When I arrived to the Bay Area last month, I knew that I could not be here for the summer without going to the legendary San Francisco Pride Parade. And so, I got up early on Sunday morning and caught a bus into the heart of the city, where millions gathered in rainbow attire to march and cheer.
When I told people I was going to the parade, I received a variety of responses:
"Prepare yourself for lots of nudity!"
"Keep your backpack in front of you at all times."
"Be careful--people in the city are insane!"
"You're going by yourself?!"
I was unfazed.
From the get-go, I expected nothing short of outrageous celebration, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court legalization of Gay Marriage. And I certainly saw some wild sights, with fabulous drag queens walking on stilts and topless women flying by in the "Dykes on Bikes" portion of the parade.
But to say that the Pride Parade can be boiled down to shock-value is seriously missing the heart of the festival.
I saw a heightened attentiveness to social activism: people marched with signs stating alarming statistics about the amount of homeless people in San Francisco who identify as LGBTQ+ (a whopping 29%!). People demanded affordable housing. People shined a light on acts of violence towards LGBTQ+ people of color. People chanted, "No justice, no peace," carrying posters with #BLACKLIVESMATTER displayed in bold. The message was clear: these steps towards inclusion of the queer community are only the beginning. We have a long way to go.
I saw an overwhelming wave of cisgendered people coming together to support their LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers. Parents, grandparents, and siblings marched out of love for their queer family members. Mothers and fathers stood in the crowd with their children, all waving rainbow flags as one family unit. These families seemed to be saying, "I have always had the right to marriage and a family, and now you do too. Welcome." I overheard one mother explaining to her children, "There was once a time when women could not vote, when interracial couples could not marry, but that's all history. The vote for gay marriage is just the next step in justice."
Most of all, I saw warmth, emanating off of everyday folks. I saw smiles and clapping hands. I saw incredible dancers who effortlessly grooved along Market Street. I saw old men holding hands. I saw firefighters and police officers. I saw more rainbow flags than I could count. I saw floats that must have taken weeks to put together, and just exploded with color. I saw confetti guns. I saw rainbow crosses as local churches showed support.
A couple of months ago, I went to the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, MA. Among countless of panels and poet readings I attended, there was one that I found particularly interesting. The panel was titled, "Queer as Family" and featured 4 queer poets, who each took a turn reading his/her work, and then responded to audience questions. I don't remember what the audience question was that sparked this particular response, but something that Christopher Hennessy, a local Massachusetts poet, said really struck me. He was contextualizing the Gay Pride Movement, and explaining why it's actually not outrageous at all, but really quite rational. He said, "the opposite of oppression is eroticism," an incredibly loud expression of love.