Who Am I?

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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

STONEWALL 2010


I do not feel like I can do the events of Stonewall justice because I feel like I cannot provide the appropriate response for the events. I have asked a good friend who is deeply involved in the LGBT Community in Austin to give the event the proper response it deserves.

WHAT PRIDE MEANS TO ME

It is the end of LGBT Pride Month, and with all the controversy over the meaning of Pride itself, I wanted to explain what it was originally intended to be, what it has become, and what it means to me as a femme bisexual.

The first Pride March was held in New York on the last Sunday of June 1970, and was called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. It was organized by two activist organizations, the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969. One of the main organizers was Brenda Howard, a bisexual activist. The original March was a protest complete with signs and angry voices demanding equality and an end to official and professional harassment. There were no floats, and no music.

My first experience with Pride was in 1993, three years after I came out. I attended the Houston Pride Parade. It was great to see so many LGBT people there, and I felt like I was part of a community. Bill Clinton had been elected President a few months before, and there was a lot of optimism about progressing in the area of our civil rights.

The first time that I got involved with Pride as a volunteer was in 1995, when BiNet Houston assisted with the mail outs of Pride materials. The volunteer coordinators were genuinely happy that we were there, but I believe that we made some of the organizers a little uncomfortable being that we were totally out bisexuals. That year was also the first year that I walked in the parade. My girlfriend and I passed out candy to parade spectators (Almond Joy and Mounds---the bisexual candy bars) and we got verbally attacked by some lesbians who told us to “make up our minds!!” Aside from that, it was a great experience and I have walked in many parades since, even the San Francisco LGBT Freedom Day Parade (complete with topless rollerblading feminists and me pushing a baby stroller).

Though all the parades I participated in were a lot of fun, we never lost sight of the real reason for Pride. We celebrated the people that stood up for their beliefs and against the police and the Mafia. There was even a Stonewall 25 theme of one of the Houston parades. However, it seems that in the past few years, Pride has become a “queer July 4th” and an excuse to party all month.

Pride Month celebrations can often seem like advertisements for alcohol, porn, dance parties, and exotic travel destinations. In Austin, the Pride celebration had a luxury car show and was even sponsored by the City. Many people in the community, especially, people of color and low-income people feel left out and inferior. People of color in some cities have started their own celebrations that reflect their experiences as both minorities and as queer people. Low-income people feel that many of the Pride events are too expensive to attend.

Pride events in Texas are tame affairs compared to those in New York, and San Francisco. Maybe it’s because we are a more conservative part of the country and we are lagging behind in terms of acceptance. In Texas, Pride Parades are advertised as being “family friendly”. When I was in San Francisco and saw the rollerblading girls, I didn't really freak out that my child was exposed to them. I think that it's not a big deal.  However, some of the “family-friendly” parades tend to leave out segments of the community that are not “assimilationist”- the Dykes on Bikes, the leather people, the drag queens/kings, anyone that doesn't fit the image that the parade organizers want to portray. 

There has recently been a movement to reclaim the original political message of Stonewall. Take Back Pride in New York believes that the 40th anniversary of the first gay rights parades in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco in June 1970 should see a return to the spirit of those first marches.

They do not want the community to forget Pride’s roots in the Stonewall Riots and the oppression our community faced then and continues to face today. They suggest that in order for us to know where we are going, we have to know where we’ve been. Take Back Pride is “a movement to put the politics back into the parade, the march back in the march,” said Jamie McGonnigal, the group’s founder. 

Locally, there has been some controversy in the Austin LGBT community about this. There was a movement called Queerbomb started by some of my friends. They suggest that Austin's Pride celebration has strayed far from its roots and has become exclusionary and corporate. Queerbomb “aimed not to disrupt Pride altogether, but serve as an edgier complement that revisits the "radical, carnal, and transgressive lineage of our ever-changing community.” They organized a march the night before Pride, which I attended (with the Femme Mafia in a black prom dress and combat boots!) There were segments of the community which were not invited to the traditional Pride Parade and a whole bunch of straight allies in attendance.

I didn't go to the traditional Pride Parade, though I did attend the Pride Festival (but didn't pay the stupid $10 admission fee, thanks to scoring a media pass). It was a yuppie festival, sponsored by Tito's Homemade Vodka (which I confess to drinking) and Acura, among others. It was okay, but it had no spirit. It was just like every other festival with merchandise and music. I felt so out of place there, especially when I was volunteering at the Stonewall Democrats of Austin table. I was dressed in a pink “Legalize Gay” shirt, shorts, and rainbow Pride socks.  Everyone else at the table was dressed conservatively.

Nowhere at the Austin festival, was there any mention of our Stonewall ancestors. We can't forget the people that jump-started our civil rights movement, like Sylvia Rivera, the drag king Storme DeLarverie, all the butches and femmes, bisexuals, or the countless others that were also there in the beginning. Pride isn't a white, male, upwardly-mobile, straight-acting celebration. Our community is diverse, and the Stonewall Riots even reflected that.

I am happy that I have become involved in the LGBT community again. In addition to attending Queerbomb, I have been active in Equality Across America- Texas, Stonewall Democrats of Austin, and many other organizations across the state. Pride for me is celebrating who I am as a femme, a bisexual, a queer mother, and an activist. It is about showing straights the diversity of our community. Pride is about understanding my queer history, learning from it, and continuing the tradition of the activists from the past.

“Stonewall still lives within us. The first finish line we need to cross is civil rights. The baton has been passed to the civil rights leaders of today.”
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