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Pride parade

By Sean McLachlan
Arizona Summer Wildcat
July 7, 1999
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Wildcat File Photo
Arizona Summer Wildcat

Many groups (left) carried signs with strong political messages.

Standing on a bus platform in the middle of Market Street in downtown San Francisco, I watched as the crowd flowed around me. I was covering the 1999 San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration - half a million people celebrating their community and lifestyle.

I had a good vantage point. Each float and banner came up the street in front of me before continuing on to city hall. I was not alone, however.

As the parade went by, we all descended like a flock of paparazzi to snap pictures of elaborately coiffured drag queens and nearly naked men in leather underwear who looked like something out of a Mad Max movie.

The crowd on the sidewalk loved them too. They were outrageous, colorful, and knew how to work a crowd. One scantily clad muscleman passed out condoms while the audience cheered. Another man, decked out like the famous drag queen Divine, strutted and posed for cameras. A burly Can-Can dancer tickled me with his scarf.

For the majority of news broadcasts and papers, these were the only images of the parade that were shown. After all, nothing sells a story like a good picture, and a long-legged man in a mini-skirt and stiletto heels makes a great picture.

But there weren't 500,000 drag queens and leather daddies marching through the streets that day. The vast majority of marchers did not make for good photos. They were dressed in shorts and T-shirts, business suits and dress shoes. Some wore police uniforms.

They looked just like the reporters standing on my bus platform, except they were paying attention to the real parade - the parade straight media missed.

While heterosexuals pointed and giggled at the Dykes on Bikes and SF Leather Pride, over 200 other groups took to the streets that day. The Lions Club marched, so did the Fire Department. The Gay Vietnamese Alliance was there too, followed closely by Walgreen's employees.

Ten branches of Bank of America were represented, but the contingent from the First Baptist Church was bigger. Radio stations, political groups, local bars and athletic teams were all there. Straights for Gay Rights got lots of applause.

So why did most reporters downplay this part of the parade? Perhaps we focus on the drag queens and leather daddies because they are, in an odd way, safe. They are lifestyles that are completely alien to us, so different that they are not encountered in our daily life. They are not mainstream, and have no desire to be. To represent gay America, we pick the only people noticeably different than us.

But in the rank and file of the Pride Parade, the gay Lutherans and the homosexual swim team, straight society is presented with a mirror of itself. Here there is nothing to distinguish straight from gay - no distinctive dress, no easy labels.

Perhaps the media are afraid that if we look too hard at the lifestyles of gay Americans, we might find much that is familiar. Homosexuals are not from some different world, and they do not go away when the parade is over. They deliver our mail. They sit next to us in church. They come to our family reunions.

If we look too closely, we may find that between straight and gay there is more similarity than we realize, and less difference than we pretend.