Friday, May 31, 2013

Reflecting on Fresno Pride

The 23rd Annual Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival happens this Saturday, June 1st on Olive Avenue in the Tower District. The parade is FREE and starts at 10AM. The festival follows and is a $5 donation to enter. There will be lots of local vendors, a beer garden, food, entertainment and fun for the kids. This is a family friendly event. 

It’s here again Central Valley…the Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival. 

It’s hard to believe it’s been 23 years of the largest LGBT event in Fresno. Lots of memories for me. I’ve been going since the first parade in 1990. That year, my partner, angry over the presence of the KKK, walked over, yelled at one of them, then ripped his hood off. The ensuing controversy ended up as coverage on the local news. I watched, as I remembered immediately yanking him away from the fray, when police moved in and voices raised. 

I’ve always been passionate and I have to admit I enjoy the conflation of opinions shared on the airwaves, daring those around to commit or deny. In that moment though, my main concern was getting my partner away from what could have easily turned into violence. He was very angry and apparently willing to move forward with a fight. I knew, in that time, that things could have easily progressed dangerously. 

A year later the presence of the KKK was milder. There were no more hoods, just normal clothes, although there were incendiary signs being held by those who, despite their lesser numbers, were just as bigoted and just as prejudiced, even if the fire had been pulled from their furnace. I watched and videotaped the actions of Queer Nation as they moved toward the passively aggressive protestors, in fully planned mode. They shouted, they demonstrated and they demanded a reaction as they staged in front of the small contingent and shared same sex kisses, taunts and visible, satirical demonstrations of the hatred they’d witnessed. Of course it was covered by the local media, with vigor, and became the talk of the town. It proved to be the end of the power of the KKK against the LGBT community in Fresno.

For a couple more years, the KKK was present, although they became unrecognizable. There were fewer the next year, dressed normally, and even fewer the year after that. Then, they were gone. 

Since then, there is merely an occasional protestor among the festivities. In 2012 I remember only briefly seeing the one person who  showed up with a single bible verse on a protest sign. I seem to remember there may have been a child or two with them. But at this point, it remains distant. I’m not sure if I actually saw the person or if the stories others told me created the images in my head.

Now, 23 years into the Fresno Pride Parade and Festival, there seems to be no presence of protest, particularly when compared to the humble beginnings. I’m sure there are those that wish we weren’t there. Hell, there are gay people who wish we weren’t there. Regardless, both those groups are missing the point and in fact.

The fact is that LGBT Americans, for the most part, do not share in the incredible representation of equality that the United States Constitution provides. Most LGBT Americans still have to fight for our rights and are often told we shouldn’t bother, because the law is not on our side.

The tide is shifting, people. We are now at 12 states that have legalized same sex marriage, and in this month of June, 2013, we will hear from the Supreme Court of the United States of America on two vital issues. The first is California’s Proposition 8 – is it valid? The sedond is DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act – is it legal? This month could easily be the most monumental step in our civil rights that we have seen so far. Or it might, as it has before, fail us, and cause us to rethink our approach.

I don’t think that will happen. I’ve been wrong so many times before, betting on judges and politicians, thinking they actually work for the people. But this time, I have to say, I’m sitting on the side of positive.  I think we’re in for a big win, both in California and on a national level. What better reason to join hands and come out, come out, wherever you are. What better reason to join hands in the streets of Fresno to celebrate our goals?

Let’s face it, we’re the American ideal. We are the ones, who, despite consistent opposition, chose to stay true to our feelings and maintain the integrity of who we knew we are inside. We were the ones who looked at the expected path of our lives and committed instead to our own voices. We chose to deal with the incredibly negative forces that pounded against us in order to arrive at a place where we could feel comfortable with ourselves. Imagine that, not in a gay versus straight context, but in a human context. How many people do you know that are not struggling with their sexual orientation or their gender who still struggle with whether to move forward with lives they can’t commit to?

Despite the fact that we were raised by straight people, in a straight society, on a straight based education system, we are who we are. Despite the fact that we were told, day after day, year after year, that who we are was wrong, misguided and even destructive, we all turned out to be who we are, innately. 

In my everyday life and particularly through my work with Gay Central Valley and the Fresno LGBT Community Center, I communicate with LGBT people in the Central Valley every day. That dialogue only makes me more proud of who we are. We move on despite all the conflict we face in our lives. We step forward regardless of the knowledge that we will likely be challenged. We evolve no matter the forces against us. I am so very proud to be a member of the LGBT community in the Central Valley and in the United States of America. 

We are the last vestige of equality in America. We may not win a major battle in the next 30 days. But we can hit the streets this Saturday in the Tower District, in all our various shades and colors, and let the Central Valley know that we will not be silenced, we will not give up this fight. We will, whatever it takes, claim our civil rights in the country we are so proud to be a part of.

Happy Pride!

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