People-watching at Pridefest

pride_2013_smI spent yesterday’s Pridefest helping out at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer booth. (Well, OK, maybe “helping” is a strong word. I mostly stood there and tried not to get in the way. But I did bring candy, so I’m not a complete box of loose parts.)

It was my first Pridefest, and it was a blast! People were super-friendly, and once the rain finally stopped, we had a very pleasant day.

One thing that struck me is that people who are outside the LGBTQ community have a very distorted idea of what the community is like. A couple of older acquaintances (who don’t know I’m transgender) were complaining to me last week about “the homosexuals.” One of them told me, “I have nothing against the homosexuals, but I’m tired of them parading around.”

(Yes. “The homosexuals.” Welcome to Pittsburgh, where in some neighborhoods, the Eisenhower Administration never ended.)

You know, they don’t hate gays or lesbians, they just don’t want them to act all … um, gay or lesbian.

When I asked them what they meant by “parading around,” they essentially described the most colorful parts of the annual pride parade—the drag queens, the leather subculture, the rad-faeries and other parts of the community that stand out and, frankly, give it its vibrance. (Believe me, as your friendly neighborhood crossdresser, I am not about to comment negatively on what other people are wearing.)

And I could no more reject those folks than I could reject someone who goes to a Steelers game wearing black-and-gold bodypaint and a hard hat, or someone who attends a political rally covered in candidate buttons. We’re passionate about our causes, and we dress to express ourselves.

But here’s the thing—when I was in high school and college, like a lot of Pittsburgh teen-agers, I worked for Kennywood. And I spent a lot of time there people-watching.

With exceptions (not many people at Kennywood are in leather chaps or pink tutus) you could replace the crowd at Pridefest with the crowd at your average Kennywood school picnic and not be able to tell much of a difference. Or, if you don’t like that comparison, you could replace Pridefest with a tailgate party outside any major college football stadium on game day.

As I stood in Redeemer’s booth on Liberty Avenue yesterday, I saw straight couples, gay couples, older people, young people, people in wheelchairs, people pushing babies in strollers. Many races, many gender identities, many ages.

There were gangs of teenagers cracking jokes, talking loud and “ripping” on one another. There were little kids with painted faces holding balloons, and button-downed people in Sunday clothes eating cookies.

One mom came up to our booth with her son who was probably 14 years old. He had just come out to her and she was trying to connect him with resources in the gay community. How adorable is that? My heart melted.

There are some people who get upset when the media focuses on the subcultures—drag queens, leathermen, dommes and subs—at pride events. They think it hurts the LGBTQ community’s ongoing struggle for full equality.

There’s another school of thought that says LGBTQ culture is becoming too mainstream and tame and safe, too corporate.

You can argue either one of those, I suppose. And you can also argue that Pittsburgh Pridefest may or may not be a representative sample of the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania or anywhere else.

But I don’t know. To me, it sure looked like a reflection of something. Maybe just everyday life in the United States—weirdness and banality, friendliness and coarseness, variety and conformity.

Sarah Palin said she represented the “real America.” But could it be that the “real America” looks a lot more like an event such as Pittsburgh Pridefest than whatever vision exists inside her head?

I think so. No wonder we scare the living crap out of the culture warriors.


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  • Well said, and I’m glad you had a good time! I brought three friends, two of whom had never been to Pridefest. They had a blast! I enjoy the diversity and the fact that people can be themselves and hold hands and kiss and wear whatever they want and feel welcome, because they all belong.

  • If I may — if you want to see some people dressed weird, acting out in public, and calling attention to their safety, “rights”, and agenda – check out the bicyclists on Saturday morning, all the niches and subgroups, the purists, the gearheads, the solo acts, the group riders, the roadies, the (ugh) recumbents, OMG. (joking) Your post applies to either crowd – everyday people, excited , celebrating. Excellent post.

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