EXILE FROM CLUBLAND: Disparate Prides
I was recently elected to the Youth Liaison/Event Coordinator position for the Boston Pride '98 Committee. As such, I've been doing a lot of thinking on what it is that makes Boston's gay youth feel proud of themselves, of their supporters, of their culture. Since I'm responsible for making sure the under-21 gay contingent are provided for in the coming year, I have the daunting responsibility of speaking on behalf of every segment of that demographic. This is a complex task not merely because gay kids, like all kids in general, come from every imaginable background, culture, and context. It is also difficult because I'm not sure exactly what it is that "we" want to take from Boston Pride each year. Certainly there are those who have made a conscious effort in everyday life to ensure that this generation will not merely while away their youth in passivity, just as there are those whose only outward motivation is to reap their wild oats with almost religious fervor. So, to give the issue some perspective, I had to evaluate my closest resources: my own friends.
This turned out to be a much more painful experience than I had hoped for, since it reflected not only on the people I associated with but on my own discretion and judgment in the matter. It has been said that we are only as good as our friends, and while I feel that statement to be a bit glib and potentially classist, our choices can't help but reflect on us in some way. And the best possible litmus test for this sort of dilemma is everyday experience.
So it was that I found myself on the weekend of June 13, 1997, in the small Cape Cod town of Hyannisburg, MA, witnessing the tail end of their own Pride event, just a week after Boston's own massive celebration. We had endured a particularly traumatic voyage down, complete with the usual mishaps-- car sickness, a poor sense of direction, a driver so overconcerned with the state of his car that he could barely find the inner strength to finish the voyage-- and had arrived in time to catch the last 30 minutes or so of a day-long event.
We split off into factions of varying sizes upon our arrival. An ex of mine had scampered off to inflict himself on Candace Gingrich, from whom I caught a terrified glance as the boy yapped excitedly in her face for the better part of ten minutes. I was content making small chat with some of the Pride Committee members, having made their acquaintance as one of the main performing acts on the Boston Pride Festival stage, while my lesbian friends swooned over singer-songwriter Michelle Malone, currently in action. All was, for the most part, well.
In the same way that lasting relationships are sometimes forged in small, simple moments rather than "major events," it happens that the smallest occurrences sometimes say the most about us as people. As the group's collective consciousness turned to thoughts of food, we had scavenged the streets of Hyannisburg with little success to satisfy our ravenous group. Taking to the highway once again, we made a brief pit stop in the most convenient and mostly satisfying choice of establishments: Wendy's.
Now, it's important that I say "mostly satisfying," because it had apparently only been a matter of concern to me that we, two carloads of gay kids, were stopping to eat at one of the most homophobic fast-food establishments in the country. Attempting to muster up some of that old-time pride in my fellow passengers, I noted this distinction and was met with thorough ridicule.
My ex spoke first. "Look, if it comes down to some gay cause and being able to eat, I think I'll take the food, OK?"
The lesbians were kinder about the situation, offering support for my political concern but choosing, ultimately, to give Dave Thomas their pink cash as well.
"I guess I just find it slightly ironic that we're eating at Wendy's after coming from a gay pride rally, that's all," I muttered.
Ultimately, they respected my intentions and went out of the way to find me an alternate food source, for which I owe them at least some credit. But the whole situation did strike me as horribly backwards. Wendy's had made no secret of its stance on homosexuals in its establishment, even pulling spots from the ELLEN television show to remind the American public that gay people just don't eat at Wendy's, and if they do, they aren't welcome. Wendy's doesn't offer domestic-partnership benefits and Mr. Thomas has been known to make an off-color remark or five on the subject. So my question remained: What the hell were we, a group of conscionable and very proud gay youth, doing even *considering* eating at this place? Is gay pride just another T-shirt and a bunch of metal rings on a chain?
In this particular instance-- perhaps the most pointed example of disparity between word and deed that I can think of-- it is difficult for me to find any redemption on behalf of my friends. And perhaps I make a greater issue of their decision than is absolutely necessary. However, when given a fair amount of information about the anti-gay corporate rhetoric that their chosen establishment had disseminated, they failed to "Stand up, Stand out, Stand together," as Boston Pride '97's slogan had so nobly stated. Rather than simply choose another establishment, they conveniently tucked away their ideals and, by doing so, completely revealed the falsity of their sentiments on Pride. Most embarrassingly, my ex had spoken with Gingrich about becoming a part of the national commission for gay youth. Where would they fall if presented with, say, a petition against HB117, the Hawaiian anti-same-sex marriage bill? Will they simply wave away any opposition that comes their way? Talk is cheap, dear reader, and occasionally we have to sacrifice a Wendyburger or two to make ourselves heard.
It seems unfair to broaden this experience and point the spotlight out on America's gay youth with this dilemma in mind, but it is something that you might want to consider about yourself and your friends. To what extent are you willing to stand by your beliefs, even if it seems idiotic or trivial to others? It's a similar situation to poor American voter turnout. People sincerely seem to believe that their individual actions will have little to no effect on the end result of a nationwide process. But when people's rights are suspended, or when anti-gay legislation or homophobic corporate policy is effected, suddenly the uproar begins. It is important to recognize that every detail that you can attend to in your life, even if it creates an inconvenience, is worth the effort. Activism doesn't have to mean laying down in the middle of the highway or chaining yourself to the pillars of the State House. Choose your restaurants, your airlines, your insurance agencies, your realtors, your schools, senators, mayors, presidents, employers, and-- yes-- your friends, with great care. You never know when the mirror might be turned back on you.