Is L.A. Gay Pride an Outdated, Adolescent Mess?

L.A. Gay Pride parade on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood
L.A. Gay Pride parade on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood
Patrick Range McDonald

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Muscled go-go boys shaking their booties on one parade float after another, cock-ring tosses to win a stuffed animal, Bud Light and Bacardi sponsoring an event for a community with consistently high rates of alcoholism and drug addiction — and the same damn music with the same tweaker beat.

Does this make L.A. Gay Pride kind of stale and outdated? Are we celebrating some kind of pre-AIDS, 1970s version of the gay experience? When sexual liberation in gay culture was just as important — and justifiably so — as equality? Are we coming off passe and immature by still celebrating our gay heritage as if we're a bunch of horny, drunk 19-year-olds who came out of the closet a few weekends ago?

The short answer to those questions is an unqualified yes, but let's explain a little further...

This weekend, West Hollywood will once again host L.A. Pride — the 42nd version of the event.

Hundreds of thousands of gay folks from Southern California and elsewhere will converge on West Hollywood to celebrate gay pride by marching in or watching the parade on Sunday and partaking in various organized events and A-list parties throughout the weekend.

They'll also spend $20 each to attend an official L.A. Pride festival at Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards, where you can buy stuff, get free stuff, dance and drink. Local TV news stations will undoubtedly catch all the merriment in West Hollywood.

But each year, L.A. Pride more and more resembles one of those middle-aged gay men who was hot in his 20s, drank and drugged too much into his 30s, still acts and dresses as if he's 21 although he's 42 (and got a new arm-sleeve tattoo to prove he's still with it), and is still looking for action at the Abbey.

A number of gay men and those in the larger LGBT community have begun to see L.A. Pride as a sad spectacle, particularly since being gay is much more than wearing trendy clothes, sporting tattoos and muscles, and sleeping with whomever comes your way.

We are people who helped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. create the nonviolent civil rights movement (Bayard Rustin); who wrote such mind-blowing poetry as Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman); who forced the U.S. government to seriously fund the research and hopeful cure of a deadly disease that affects all people (any number of pioneering AIDS activists); who fought against apartheid in South Africa (Simon Nkoli); who revolutionized philosophy (Ludwig Wittgenstein); and who undertook numerous endeavors that made the world a better place to live.

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Yet once again L.A. Pride will bring out the go-go boys and cock rings, will be partly underwritten by liquor companies, and will celebrate stereotypes and outdated notions of what it means to be gay.

And then we'll wonder why certain straight folks don't take us seriously or think we're stuck in some kind of "Peter Pan syndrome" — and we'll cry bloody murder when we're treated poorly.

Well, as the old saying goes, if you don't want to be treated like a slut, don't act and look like one.

Without question, there is a place for gay pride events. We must be visible to the public and show people that gays and lesbians are living among them — being out and proud is an essential tool for furthering equality...

And it's incredibly inspiring and comforting for someone who's just come out of the closet to go to a gay pride parade and see hundreds of thousands of people who are just like you.

But over the past decade, we have clearly moved into a more enlightened era in which we're not just fighting for our right to dance with each other or have sex with someone of the same gender — we're fighting for our right to serve our country, to legally marry the person we love, to be out and not be fired for it and to play in professional sports without some kind of retribution.

To simply maintain our right to party and hook up with whomever we wish seems so 1970s, doesn't it? So, ah, adolescent.

Maybe we should bring L.A. Pride back to its roots and make it once again a political statement. To highlight our contributions to society, and to reach out in meaningful ways to our straight allies, our parents, and extended families.

See also: Mission Drift at Gay Inc.

Maybe we should highlight a particular battle we're fighting on the front lines of gay rights and make that the centerpiece of the gay pride parade, rather than make a straight celebrity a grand marshal, which then diverts publicity toward him or her and away from the important issues we're facing.

Maybe we should ban sponsors entirely, raise money from within the community, forget the $20-per-person festival that's more a place for corporate sponsors to sell their wares than anything else, and just throw one helluva soul-touching, all-inspiring march.

Heck, let's get real: Is L.A. Pride about celebrating the special spirit of gay folks or filling the cash registers of West Hollywood nightclubs and bars?

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Patrick Range McDonald on Twitter at @PRMcDonald.


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