Somewhere over this rainbow

Casey Peuser,
Online and Social Media Editor

At the risk of fulfilling the stereotype, lately I’ve found myself identifying with the great Judy Garland in wishing that I, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, was somewhere over the rainbow.

By ‘rainbow,’ I’m referring to LGBTQ Pride.  And by ‘over,’ I mean discouraged by the lack of respect and dignity at Pride events.

On June 25, San Francisco held their 47th annual Pride Parade and March. According to an ABC interview with George F. Ridgely, Jr., the executive director of SF Pride, a record-breaking 250 contingents marched in the parade and more than a million attendees gathered to watch and take part in the festivities at Civic Center Plaza.

My partner and I were two of those attendees.

Normally, I would probably avoid Pride altogether – crowds aren’t really my thing – but my partner never attended a Pride event of any kind, so we decided to check out the celebration.

From the moment we boarded our BART train in Oakland, the smell of Pride was in the air, and it smelled like body odor. Every car was packed with people heading to the city, most of them decked out in rainbow-colored attire, makeup, hair, and accessories. Although the smell was somewhat off-putting, the trip across the Bay was nevertheless exciting. After all, it’s difficult to be bored when you’re constantly being rubbed up against by strangers in colorful costumes.

We finally arrived at Civic Center, and after emerging from the humid underground station, we reached the entrance to SF’s Pride celebration. Well, almost the entrance; first, we had to stand in a line stretching about half a city block in length and spanning the entire width of the street.

Each attendee needed to be screened through a metal detector and security bag check before they could enter the festival. Personally, I wasn’t upset by the increased security; it’s comforting to know that the city is striving to keep its citizens and visitors safe. However, the 40-minute wait under the hot sun was tiresome, and stepping over empty booze bottles and other trash along the way was disheartening.

Finally, we entered the Pride celebration, which was only slightly less crowded than the line to get in. We slowly began meandering through the cramped streets, trying not to step on toes or get trampled by platform heels. The volume of people alone was overwhelming, not to mention the food, craft, and service vendors that were found everywhere we turned.

It was hard to know where to go or what to look at, and to echo my favorite on-screen columnist from the television show “Sex and the City”, Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder… if I had trouble navigating Pride, how difficult must it be for those with disabilities or accessibility needs?

According to the SF Pride website, Pride is committed to ensuring that disabled people have equal access to and equal participation in their annual celebrations as well as the parades. That said, if maneuvering those streets was difficult for me on two legs, I can’t imagine the obstacles that someone with limited mobility would face trying to do the same. SF Pride should be a celebration for all members of the LGBTQ community, including those with disabilities.

Feeling a little stunned by the crowds, my partner and I decided to grab a beverage at one of the vendors’ booths. We both took issue with the prices – $12 for a weak 12-ounce cocktail – and the in-your-face corporate sponsoring boasting their brands in inescapably large lettering.

However, what bothered us the most was being surrounded by disrespectful attendees who seemed to be at Pride for the sole purpose of getting wasted.

I don’t mean to rain on anybody’s Pride parade; I enjoy an adult beverage as much as the next gay. Pride is a celebration, and those attending should be able to let loose and celebrate their culture. But when people choose to use Pride as an excuse to get drunk and or high, they are disrespecting our cultural heritage and worse, doing potential damage to our future.

Pride is about fighting for our rights, establishing visibility in a society that would rather not acknowledge us, and educating the world about what it means to be LGBTQ. Pride is about remembering the social justice warriors who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today and continuing to build on their legacy.

Having a couple drinks or smoking a few joints isn’t a crime; Pride-goers deserve to have a gay old time as much as anyone. But when drugs and alcohol detract from the true message and purpose of Pride, it can become less meaningful and less enjoyable for others.

While I recognize the importance of Pride celebrations to LGBTQ communities around the world, I personally no longer feel a desire to attend. As a gay man, Pride to me has become less about parades and waving rainbow flags and more about how I live my daily life. I feel Pride every time I leave the house wearing a little mascara or nail polish. I feel Pride every time I hold my partner’s hand in public. I feel Pride every time I have the opportunity to teach a friend or family member about LGBTQ issues.

For me, Pride is more than just a once-a-year celebration; it’s a way of life.