A reader writes:
I was a bit amused by the comments of your gay reader who is "on the side of not taking kids to gay pride" because "it's not the most family friendly environment."
The attached photo was taken during the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade in 1999, when my daughter was nine months old. We were watching the parade with a group of friends when we were approached by a 6'4" drag queen wearing 6" heels and a floral print bikini. She asked if she could hold our baby, and how could we refuse?
My wife and I have regularly attended the gay pride parade with our friends, gay and straight, since moving to San Francisco in 1989. We love the event; it's one big joyous party, a quintessential San Francisco experience.
My wife and I are hardly libertines. We have never been to Folsom Street and we don't have any particular desire to go. We hold very traditional family values, we believe deeply in the sanctity of marriage, and we tend to hang out with people (straight and gay) holding similar values. Nevertheless, when we started our family, we saw no reason to stop going to gay pride. When the kids were very small, we figured the occasional public nudity and more sexualized moments of the parade would simply go over our kids' heads. This turned out to be correct: for them, the parade was just a big, colorful, silly spectacle.
We worried that it might become inappropriate to keep taking the kids to the parade as they got a little older, but this concern proved to be unfounded.
As the kids got older, the parade became less sexualized and definitely more family friendly. The organizers began to provide a special play area for families with children. There is less nudity, and the naked people mostly fade into the background anyway. The parade seems to be less and less about people getting laid and more about individual freedom and the joy of being with people you love - values that we definitely support and hope our children embrace.
The kids just love going to the pride parade. Cute kids on the front row of spectators at a gay pride parade attract a fair amount of attention, and so our kids score lots of free candy, mardi gras beads, tchotchkes and stickers. They've gotten to shake the hands of the chief of police and the fire chief. We've attended a number of more conventional parades -- St. Patrick's Day, Chinese New Year's, Carnival in the Mission District (San Francisco has a lot of parades.), but our kids find the pride parade by far to be the most interesting, most colorful and most fun.
The last couple of years we have been getting together with a bunch of other families from our (Episcopal) church to watch the parade. Our church's membership for the last twenty years has been roughly half gay and half straight. Our congregation has a lot of children of both gay and straight parents. On Pride Day, we watch the parade for a couple of hours and then hop over the barriers to march with the Episcopal Church contingent when it passes by. The kids, a lovely group of multi-racial, multi-cultural pre-teens, march right behind our church's banner. I cannot begin to tell you how proud we are of the eagerness and enthusiasm of our children in spreading our church's message of inclusion and acceptance. The kids get a lot of applause and affirmation, and the experience is incredibly positive.
Your reader worried about the hyper-sexualized atmosphere of the pride parade. The sexuality is there, of course, just as it is pervasive throughout our culture. The occasional bare breast or naked fat guy (and the naked guys are always on the hefty side) don't really bother us, and they don't seem to upset the kids. The really overtly sexual stuff and the unconventional groups like the S&M contingents don't seem to affect the kids either. Perhaps what we perceive as sexual, our kids regard as just a bunch of adults acting silly. Maybe I'm deluding myself and maybe I'll change my mind about the parade when our kids hit their teen years. But I don't think so.
Nevertheless, I can say with all sincerity that I am more comfortable having my kids watch the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade than having them watch some of the mainstream sitcoms that appear in early prime time (during what once was referred to as the "family hour") on national network television. We used to let the kids watch How I Met Your Mother, but oh my goodness, the things they say on that program, and the situations they portray -- at 8:00 every Monday evening -- are vastly more sexual, and make me much more uncomfortable as a parent, than anything I have ever seen at the pride parade.
Sorry for the long message. I am certainly not trying to encourage others to follow our example, and like you, I would never criticize any parents who felt uncomfortable taking their children to a pride parade. Still, I thought you might be interested by the overwhelmingly positive experience that we, a hetero couple with very traditional values, have enjoyed at these events with our children.