The Vineyard’s first ever “Pride Parade” took place on June 11, a bright sunny altogether perfect late-spring Saturday, but I am just now getting around to posting about it. What makes it more odd is that this post is mainly an excuse to reprint something I wrote for the local branch of the NAACP’s newsletter, which came out after the June 1 flag raising but before June 11 festivities. You’ll find that at the end of this post. It’s still “Pride Month” so what the hell.
I was asked to be the “grand marshal” for reasons I don’t quite understand. I do seem to have acquired the status of “elder,” probably because I’ve survived on Martha’s Vineyard for this long and have a lot of interesting history in my head. I’m encouraged that there’s interest in that history, but concerned that if “elder” becomes a synonym for “old person,” it will be yet another way of dismissing us, with a pat on the head rather than more obvious forms of contempt and/or ridicule.
We mustered at the Island Queen dock on Oak Bluffs harbor. You can glimpse a bit of the scene from the photo (right) of me and Rob Galibois, Democratic candidate for Cape & Islands district attorney. (Readers on the Cape and either island, please take note. Rob is unopposed in the Democratic primary in September, but remember to vote for Rob in November. Thank you.)
This is the first time I’ve seen Rob in anything but a suit. I am wearing the same T-shirt I wore to the June 1 flag raising. Part of being an elder is having cool T-shirts that no one else has and being able to explain where they came from.
Anyhow, “grand marshal” involved walking at the head of the parade, just behind the Oak Bluffs police officer on a cute little scooter that looked like a motorized hand truck with room enough for her to stand. Right behind me were the Dykes on Bikes, one of whom had a smallish border-collie-type dog riding pillion behind her in a milk crate. To my very pleasant surprise, most of them seemed to be local.
Behind them came an array of colorful contingents, decked out in rainbow colors. Several participants came on horseback. The horses and ponies were unfazed by the flapping banners, the marching band, the crowds, and the general hoop-de-do.
From the dock, past waterside restaurants and watering holes, up Circuit Ave, along the residential streets just off Circuit to Ocean Park, onlookers were many and enthusiastic. The pace was fairly brisk. At some point I was asked if I wanted to ride. I managed to stifle my laughter and politely say “Not to worry, I’m a walker.” Of course I’m wondering if this was part of that elder thing. Do I look like someone who can’t walk a brisk mile or two?
Ocean Park and the gazebo were decked out in rainbow colors. The NAACP had a table. Organizers were passing out water bottles, and the band Funktapuss was getting ready to play. (They were great, by the way. If I didn’t have a malamute who was almost certainly complaining bitterly at being home alone, I would have danced longer.)
I’d been asked to say a few words — part of that grand marshal thing, I think — and it was clear to me that the crowd wanted to party. So I mentioned how far the Vineyard had come since I arrived, when the operative guideline was “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t do it in the streets and scare the horses.” In 2022, we seemed to be doing it in the streets but the horses weren’t worried.
The whole event was as sunny as the day. I experienced little of the dissonance and discomfort that was business as usual back when it was just Gay & Lesbian Pride. The piece that follows addresses this. On the whole I don’t see the absence of dissonance, discomfort, and discussion as an especially good thing.
My first Gay Pride was in 1978. Holly Near was the headliner and that’s what drew my friends and me. It was basically a block party in a fairly quiet neighborhood not far from D.C.’s Dupont Circle, which was widely known as a “gay ghetto.”
That first Pride venue was a bit out of the way, though the music must have wafted out to nearby Connecticut Ave. Passersby weren’t likely to see anything that might trigger their moral sensitivities or make them nervous. If you were there, it was because you wanted to be there and you already knew where to go.
My next Prides were more like carnivals than block parties. They took place at P Street Beach, an out-of-the-way sliver of Rock Creek Park. I wasn’t the only woman who was uneasy around the leather men in their neo-Nazi regalia (minus the swastikas) or some of the drag queens, whose parodies of female behavior sometimes veered into blatant misogyny.
I had already learned that diversity is often downright uncomfortable, and that the discomfort isn’t apportioned equally. The comfort of those accorded more power by society often comes at the expense of those with less.
In the late 1970s and into the ’80s it was black lesbians and lesbians of color who took the lead in addressing this, years before Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined a word for it: intersectionality.
Donna Kate Rushin laid it out in “The Bridge Poem,” which gave title to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, first published in 1981 and still in print. It begins:
I”ve had enough
I’m sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody
Bernice Johnson Reagon, scholar, activist, civil rights movement veteran, and founder and longtime leader of Sweet Honey in the Rock, nailed it in a 1981 speech, “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century.” She pointed out the crucial difference between home and coalition: “Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort.”
Way back when Gay Pride became Lesbian & Gay Pride, we knew that the Ls and the Gs were not equal partners. The Gs had more money and access to skills and resources than the Ls. They often wanted us around to make them look more liberal and inclusive. (Sound familiar?)
From the outside LGBTQ+ may look like one community, but we’re no more homogeneous than, say, Americans. You and I know that the divisions and fissures within the American “community” are very real. They have torn the country apart in the past and they may do so again.
So I think of LGBTQ+ as a coalition instead, come together around a common goal: to be fully included in American society. At the same time, each partner has its own, sometimes conflicting priorities. And those with less power are too often marginalized and even silenced by those with more.
So I’m ambivalent about this Pride that pretends to be a unity. Pride in ourselves and acceptance by outsiders can only take us so far. Sooner or later we have to decide whether we’re willing to do the hard work of fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion within our own ranks. I am not holding my breath.