannot be classified and doesn’t deserve someone else’s box, just like sexuality or gender. You cannot expect anyone to have the same view of Pride and the world as you do because your views are colored by the ideals you grew up with, chose to abandon, and whatever new ones you selected to be a part of your dogma. It comes to you to either broaden your scope of the world or refuse to make others a part of your limited view. We have to learn to work together, as those in our history did, to get us where we need to go. Instead of judging, be a part of the amazing energy that comes from rising and standing together