In 2014, UBC sociology professor Amin Ghaziani published There Goes the Gayborhood?, which discussed the assimilation of traditionally gay neighbourhoods into the mainstream. As Vancouver gets ready for its annual Pride Parade, Ghaziani reflects on how the event has changed over the years and its influence on the larger community.
How did the Pride parade get its name?
The Pride parade commemorates the Stonewall riots in New York City. On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in Greenwich Village, was raided—and not for the first time. But in this instance, the patrons and a growing crowd outside fought back, resulting in five days of violent rioting that forever changed the face of gay America, and indeed the world.
In its aftermath, activists rejected the notion of a uniform movement that played into one of society’s most tenacious myths—that gay people are all alike. Activists embraced the expression of diversity as a way to counter stereotypes about “all gay people.” Eventually they agreed to organize the first Pride parade in New York City for the last weekend of June 1970.
The next several years proved that activists had discovered a form of collective gathering that blended unity and diversity. The language of celebration, unity, diversity and pride emerged at this historical moment.
How do cities around the world commemorate Pride?
A Pride parade consists of a series of floats that represent a wide spectrum of LGBTQ communities—including, as one newsmagazine put it: drag queens, gay businesses, entertainers, religious groups, prison groups, gay organizations, reigning “royalty,” leather men, radicals, street people, conservatives, lesbians, and “hunky guys.”
Most of the parades are still held during the last weekend of June but some cities, like Vancouver, have elected different dates to accommodate their respective calendars.
The 2015 Vancouver Pride event is calling for equality for transgender people and has selected “Gender Superheroes” for this year’s theme: the role models that inspire individuals growing up. They could be a superhero, an “out” family member, or an LGBTQ2+ icon.
Do Pride parades affect perceptions of the LGBTQ community?
I think the parade effectively displays our diversity, and this is a positive impact. The problems, when they arise, stem not from the parade itself but selective representations of it by some members of the media. But the major issue these days is about crowd control in light of the parades’ extreme popularity.
In Chicago, parade attendance has exceeded one million and officials have struggled with how to keep the revelry safe and under control. As Vancouver’s Pride grows, we’ll have to contend with similar concerns.
You mentioned “post-gay.”
That idea is pretty central in my book about gay neighbourhoods. While the post-Stonewall era was typified by being open about one’s sexuality and having almost exclusively gay social networks, today’s so-called “post-gay” period is characterized by a rapid assimilation of gays into the mainstream, not to mention the assimilation of straight culture into queer cultures as well. An example of the latter is the rates of heterosexual attendance at Pride parade. A recent European survey found that nearly 50 percent of all Pride participants are heterosexual.
In 1998, Out magazine editor James Collard argued in The New York Times: “We should no longer define ourselves solely in terms of our sexuality—even if our opponents do. Post-gay isn’t ‘un-gay.’ It’s about taking a critical look at gay life and no longer thinking solely in terms of struggle. It’s going to a gay bar and wishing there were more girls there to talk to.”
About 10 years later, Paul Aguirre-Livingston, writing for the Toronto magazine The Grid, described the emergence of “a new type of gay,” which he calls the “post-mo,” short for postmodern homosexual.
Individuals who identify as post-gay or post-mo define themselves by more than their sexuality, disentangle it from a sense of militancy and struggle, feel free from persecution despite persisting inequalities, and prefer sexually mixed company. Some see their identity as fluid, open, or flexible, while others resist existing labels like gay, lesbian, and bisexual.
A great example of this is an event in Vancouver this year called Pride is for Everyone. The producers are promoting the event as “the Pride party for everyone, everybody and every body, because love…[is] not exclusive.”
So is Pride still relevant?
Absolutely. Pride parades have become more community celebrations than political statements. Because of that, they can accommodate newer and more diverse expressions of gender and sexuality.
Of course, as Pride parades and the community in general move into a post-gay space and an era of equality, concerns arise about the viability of distinct queer cultures—which is a question for another day.