Pride.

It’s Pride Month and Chicago’s official Pride Events are taking place this week. The celebration began last weekend with a street fair in Boystown and ends this coming week with the big Pride parade. I plan on walking in the parade again this year as part of the contingent for the National Gay Pilots’ Association. While the NGPA is more geared toward airline pilots, there are many of us General Aviation pilots who also represent and believe what the NGPA stands for.

I walked in my first Pride parade in 1989 in Boston. At that time I was part of a group called BGLAD, which I think stood for “Bisexual Gay Lesbian at Digital”, though it might have started out as “Being Gay or Lesbian At Digital”. BGLAD was part of another group called DECplus, or DEC People Like US. I found Digital (commonly known as DEC, though we always called it Digital when we worked there) to be a very supportive company in this regard.

One think that struck me about Boston Gay Pride in 1989 was that it felt like a “safe” space that at the time was usually confined to the likes of organizations like BGLAD or DECplus, or the interior of a gay bar. I was not quite 21 years old when I went to my first pride, and while the atmosphere was celebratory, there was a more militant feel to it. We were marching for so many reason: people dying of AIDS, acceptance or at the very least acknowledgement of our existence. We had to be loud and we had to be proud to get where we are today. I remember a religious contingent spitting on a few of us at the end of the parade in Boston in 1989. I remember spitting back. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments. It would be a few months before I decided to ACT UP.

Image from Harvard Magazine

Earl and I went for a walk through Boystown here in Chicago last Saturday night shortly before midnight. While the street fair had been over for the day for several hours, the streets were still hustling and bustling with partners and the like, all in celebration of Pride. So many sequins, and bright colors, and statements being made everywhere. Lines snaked down blocks waiting to get into the hottest clubs. The crowd was decidedly mixed; there were just as many bachelorette party types as there were seemingly gay people lining the streets. Honestly, I was a bit dismayed. Everywhere one looked there was people stumbling for the obvious effects of alcohol or other recreational drugs. As Earl and I made our way down the sidewalk, the atmosphere started to feel less like a safe space for gay people and more like a seedy dive bar. The smell of weed permeated the street. Young people were comparing their respective states of “rolling”. Some were coming down from it, others were at their high point, no one seemed particularly grounded. People that I sensed would have never showed any support to the gay community back in 1989 wanted to be part of the biggest party in the city in 2019.

Is this what we want Pride to become? Another excuse to get out of your mind drunk or stoned so one can stagger, scream, and puke all over Boystown?

I’m still such a country bumpkin’ living in the big city.

Back in late April I remarked to Earl that the department stores and the like were starting to put up Pride decorations like Christmas before Halloween. Pride has become a cash cow for so many outside of the “traditional” gay community. I’m old. I still interpret a gay flag on a business as a business owned by a member of the gay community. But it doesn’t really mean that anymore. The cynical side of me wonders if the pride flag really means, “hell yeah, we want your gay dollars”.

I wonder how many of partiers in the country’s first gayborhood would have been part of the rebellion back at the Stonewall in New York City in 1969. Would they have resisted police harassment? Or would they have fled the scene out the back door in search of a better party.

Perhaps we need a reminder as to why some of us Gen Xers and Baby Boomers had to spit back back in the day.

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