Image: LGBTQA Jews marching in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, 2014. Note the Israeli flag under the arch in the background. Photo by Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0.)
The famous Gay Pride Parade is today in San Francisco. It’s not the great-grandaddy of Pride parades (that’s New York) but it’s the one that usually makes it onto the news in the “red” states because it has the most colorful visuals. There are the Dykes on Bikes, of course, and the obligatory Nearly Naked People marching down the street, along with some Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. All make it onto teaser film for the Ten O’Clock News because face it, that’s ratings gold, right down to the phone calls complaining that someone should Think Of The Children.
Around my house, we no longer attend the Pride Parade because I’ve grown uncomfortable with crowds and mobility is an issue. However, every June we reminisce about Pride Parades. There was a time when they were a very big deal for our family, because that’s when all the other people we referred to as “family” would come out and be counted.
I think our first Parade was in 1988 or 89. AIDS was still ravaging the community, mysteriously sickening and killing gay men. Lesbian organizations were crumbling all over the place because many of us were putting our time into AIDS support or activism. Bisexual and transgender people and issues were still largely invisible; there was very little room for anything in the collective psyche but AIDS.
The Parade was much smaller then, and much more subdued. There was a float for ACT-UP, and contingents from the various legal and political organizing groups, and a group of people carrying a huge section of the NAMES Memorial Quilt. We were angry, sad, and determined to survive. Even in those days, though, there was a celebratory aspect to the Parade, because celebration has always been a form of defiance for us LGBTQ folk. The Dykes on Bikes led the Parade, and there were two floats I’ll never forget.
The first was the Bears float. “Bears” are round, hairy gay men. They and the people who are attracted to them celebrate that roundness and hairiness. (I don’t get it, but face it, I’m a lesbian – I’m not wired to understand it.) I will always be grateful to that float of Bears, because they were throwing little teddy bears into the crowd and my young son caught one. He was thrilled; he was still little enough that a new toy was a very big deal. We didn’t realize then that he was going to grow up to be a big round hairy guy himself, albeit a heterosexual one. However, along with the teddy bear he caught the message that it was cool to be a big round hairy guy. I will always be grateful to those men for the happy body image they bequeathed to my little one.
Immediately after it, there was another float, this one the Folsom Street Fair float. The Folsom Street Fair bills itself as “the world’s biggest leather event.” (That’s “leather” as in “leather fetish.”) That float was covered with scantily dressed people wearing a lot of leather straps and chains. Before I could cover his eyes with his new teddy bear, my son piped up, “Why are those men dressed up, Mama?” I answered with the first thing that came into my head: “Because they like to play dress up, sweetie.” Satisfied, he said, “I need to think of a really good name for my bear.” And that was all.
I think my last Pride was in about 2000 when the GLSen group (Gay/Lesbian/Straight Alliance) at my son’s high school wanted to march. I marched with three kids and the faculty advisor. As the only “out” queer parent at the school, I felt I really had to support them. The little boy who caught the bear had grown; he was the straight member of our contingent.
The change over the years in between those two parades was dramatic. By 2000 AIDS was no longer “the gay disease” although it was still a problem. By 2000 our congregation was marching in the Parade, too. I remember explaining to my rabbi that I needed to be with the high school group because it was so much smaller. By 2000 I was thinking about rabbinical school and I knew a lesbian who’d been accepted to the program at Hebrew Union College.
Now I’m a rabbi. Now there are many LGBTQ Jewish clergy in all movements, so many that I don’t know them all. Linda and I are married, something we could never have imagined in 1988. The kids I marched with in 2000 came back to the Bay Area, all grown up, to attend my son’s wedding last weekend.
Much has changed, but much still needs to change. Transwomen of color live in dreadful danger, and transmen have it very rough, too. Gender fluid folk, and others under the “trans” umbrella, still have to explain too much and too often. LGBTQ Americans may be able to get married, but our jobs and homes are still at risk in many states. AIDS is more manageable, but it’s still with us. Too many people still want to kill us.
Want to help? Support an organization like the Transgender Law Center, or the National Center for Lesbian Rights. When you meet an LGBTQ person, don’t tell them what or whom you know, just be present to them as a person. If you meet a young person who identifies as LGBT or Q, don’t argue with them about it being too soon for labels. Just accept them for whom they are. Remember:
God saw everything that God had made, and indeed it was very good. So there was evening, and there was morning, a sixth day. – Genesis 1:31