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Pride and Prejudice: Does the annual parade perpetuate gay stereotypes?

A rookie and a pro ponder all that bare skin and glitter.
Proud Pride marchers

Proud Pride marchers Photo: Flickr user adpowers


On Sunday, June 30th, as an intern for Ed Murray’s mayoral campaign, I had the privilege of marching in the Pride parade along with the rest of Ed’s supporters. My first Seattle Pride.

I was immediately swept up in the jubilance of the occasion. Everyone there seemed proud, supportive and happy. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

A Seattle kid through and through, I have grown up surrounded by LGBTQ culture and influences — not just books, movies or television, which tends to paint a narrow picture of gay men as effeminate, flamboyant characters. 

"Often I'm stereotyped as the cute little twinky boy," said James-Robert Lim, 30, at Pridefest. Lim (below) went on to explain that his fashion choices, hairstyle and small stature often lead people to assume that he would be drawn to more classically masculine partners. “In reality,” he said, “I’m quite the opposite: I like being a guy.”

On that unseasonably hot June day, countless scantily-clad marchers filled the streets. They all seemed comfortable showing off their bodies and sharing passionate public gestures with their partners. In solidarity, grinning spectators wearing tutus or fairy wings and dousing themselves in glitter for the occasion cheered them on from the sidelines. Vendors pushed their carts through the crowd, hawking pink flamingos and small stuffed unicorns.

It all made me wonder: Do events like the Pride Parade, with all its over-the-top sexuality and glitter, perpetuate gay stereotypes?

Pride parades are the largest and most visible celebrations of gay culture. If they were your only experience with or exposure to the LGBTQ community, how would it shape your view of its members? 

Put another way, do Pride Parades reinforce the stereotypes of the community they celebrate?

Sure, says Marschel Paul, former Managing Director and current Interim Executive Director of the Seattle Pride Foundation, which supports the LGBTQ community. (The Pride Foundation doesn't fund, manage or plan Seattle’s annual Pride Parade and PrideFest.)

Pride Parades embody “expressiveness and color and culture,” explains Paul. They celebrate “dancing and music, nudity, drag queens, all manner of sexiness, lesbians on motorcycles, mysterious costumed nuns and so much more.” But they have also evolved over time to reflect the growing diversity of the LGBTQ community. 

“The parade has grown tremendously in lockstep with society's evolution over the last few decades,” she continues. This year's participants, for example, included Mormons for Marriage Equality, the ACLU, Delta Airlines, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Starbucks and the Filipino Youth Activities Drill Team, plus a multitude of small businesses, non-profits and politicians (like Ed Murray). “That's the culture,” says Paul. “That's the stereotype. And it creates a strong civic fabric.”

In earlier days, Pride parades were Pride "marches,” more activist than celebratory. “As the LGBTQ community has become more accepted and understood in the overall society, the term ‘march’ has fallen away,” says Paul. Today’s Pride parades are truly a celebration of how far the LGBTQ community has come. “What some people may think of as distasteful flamboyance or radical expressiveness in the parades is truly joyous and welcome to those who understand what it means to survive any form of oppression and to live openly and honestly.”

As a person who feels she has some understanding of and connection with LGBTQ culture, it is clear that Pride is no rowdier or more scandalous than any other party thrown by a bunch of young people in a vibrant city. It is an excuse to celebrate sexuality and love; an opportunity to leave insecurity behind and honor who we truly are. It’s not every day one can ride a float down 4th Avenue wearing nothing but a bra and a feather boa.

Maybe the real question isn’t whether people at the parade, in an attempt to express themselves to the fullest, are perpetuating gay stereotypes, but whether onlookers can see beyond the sparkles — and the stereotypes — and recognize themselves.

Sara D. Kowdley, born and raised in Seattle, is 15 years old. She attends Phillips Academy Andover, just north of Boston, where she writes for and helps manage the student-run political magazine. An avid writer, opinionated lover of politics and firm believer in the real need for quality journalism, Sara is thrilled to be working as an intern at Crosscut.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 11, 1:05 p.m. Inappropriate

If you had a parade of "regular" LGBT people doing "regular" things, you'd have a long line of people in khakis and jeans on their cell iPhones trying to plan schedules and meet their obligations at work and at home, juggling kids, school, jobs, households, pets.

Doesn't that sound just like an AWESOME parade to watch?

The fact is that a parade is a PARADE. Most people understand it is a form of entertainment, a party. It's not real life. The only people who don't get that are somehow living under such a huge rock that they've never seen their gay neighbors taking out their trash or sending their kids to school. Because who else might think mysterious colorful drag nuns actually spend all their waking hours dressed like that?

Besides, judging by the crowds, Pride parades around here at least tend to draw at least as many non-LGBT people as LGBT people (if not more). Why? Because they're fun. Duh.

I think Washingtonians get what Pride parades are, and I'm not too worried about the stereotyping (non-)problem.

smacgry

Posted Thu, Jul 11, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Yup, if they get it, then it is high fun.

If they don't get it, which many don't, I don't believe they make many friends.

It seems an odd way to encourage folks to come over to your side.

Oh, and clean up the trash you leave in the streets, too. That (a trip down the parade route after the parade was over) certainly did not impress me that "these folks" are "us".

Geezer

Geezer

Posted Thu, Jul 11, 10:20 p.m. Inappropriate

"Do events like the Pride Parade, with all its over-the-top sexuality and glitter, perpetuate gay stereotypes?"

Do events like the Fremont Parade, with all the naked bikers and over-the-top nudity (all afternoon!) perpetuate Fremont hippie stereotypes?

Yes and yes, and so what? Your last two paragraphs answer a question that hardly needs to be asked anymore.

Geezer; from one to another--get over yourself.

louploup

Posted Fri, Jul 12, 7:10 a.m. Inappropriate

I guess my answer is, "So what?"

Let's say the parade reinforces sterotypes of gay people. Gay folks are still protected against discimination. Gay folks can still marry. Gay folks will still be discriminated against by trolls and folks who can't read.

I guess the question I have for the authors is this: "Why would you imply gays cannot act the way they want (within the boundaries of parade laws) precisely like any heterosexual can act?"

ddmiller

Posted Fri, Jul 12, 4:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Sara Kowdley, even though according to your bio at the end of this article you are only 14, since you appear to be an aspiring journalist inaccuracies in your reporting should be corrected. Marschel Paul is not the current interim Executive Director at Pride Foundation. Since last year, a very talented and amazing woman by the name of Kris Hermanns has been at the helm of that organization.

Posted Sun, Jul 14, 3:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Sara - You write very well. To find out that you are "just" 14 gives me hope for the American education system. I do have to agree with griffindog about the need for fact-checking and proof-reading. The parade was on JUne 30th, not the 27th. I wish we'd met at the parade -- you might have seen my partner and I get married during the parade, right on 4th Avenue in front of the grandstand. Marriage! Now there's a gay stereotype!

jcwebber

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