Losing Pride in the Pride Parade

Peppered throughout the great old crowd favorites at the Gay Pride Parade were corporate floats and political groups that essentially have nothing to do with gay rights or gay pride. The parade feels maybe a little co-opted these days.

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Yesterday was Gay Pride day around the nation, with parades in many major cities and a loose, circusy feeling spilling out of many a bar onto the sidewalks. It's a fun day! But something struck me while watching the parade slowly make its way down 5th Avenue in New York yesterday: The parade itself has gotten a little boring.

Well, maybe "boring" isn't the right word. There are still the beloved Dykes on Bikes leading the way, still house music-pumping floats featuring drag queens and scantily clad, musclebound hunks representing the city's rowdier gay bars. And there is still the exciting, one-world multiculti presence of various queer groups from immigrant communities, from Peru to Malaysia, to enliven and diversify the lineup. Aspects of the parade certainly aren't boring. But suddenly peppered throughout the great old crowd favorites are corporate floats and political groups that essentially have nothing to do with gay rights or gay pride. The parade feels maybe a little co-opted these days, and thus a little less subversive, daring, or fun.

After leaving the parade yesterday, I made a joke on Twitter that my favorite floats were TD Bank and MasterCard (they actually didn't have a proper float, if I remember correctly, but they were there), making a sarcastic comment about the parade becoming tedious and corporatized. Whatever poor soul who runs the Twitter account for TD didn't quite pick up on my sarcasm and I suddenly felt bad, because, as a friend pointed out while we stood in a crowded Chelsea bar, we get angry when a company like Chick-fil-A, donates to anti-gay groups. So why should we scoff at a corporation tossing their favor to the gays and showing up for Pride? I understand that thinking politically, but in terms of wanting to go to a parade that doesn't feel cynical or bought or capitalized on, I guess I'd prefer financial services companies not be in attendance.

There were also animal rights groups and anti-fracking protestors ("Drill Ass, Not Gas" their signs read) marching in the parade, and while I support both of their causes (to an extent), it was aggravating to have them there, loudly clogging up the message machine with their distracting, not-the-point-of-the-day agendas. Of course it's progress that the gay rights cause is now a sturdy enough platform from which other campaigns can be launched, but people yelling about gas drilling and waving around graphic pictures of skinned animals on a day that is supposed to celebrate and embolden the gay community saps the event of its specific potency. When the Pride Parade becomes less about pride and more about other interests — be they corporate or political — trying to reach a target demographic, the event begins to lose its meaning. Advertising to the gay community is nothing new, but there's something so shameless about it now: Does MasterCard really care about the gay community or do they just want the gay community to care about them?

This isn't to say that support, financial or otherwise, isn't appreciated. It's just that as an afternoon that should feel joyous and communal and even inspiring, Pride has begun to seem a little rote, a little dull, a little performative. Strides in gay marriage and other "normalizing" political pursuits have been great and obviously that progress should continue, but it's also created a parade that's a lot of people in jeans and T-shirts, nice square-looking people waving to the crowd, and fewer and fewer, by proportion at least, of the old wild stuff, the things that made the celebration a little over the top to be sure, but something loud and gregarious enough to make a galvanizing point. There's a sense watching the parade, at least the New York parade in the last few years, that the queer community is losing its, well, queerness. And that's a little dispiriting. It's hard to get out of the parade what I used to, what my friends used to; which was a sense of giddy, outrageous camaraderie. No we weren't going to go march around in our underpants, throwing condoms at people, but someone within our broader community would, and was willing to do so right out there in public in the middle of the street. Now it all feels a little more staid, more buttoned-up. Yeah, I caught glimpses of bare boobs and a giant inflatable penis yesterday, but I mostly saw promotions for a DirectTV show with Chloë Sevigny and people handing out information about some sort of social network. It was uninspiring.

Maybe it's generational, maybe I'm just yet another in an unending succession of people claiming that the parade or any similar event has lost its teeth, lost what made it exciting. There were plenty of younger kids in the crowd and in the actual procession who looked thrilled to be there, both to be unabashedly themselves on a big crowded street in New York City and to be surrounded by so many supportive peers and allies. It's also maybe cultural. As witnessed by the strong presence of Caribbean, Indian, Asian, and other fiercely proud cultural groups in yesterday's parade, Pride is still a pretty vital tool for a lot of people who aren't, y'know, upper middle class white guys. Maybe I got all I needed out of it years ago and am now just finding flaws and nitpicking for the sake of finding flaws and nitpicking. Maybe my own problems have largely been answered — I can get married in my home state and my adopted state, I haven't been met with any real discrimination or harassment since high school — so I should get out of the way and cheer on the people who really need Pride. I should let them enjoy it without some weary old jerk complaining about corporate shilling and political coopting.

Whatever is going on, I've lost a bit of connection to the event. It's still fun to tap into the day's louche energy, to drink a little more than you should on a Sunday, to add a little more swish to your step than you normally would. But the parade itself feels a bit taken-over, it plays like a bought-and-sold pretend version of what it once was. Again, that's probably a matter of perspective and people like me should stop complaining, but did we really need the TD Bank float? Unless they're throwing out money, they're not really adding to the party.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.