From Wichita Pride.
(photo by David Quick)

Every June, queers around the country gather to celebrate what has become known in the gay community as “Pride”. It’s supposed to be a time for LGBTs in every community to come together to shake away shame and shatter stigmas. However, it’s an event that is often misunderstood and misrepresented.

A lot of straight people just don’t get it. The mere mention of a gay pride parade usually conjures up images of shirtless muscle boys in pink bikinis dancing away to Cher songs while simultaneously grabbing the asses of innocuous hetero-boy passersby.  Fears of greasy, leather-clad lesbians running over women pushing baby strollers also abound. While these hyperbolic stereotypes are slowly fading, even those more in-tune with reality have questions. “Why do gay people need their own parade?” is a question I’m frequently asked. Straight people deserve an answer.

It’s not so much about the parade as it is the principle. Gay people don’t live in a world where their sexual identities are affirmed on a regular basis in the same way that straight people’s sexualities are. Marriage and family are seen by society as a milestone in basic individual human development. Meanwhile, same-sex relationships are often discouraged at best and out-right berated at worst. Most people are assumed to be heterosexual. There’s no “coming out process” involved with admitting that you like a member of the opposite sex.  To have the audacity to say out loud that you dig your own kind, though, takes a certain amount of courage. While we make progress each day, there are still communities where it’s not ok to be gay. Gay bashing incidents are all too common.  There are still people in this city who harbor ignorance or out-right hatred toward homosexuals. It’s legal to get fired from your job in the state of Kansas for being gay. For those individuals brave enough to speak and live their own truth amidst adversity, I say a parade is in order!

Pride really isn’t so much about a parade, though, as it is about a possibility. In Wichita, we’re on the cusp of social change. Our pride celebrations get bigger each year. It’s a testament to the generations before us who envisioned a life outside the closet as possible. I remember marching in the 2002 parade on Main Street and being accompanied by about 40 people. Last year, an estimated 1,200 people took part in the multi-day celebration in Nafsgar Park! This year promises to be even bigger! One exciting event being planned is a screening of the movie Milk at The Orpheum Theatre on June 22nd. I urge you all to come out and watch it. You’ll get a glimpse of what is POSSIBLE for Wichita. In the 1970s, gay San Franciscans united behind the optimistic Harvey Milk because they believed that their community could become relevant and contribute to the city’s development in a positive way. I believe the timing is ripe for the gay community in Wichita to follow suit. It is not outside the realm of possibility that we could elect one of our own to local public office within the next five years.  Doing so would send a much stronger message about what people with obstacles set before them can achieve than any parade ever could.

In the mean time, though, let’s not be shy to celebrate who we are! Let’s not forget, though, that sometimes we have to help our straight friends understand why this is important. We break down barriers by being honest with ourselves about who we are, and by not being ashamed to speak that truth to others. In doing this, we lay tracks for limitless possibilities.


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