18 years later, we’ve hit that time when the calendar turns to June and the rainbows come out, the party gets started, and every business is reminding us that “love is love.”  During Pride Month, I still hear a lot of people asking the same questions.

 

By Kellie Schorr

On a Saturday in June 2005, the sun had no mercy. Neither did the police. Neither did the Baptists.

Although sunrise was a pleasant 73 degrees, by 10:00 AM when the parade was supposed to start it was 90 degrees. I stood there on the boiling asphalt, with sweat dripping down my face, watching the harried first-time organizers try to get everyone in place while different colored balloons began popping randomly, as if to remind us all that it was just too freaking hot for this.

It was the very first Pride Parade in El Paso, Texas. We were a small, melting collection of people preparing to march through the heart of downtown. The permit was limited so there were only a few floats, several walking groups (I was leading one of those), and just some assorted LGBT people, rollerblading young men in angel wings to honor Matthew Shepherd, and PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

Sponsored by an HIV/AIDS organization and local gay bars, the route was curious.

It started at a tiny park (no facilities, just some picnic tables on dead grass) directly across the street from First Baptist Church of El Paso. We went through the business district full of Saturday shoppers who had no idea what was happening, directly past the county jail where a busload of inmates got quite an eyeful, then ended at a cement street block that housed three of the city’s four gay bars where booths of free condoms, loud music, and cheap beer awaited.

If you somehow managed to live through this gauntlet you had to figure out how to get back to your car which was now two miles away.

By the time the event ended, the temperature was 107. Although the LGBT community groups and the local newspaper hailed it as a groundbreaking event, I can tell you it was one of the worst experiences of my life.

The leadership of First Baptist Church cordoned off their parking lot with yellow banners that looked a lot like crime scene tape. To make sure there wasn’t going to be any gay parking in their lot, several large scowling male parishioners took positions on the sidewalk in front of the church.

A mom with two small children found the courage to walk over and ask if her son could use the bathroom. The Pastor, without a hint of irony, told her the church was “not for the public” and denied her request.

“Imagine,” a PFLAG dad said to me as we watched the exchange, “being so terrified and insecure that you can’t let a kid go potty.” The dad then offered to drive the mom and her kids to the nearest restroom.

Allies. They are the best.

When we finally got moving, I walked down the middle of the road, waving at people on the street feeling so proud, and weird, and awkward. I saw an older gay gentleman I knew waving enthusiastically at me and crying because in his wildest dreams he never imagined this could happen. In his youth he’d been arrested for being gay. He was hit, threatened with being outed to his boss, and released.

There were a lot of downtown shoppers open mouth staring at the unapologetic drag queens, gay bar floats blaring, “We Are Family” while tossing rainbow beads, and elderly couples carrying signs that said, “I love my gay son!”

I also saw the motorcycle police, tasked with guiding and protecting us, rolling their eyes and revving their engines. When we went by the jail other officers on the side of the road were pointing and laughing at the cops assigned to us. “Ha, ha. You are gay now!” “Don’t let it rub off on you!” “Hee hee F****T parade!”

I think it was at that moment, walking down the street dripping sweat like a rotisserie chicken with my sexual orientation on full-out display to a bunch of people who either couldn’t care less or actively hated us, I started asking questions out loud.

  • “Who picked this stupid route?  Over the Baptists and through the jail to grandmother’s bar we go?”
  • “Can’t we do this in November? Why the hell is Gay Pride Month in freaking 100-degree June???” (That was rhetorical – I knew the answer – it coincides with the Stonewall Riots, the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement).
  • “Why do they have us walking under a balloon rainbow down the middle of a street?  Next year I’m getting on a damn float if I have to bribe every gay bartender in town to do it!”

And then I asked the most important question of all–

“Why am I doing this?”

18 years later, we’ve hit that time when the calendar turns to June and the rainbows come out, the party gets started, and every business is reminding us that “love is love.”  During Pride Month, I still hear a lot of people asking the same questions.

“Why do you get a whole month? We don’t have a special month for straight people!” (Hint: Every month ever has been a month for straight people).

“Why do you have to shove it in my face? Just be gay and shut up.”

“Why don’t you focus on something really important?”

“Why are you doing this?”

In 2005, once I sat down, cooled off, and took a nap, the answers were really clear. In 2023, the answers are still the same.

I’m doing this because I can. We still live in a world where people must hide who they are to be safe or keep their job. Political rhetoric has wrapped basic bigotry in a religious robe and boiled it to use that steamy hate as a fuel.

I have the luxury of being out. I have a job that can’t be taken away because of what someone else thinks their god thinks.

I’m doing this because there are whole communities like those Baptists who are so terrified of a challenge to their world view, they still can’t just let people go to the bathroom.

I’m doing this because there’s nothing wrong with a gay bar, a lesbian teacher, a drag queen reading a book to kids, two people in love getting the social/legal rights of marriage, or a child with two moms, two dads, or a dad who finally revealed she really is a mom.

It doesn’t have to be something you think is “right”—but I will not stand around longer and be forced to pretend it’s wrong.

I’m doing this because I have had enough of prejudice, aggression, and ignorance. I’m not going to hide from it. I’m not going to carry it and smile politely while people wave their “religious freedom” with one and take away my rights with the other.

Pride isn’t about ego.

It’s not about saying LBGTQ people are better, more deserving, or just more gayfabulous than anyone else. It’s definitely not about trying to force people to accept or love us. That kind of love we don’t need. It isn’t trying to change your religion or tell you what to think.

Pride is a way to educate and celebrate that through it all—the lies about us, the pain, the exhaustion, the rejection, the challenge,—the LBGTQ community is still here, still bold, and still walking down the middle of the street in 100-freaking-degree weather. And for that, I am truly thankful, and very proud.

One of the primary teachings of Buddhism is interconnectedness.

We are made from a series of causes and conditions that arise and affect one another.  We are not separate beings. We celebrate Pride so you can see us, and we can see you. Then maybe, just maybe, it will become obvious that no matter who we are—we are on a path together.

Let’s make this a journey worth taking.

 

Photo: Pixabay

 

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