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

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.

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