What an exciting time it has been for the LGBT community in California and the U.S in the last week, what with the Supreme Court voting to overturn the Defence of Marriage Act. It was unplanned and fortuitous that Kate and I happened to be in New York City for the annual Gay Pride Parade that was held a few days after the decision came down. We had just arrived in NYC after spending the first 7 weeks of our overseas adventure in Hawaii and Portland.
I originally come from Auckland, New Zealand which has had annual gay pride parades over the years, but I had never been to one. There were several reasons for this. From 18 years old I attended university and then continued to work in cities at the opposite end of the country so there was a geographical barrier for sure. Also the pride parade was cancelled for some years as the Auckland City Council at the time wouldn’t give it any funding. But the main reason I never went was because I had grown up in an homophobic family who I knew would not accept me being gay if I was to come out. Growing up in that oppressive environment I hid my sexual orientation for many years and some of their attitudes even rubbed off on me. Like my parents I have always felt uncomfortable about the flamboyant element of gay pride parades. You know what I mean – the transvestites in their garish make-up, high heels and busty outfits; scantily-clad, buff young men prancing in the street; butch women on bikes, possibly topless!! I didn’t and I still don’t really relate to them. I am not like that. I am my own person.
As I’ve got older and become more comfortable about my own sexual orientation I have come to understand that “being accepted for who you are” is what Gay Pride is all about.
I digress! Back to New York. I decided I’d like to attend the gay pride parade as it was possibly a once in a life-time opportunity. I’d heard on the news that typically crowds of up to 2 million descend on Manhattan for this event. We are sub-letting an apartment in Brooklyn which is about 25 minutes subway ride from “mid-town” Manhattan. I had expected that the subway carriages would be bulging to the seams with rainbow-coloured people heading into town but it didn’t really seem much busier than usual. Maybe being a Sunday had something to do with it.
Kate had put me in charge of checking out the starting point, route and end point of the parade on the Internet. I don’t know why but I have an uncanny ability to stuff up any computer-related tasks and this turned out to be no exception. I had read on what I thought was a reputable site that the parade was starting on 52nd St and then heading down 5th Ave to the West Village. When we saw people with rainbow flags walking in the opposite direction to us we knew I had got things wrong yet again. The parade has started on 36th St at noon and it was now 12:10!! So back down in to the hot, sticky subway we went and successfully got ahead of the parade, popping up at 14th St.
I needn’t have worried about a poor turnout because the crowd was huge. I guess they were more organised than we were and got there early! A large cross section of society was there and they all were in a celebratory mood. The marchers appeared different from what I had expected. There were relatively few of the stereotypes that I described above. Most of them looked like regular people, dressed in colourful T-shirts displaying the name of their support group, and jubilantly waving their banners and rainbow flags. Yes they were dancing and singing in the street, but there was a dignity about them too. The parade was headed by 84 year old Edith Windsor who was the main plaintiff in the DOMA case.
A little later went went down to the West Village where the crowds were even bigger. It was hard not to lose each other in the throng. I loved seeing the Gay Men’s Choir and the gay marching band.
There weren’t as many floats as I’d expected but the participants made up for it with their enthusiasm. I was pleased to see a variety of liberal churches represented in the marching groups.
The corporates were there after the gay dollar. My muti-coloured beads were from a bank and we got free Coke and Illy coffee. The politicians were in on the act too. Each mayoral candidate had their gay groupies.
One guy from the Human Rights Watch group had a sign that read “Human Rights Watch Celebrates Marriage Equality in New Zealand” (this having happened just 2 months ago). Much to Kate’s embarrassment I shouted out to him excitedly that I was a Kiwi. He smiled, mouthed that he was too and then came over and gave me the sign! So for the rest of the afternoon I too was holding up my banner and waving my rainbow flag
At 4pm we decided to head home. Not so easy as it turns out. Some of the subway stations around the West Village were temporarily closed and we had to struggle through crowds of people for about 40 mins to find an open one. Not the best when you have a full bladder! Anyway we eventually made it home and I was pleased to have out and proud at last