Yesterday my girlfriend Sarah took me to my first pride parade. That would be the Boston gay pride parade, at least traditionally, but in recent years the term “gay” has been dropped in the interest of inclusiveness.
We positioned ourselves at the very end of the route, amidst an orderly but enthusiastic (much clapping and yelling as each group passed) crowd of thousands, thick enough that it was difficult to find a vantage point from which the marchers were visible.
From stereotype, I had expected that the parade would be dominated by outrageously clad gays marching in uniform or gyrating on floats, and indeed there was some of both of these things. What I didn’t expect was that the majority of parade participants appeared to be mainstream straights marching in a show of support. (I think the sidelines may have been gayer than the marchers on average!) Most remarkable were the church groups. Seemingly every Unitarian and United Church of Christ congregation in the state sent a delegation, as did every hospital in Boston, every liberal politician (Barney Frank marched with Elizabeth Warren), and a large number of major employers, including Fidelity, Bank of America, Google, and Microsoft.
The dynamic of the pride parade, I think, has become a relatively straightforward transaction. Organizations like a campaign for city council or Brigham and Women’s Hospital give their support to the legitimacy of the gay community by participating in the parade, and in return receive tremendous free advertising (and accompanying good will).* The demographics of the crowd (urban, gay or gay-friendly, politically active) attracted participants such as Zipcar, Boston nightclubs, Cirque du Soleil (in costume), and an especially large delegation from Macy’s.
There were certainly some organizations that were there because of a more focused mission, from the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, Fenway Healthcare, and the Gay Fathers’ Association, to the handful of truly sex-oriented groups. Occasional prideful individuals, including a number of freshly crowned “queens”, walked through with perhaps a sash but no banner, and some marchers simply strolled along dressed to the nines (or barely dressed at all). One standout for me was a handful of bare-chested transmen who successfully made their point about gender identity without a single banner or utterance.
In a word: diverse.
*: There may be secondary benefits related to the morale of employees who enjoy the ability to represent their employer.