Cord Jefferson, writing for The Root, compares gay pride parades to the marches of the Civil Rights Movement:
Looking at King, however, you'd be forgiven for thinking he'd been picked up in the winter. As natty as a movie star in a gray wool suit and pressed white shirt, his eyes remain calm beneath the shade of a wide-brimmed fedora. It's a gentleman's outfit, similar to others he often wore to appear in public, and it must have been a horribly uncomfortable get-up on such a muggy day, not to mention in a dank prison cell.
Fast forward five decades to the civil rights movement currently at the forefront of American politics and minds: that of the LGBT community, which has been on a roller-coaster ride in recent weeks. There have been notable successes (marriage rights affirmed in six states) and surprising failures (the endurance of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy). This month, hundreds of thousands of men and women around the world will take to the streets to march for visibility and solidarity in gay pride parades. Much like Dr. King before them, the LGBT marchers ask simply for the basic rights granted other Americans--the right to work, the right to safety, the right to equality.
Unlike Dr. King, few of them will appear in suits.
...at the risk of sounding like a staid homophobe, I'm often left wondering where the pride part comes in.
Jefferson does not sound so much like a staid homophobe, as a condescending concern troll. There are several problems with this logic of respectability. In the main, it's premised on the notion that a "protest march" is an adequate synonym for a "pride parade." It is not. There are certainly elements of protest in a "gay pride parade." But, if I may be so bold as to speak for the other side, the primary goal isn't to affect policy change.
This leads to the second problem of asking people in a Gay Pride parades to play by a set of rules (wearing a suit) that you wouldn't ask of anyone else. But that's because the job of parade participants is, evidently, to make homophobes more comfortable:
The annual marches ultimately accomplish two things: They entertain those of us--gay and straight--who already wholeheartedly support the cause of equal rights for the LGBT community, and they feed into the rotten stereotypes of bigots, the same people who fear gay Boy Scout leaders and consider same-sex marriage "deviant."
And then this:
I wish I could say that no bigots are going to use pictures of a few men in thongs in San Francisco to write off millions of gay, lesbian and transgender people, but I can't. There's a lot at stake right now. The community is on the verge, perhaps, of a tipping point for rights and acceptance.
There is a deeply insidious logic at work here. It is of a piece with the racist who claims to not hate black people, but holds them responsible for the 15-year old with his pants hanging off his ass. Or the misogynist who claims to love women, but holds them all responsible for the gold-digger around the corner. Jefferson isn't arguing for this logic--he's just lending it credence.
The final insult to oppressed people, is always to make them responsible for the venal stupidity of their oppressors. The bigots core refrain is never "I hate you," but "Why are you making me hate you?" Left unsaid in all this is why, precisely, some guy in San Fran wearing a thong is so offensive. Instead it asks gay people everywhere to adjust. It's not enough to be hated by the homophobe, now you must wash his laundry too.
I don't much like gay pride parades. I don't much like any parade. Hordes of people marching in the same direction always make me feel like I should be going the other way. Especially when they're yelling. But that's my problem--it isn't the job of a gay pride parade to make me comfortable. Or any parade.