The Changing Face of Pride

This past weekend, San Francisco hosted the 41st LGBT Pride Parade and as I was walking down Market St., I noticed how much Pride has changed since I first went to it, back in 1990.

Each year, more and more of my friends share the same observation with me: “There sure are a lot of straight folks at Pride.” Now, unlike a few people, I think that’s a great thing. There was a time when very few straight people, especially men under 30, would attend. I’ve always assumed that some of that was not wanting people to think that they were gay. And I also figure that some of it was being freaked out by the scantily-clad men wandering around. (The scantily-clad women never seemed to bother them as much. Go figure.) The fact that more straight folks feel comfortable around queens, dykes, gayboys, fairies, queers, and homos is a fabulous step forward. And I do mean FABulous!

At the same time, it changes how Pride feels to me. It feels like a celebration of my community, rather than a celebration by my community. Somewhere along the way, the event seemed to drop below a critical threshold and stopped seeming particularly queer to me. Now, I know that gaydar is imperfect. I’ve certainly had enough experience with seeing how incorrect my assumptions can be to know that. So I’ve checked with a few of my queer friends and pretty consistently, they’ve had the same impressions.

If Pride being less queer is part of the price to be paid in order to have more acceptance, less gay bashing, and more legal equality, I think that’s ok. I simply want to honor what was given up because it was a marvelous thing. I remember being surrounded by crowds of people and knowing that the overwhelming majority of them were queer. It was a wonderful experience and it isn’t something that happens in the same way anymore.

I acknowledge that some of this could certainly be the result of my getting older and not having Pride be such a groundbreaking experience for me anymore, especially since I get/choose to be out of the closet in pretty much every aspect of my life. But I also know what it feels like to be surrounded by queers and Pride just doesn’t feel like that these days. It’s still a fun celebration and a great time, and I love having the support of the heterosexual world. It’s just that it’s no longer a queer space and I miss that. As LGBT Pride goes mainstream, it stops being queer.

Of course, everything grows and changes, including the LGBT community. And I definitely don’t want to try to hold onto the past when things have moved on. But it’s also important to acknowledge what we give up in order to have our hands free to take what’s next. I feel a deep ambivalence around Pride, and I know that I’m not the only person who does.

Coincidentally, while I was writing this, an article from SF Gate popped up on my RSS feed with this to say on the topic:

The Pride Parade had a distinctly grown-up feel, with more floats sponsored by charities, politicians and corporations than the disco divas and leather daddies of yore.

I don’t think that “grown-up” is really the right phrase here. It implies that the divas and daddies are less mature than the less outré celebrants, which I think is condescending and insulting. I agree that Pride seems less sexual than it used to, but with so much of the focus of the LGBT community on gay marriage and gays in the military, the sexuality seems to have been taken out of homosexuality. That may simply be part of the political strategy of assimilation and acceptance, but something wonderful and beautiful has been set aside as part of that bargain. And all of the corporations and companies with their floats can make it seem like Pride has been commodified rather than being grown-up. Unless your definition of “grown-up” means something different than mine does.

Perhaps it’s only to be expected that as LGBT folks have become more accepted among straight & cisgender people, the defining boundaries between the two communities have begun to blur. But it raises the question of what we’re celebrating. In all of the talk about the right to love who we want, we’ve forgotten (or perhaps, encouraged other people to forget) that part of that includes the right to have sex with who we want (consenting adults, please) in the ways that we want without apology or fear of recrimination.

So I’m curious- if you went to Pride this year, what was that like for you? And if you’ve been going to Pride for a while, how do you think it has changed?

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8 Responses so far.

  1. Stephanie says:

    I had a strange feeling about Pride this year. It’s not entirely reasonable, but in a way I felt disconnected from the queer community. I’ve evolved over time. While you could say that I am queer, I don’t go out as Stevie anymore. I’m cis-female. I have long hair. I wear makeup. I have a heterosexual cis-male partner. I sometimes wonder if this makes me a “has-bian” even though I am still attracted to people of any identified sex or gender. I wonder if I’m still part of a community that helped keep me alive when I was so torn apart by my own otherness amidst people perfectly comfortable with the gender and sexual binary. But… now it seems like accepting my queerness helped me cement a certain self. But is that self queer? Have I homogenized into non-queer? I suppose, in the end, my anxieties are illogical. I’m still queer. Somebody last year at pride asked me “Are you a girl’s girl?” And I replied, “I’m everybody’s girl.” I suppose I should have gone to pride. It’s still my community. But your post essentially pointed my anxieties out for me. “There sure are a lot of straight folks at pride.” And you point out how that has changed your feelings about it. For me, that development makes me wonder if I am celebrating “the” queer community, or “my” queer community. Am I part of it or not? The existential question that pride brings up for me: “Am I still queer?”

  2. Just as kind of an outside observer, I think a lot of the overt sexuality that was part of Pride has gotten pushed over into the Folsom Street Fair. Whether that kind of ghettoizes gay sexuality into an event that’s really about BDSM is an open question.

    I know there are periodic freakouts, mostly coming from right-wing sources, that minors are allowed into the Folsom Street events. (I personally could care less if curious thrill-seeking teenagers go the Folsom Fair. It’s probably educational for them.) This concern might have some spillover into Pride, which wants to be all-ages general public kind of event.

  3. Katherine Mancuso says:

    This was my first San Francisco Pride. During Pride this year, as a young genderqueer femme, while on the arm of one of my partners, who is a strikingly beautiful older trans woman, I was cruised aggressively multiple times by straight men, often right after they spoke about how they had come here to be an ally to their gay friends. One of them we even had to lecture about why calling his wife his “tranny boyfriend” wasn’t an appropriate joke even if she was the “more masculine” in their relationship. I have to duck unwanted attention from straight men every day of the year; I had hoped that in queer space I could feel that my relationship was celebrated and feel safe from harassment. Unfortunately, my relationship felt invisible and I felt unsafe. This was super disappointing and I don’t think I want to spend any time at Pride in the future outside of leather, trans, and women’s spaces.

  4. Although I still attend pride, I have long since stopped watching the parade because I’m not interested in looking at a long stream of commercials. Although there are some pros to having mega corporations come out to show support in spite of vocal anti-gay types who propose boycotts it’s easy to forget that Stonewall was a riot.

    I’m also happy that so many people want to come out and celebrate sexuality but I’ve been feeling increasingly unsafe over the years.

    This year I dressed in a spirited way but I wasn’t fully decked out, topless, or in overtly sexual clothing. (Not that it matters one way or another but when I have an elaborate costume I understand that I will get extra attention both good and bad.) I still had men cornering me for pictures and pressuring me to remove clothing for them and worst of all I had a pack of straight couples who thought it would be funny to slap me across the ass when I was walking in front of them carrying plates of food in my hands.

    It wasn’t just one “cute” drunken smack, everyone in the group wanted to get their “turn.” When I spoke up about how they were *not* to touch me in any way, shape, or form, I was laughed at and a few extra smacks were encouraged to “teach me how to liven up and enjoy pride.”

    It makes me question if I ever really want to come out again because I should have to deal with this, especially not an event that is about celebrating my queer community. When people are as hammered as they get (especially the pack of straight couples all smacking my ass) it was impossible to make it a teaching moment. It was also pretty scary to have a pack of people start to laugh when you make it clear that slapping you repeatedly across the ass isn’t acceptable.

    I wasn’t in a booth, I wasn’t working, I was just a queer enjoying pride as a guest. It’s hard to manage thousands of people especially when the vast majority are there simply to get drunk outdoors and party.

  5. Rowan says:

    As a straight ally, this makes me question whether I should attend pride events. Not in any sort of antagonistic, “Oh, fine, they don’t want me I won’t GO!” sense, but in the sense of reminding myself that my support for equality isn’t about me in this case. I have the rights; I can marry, adopt, insure, and love as I choose. I don’t need safe space to demonstrate my love. Pride is a place to show my support, but I have plenty of opportunities to show support that don’t involve co-opting someone else’s time in the focus.

    I’m horrified to read some of the stories of how straight ‘allies’ (because those people don’t really sound very allied, if you ask me) are behaving there. That’s terrible and I’m very sorry that people have violated safe space to treat others badly. I also share the annoyance that a diminished exuberance and joy (the ‘divas and daddies’ being replaced with more family-focused visuals) is seen as growing up or maturing. Sex is a grownup game, so it’s a little squicky to me for people to suggest its presence as a sign of immaturity.

    This article will make me more carefully examine my reasons for participating in ‘queerspace’ events. I may go to them, I may not, but if I choose to go to them it will be as someone mindful of what I’m bringing to the space and how that will change perception of it. It doesn’t diminish my support for the movement in the least, but it serves as a good reminder that as an ally, I serve the movement best by speaking with you all, not for you all.

  6. Marianne says:

    I’ve participated in Seattle Pride for four years. I have had enough sex with women to know for sure that I don’t mind it, but I’m hetero. I run with Pride because many of my friends are gay and/or into BDSM. Gay and leather community set the foundation for this city’s BDSM community years ago. The least I can do is honor that, and march in solidarity that someday all of us fringe people might gain acceptance.

    But acceptance is a double-edged sword, if you’re the sort that thrives on taking risks and NOT being completely acceptable… and some of us are, which is the pinch. If Starbucks printed their cup sleeves with a gay pride flag or a BDSM logo, I suspect soon many BDSM folks would feel the way many LGBT folks do now about Pride.

  7. jk says:


    I must say that from my perspective this discussion sounds a bit odd. Last year we had a gas attack towards pride goers and this year instead of 5000, 7000 showed up, a lot of straight people as well, just to show that we wont tolerate hatred and violence. In our neighboring countries the situation is a heck of a lot worse, like for example Russia where pride is prohibited or Lithuania where those who marched got thrown rocks and fireworks at them and pride in general is condemned. Our attack was done by few neo nazi weirdos, and the attack was widely disapproved of. But for me, every support we can get is good support. I mean even though I’m not a big fan of everything being so bloody commercial all the time, I would still love the fact that our companies would have the balls to attend pride. And when it comes to straight people, in my mind pride is for everyone.

  8. Mike says:

    I have noticed the same thing. [To jk: I think this phenomenon is mainly restricted to big cities in US.] While I was a child in the 1990s and didn’t attend Pride parades until recently, in comparison with photos and footage of prior parades modern ones seem very tame and, well, heterosexual. It’s great that straight/cis people are showing their support, I’m honestly grateful for it, but I can’t help but feel like we’ve been “invaded.” Even compared with last year, this year’s Chicago parade had noticeably less bare flesh and glitter and substantially more politicians.

    “I have long since stopped watching the parade because I’m not interested in looking at a long stream of commercials”

    Maggie Mayhem has it right. At Chicago Pride the only float not from a queer organization that was of any interest was the Skittles float. All of the others were faceless corporations, local businesses, or politicians going for a stroll with a couple lackeys carrying a banner.

    I feel like I’ve missed out on something awesome, i.e. Pride of yesteryear. Many if not most of the straight people there this year seemed only to want to attend either so they could earn some sense of Ally Cred or because they think gay people throw great parties and it would be a fun/cool story to tell their friends.

    Maybe I’m being a child. I don’t know. It just feels like our party has been crashed in a big way.

    PS Rowan you are awesome. I wish every Ally was as sincere and introspective as you are.

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