Who knew Judy Garland's death would be the catalyst to set off the Gay Pride movement?
Garland died in 1969 and, prior to that, had established herself as an icon for the GLBT crowd (gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered). The viewing of her body was held on a Friday in New York and many GLBT people came to pay their respects.
That same Friday evening, the police were doing a routine raid on Stonewall a gay bar in New York. With emotion lingering from Garland's passing and the growing hostility toward these raids, something snapped that evening. Homosexuals stood up for their rights and managed to trap the police inside the Stonewall bar.
Word quickly spread around Greenwich Village and throughout the weekend more gay-related protests started. That weekend went down as the "Stonewall Riots."
Over in San Francisco, there had also been a gay liberation movement in progress. The significance of the Stonewall Riots stoked the fires and helped facilitate the first "Gay Freedom Parade."
With many name changes, bad weather, protesters, and all kinds of publicity, the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade has become massive attracting between 300,000 to 500,000 participants and spectators.
In contrast, Canada's version of Pride Parades has had mixed success. In bigger centres like Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, pride parades have a life and culture of their own. However, in smaller cities, parades have a hard time winning respect.
I remember when Regina, Saskatchewan held a Gay Pride Parade in the early 1990s. The entire parade had less than 100 participants and virtually no spectators. What struck me as sad was that most parade participants had to wear masks to hide their identity.
Around the same time in Kelowna, British Columbia the Mayor was against having a parade and mandated that the word "Pride" could not be used in Gay Pride Parade. In response, a parade contingent created a huge hot pink Ogo-Pogo float (the Kelowna version of the Loch Ness Monster) and named it the "Homo-Pogo" float. That night Kelowna's red-faced mayor became national news.
I was involved in the 2004 San Francisco, Gay Pride Parade. It's theme was "Out '04 Justice" and its political focus was gay and lesbian marriage. Earlier that year, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples. City Hall approved 4,037 licenses before the California Supreme Court Justice put a stop to it.
As such, there were thousands of married gay and lesbian couples marching in the parade. The banners made by the newlyweds were poignant to read. Some said, "Together 34 years, married 4 months." A teenage girl's sign read, "I love my two moms and two dads"; and many couples had their marriage certificates blown up to poster size.
It was humbling to see how marriage was considered a privilege and celebrated at this occasion.
Alongside the serious political issues was an intense air of fun and frivolity. The sheer over-the-top-ness of the parade gave spectators unabashed delight. Party music from every float made the entire parade dance. The atmosphere was electric and it could only be described as a San Francisco experience.
I was lucky enough to participate in the parade but did not think much of my "Straights for Gay Rights" contingent. In my little world, it seemed the majority of straight people are indifferent or are in favour of homosexuality and the minority of straight people disagree with homosexuality. Marching, for me, was more lip service.
As we walked, the 300,000-plus crowd cheered and clapped wildly over being supported by straights. I heard many people shout, "God bless you," or "There needs to be way more like you in this world." One fellow shouted, "I'm not prejudiced. I have a straight friend."
Call me a slow learner, but I suddenly realized why there have to be parades at all. It does not matter if it is a big city, small city, Canada or the U.S. There are not enough straight people supporting homosexual rights.
Over the last 40 plus years, there has been much progress made with the GLBT Rights movement, yet there are many issues that remain at a standstill. And I couldn't help but wonder when the day will come that there will be no need for a Pride Parade.