by Maurice Michaane
As a former Director of the NYC LGBTQ Pride March (Gay Pride Parade as most people call it) for 2 years, I took New York Gubernatorial Candidate Carl Paladino’s recent comments about the LGBT community personally. Paladino’s comments on “Gay Pride Parades” and Gay people were completely and utterly shameful. More importantly, his incendiary and debasing comments have no place in a society that should value equality for all.
In 2003, I moved to NYC as a newly minted college graduate. That summer I volunteered for the NYC Pride March. Having never been to a gay pride march/parade prior to that, I was somewhat overwhelmed with emotions on my way to the event that day. I wasn’t sure what the experience would be like, how the onlookers would react, would there be any protesters, and would I have fun. I can honestly say, volunteering for a gay pride parade is something every person (gay or straight) should do in their lifetime. First and foremost, I learned that the NYC Pride March is one of the largest LGBTQ civil rights marches in the nation, hence why it is called a “march” and not a parade (until the day there is full equality for all LGBTQ individuals). NYC Pride 2003 was an amazing life experience for me in more ways than I can recount, but most importantly it helped me feel confident as an out and proud gay American. The network of friends I made, the diversity of the community and the millions of spectators of all walks of life were extremely reassuring for a timid 22 year old that just moved to the Big Apple.
I learned several important life lessons during my time with NYC Pride, as a volunteer and as Director of the NYC Pride March. I was always thankful for the opportunity to meet new people and enrich the diversity in my life. Meeting new people in NYC is no big deal, but it is really hard to make long lasting friends no matter where you live. The NYPD and NYC government were always all extremely supportive and on many occasions NYPD Officers would tell me our March (the Pride March) was their favorite because it was so laid back and not as many security issues as some other marches/parades. When the lineup passed St. Patrick’s Church it was mostly just barricaded off (I think I only ever saw protesting signs maybe once over the past several years). Each year there were millions of spectators in the streets, from as far away as Europe and Asia, gay and straight, and I never once encountered a hostile group that protested us or that derided our right to march. Even more comforting was the as each year passed, I always noticed more families coming out to view the march, whether gay or straight families, all ages came out to see a community celebrate. Carl Paladino is 100% wrong to disparage anyone for bringing their children to a gay pride parade, because at the end of the day, the decision is that of the parent, not some loud mouth candidate for office, but more importantly, gay pride is nothing more and nothing less than any of the other parades in the city, whether the St. Patrick’s Day Parade or the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Would Paladino disparage those parades because of the bad behavior of certain spectators? Watching the many marches/parades in NYC is a rite of passage.
Coming of age as an LGBTQ person is no easy road in our society, especially when you have ignorant people like Paladino claiming “gays are dysfunctional” and that “it’s not a place for children”. Every year the March Committee for NYC Pride would have a long discussion about what is “pride” and the way people choose to display it. I learned that gay pride means something different for everyone. For me, it’s about standing up, standing tall and standing proud about who I am and the life I live each day. For my partner Michael, it’s about building a family together and carrying on traditions. For many of my friends gay pride is akin to a holiday and they enjoy celebrating it with friends, whether at a bar, a restaurant or elsewhere.
I strongly believe there is no universal definition of gay pride and that it is and should be something different for everyone. LGBTQ rights have a long way to go in this country and around the world and our collective struggle for equality has not come as far as I’d hoped for this year. Whether you support LGBTQ rights or not, at the very least we must provide a safe environment where LGBTQ individuals can be proud and not be afraid of recrimination or bullying. Bashing gays and calling them dysfunctional is not an example we need to teach future generations, as it will only lead to more unfortunate suicides like Tyler Clementi and hate crimes like the one that took the life of Matthew Shepard.
Stand Up, Stand Tall, Stand Proud, no matter who or what you are, never let others tear you down.
(the above photo was taken at the NYC Pride March in June 2009 during the presentation of the Grand Marshal Sash to Gov. David Patterson)