June is Pride Month, the most wonderful time of the year.
I feel the need to come clean and say that I didn’t attend my first Pride Parade in New York until I was 34. I was a late-bloomer.
When I first came out, gay people and certainly gay fathers were not nearly as accepted as they are today. I’m not complaining; just stating the facts. It was the early 1990s after all, before even Ellen came out.
As a result, Gay Pride and specifically the Pride Parade was a really big deal back in the day. It was a chance to gather together and to honestly see that we weren’t alone in the world. I was raising two kids in Bucks County, Pa., and let me tell you I felt alone in any world. There were very few gay fathers around, if any, and it was difficult to interact with a lot of gay people because I had kids. I was stuck between two seemingly incompatible worlds…being gay and being a dad.
Except on Gay Pride. Seeing thousands of gay people marching down Fifth Avenue was a sight to behold; still brings tears to my eyes.
Back then Gay Pride was symbolic of unity and of tolerance. We had great hope for tolerance. Such an awful word if you really think about it.
For the most part, we’ve gotten past that, at least in some parts of the world. We no longer seek tolerance or even acceptance; we see equality. It’s no longer about wanting people to acknowledge us; it’s about having equal rights as human beings. And thankfully, more and more people are starting to understand the real issue and stand by our side.
We are moving past tolerance, thankfully.
When we go to the Pride Parade this year, we are no longer fighting to be noticed and heard. Hopefully, we can stop fighting for anything soon.
Let’s just celebrate. Celebrate our diversity; celebrate our ability to all get along. Celebrate that we are thriving and doing what makes us happy. Any of us; all of us.
Thankfully, times have changed since my first Gay Pride, but it’s important to recognize where we’ve come from and where we have to go.
We have to tell our stories if we want understanding and equality. While tolerance is quickly becoming an issue of the past, total understanding is still a challenge.
Which is why I decided to tell my story now in “Out & About Dad,” my new book that chronicles my journey as a father, with all its twists, turns, and a few twirls.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, from the chapter about my first Pride Parade.
CHAPTER 9: Flags and Stickers
Aside from December, June is my favorite month of the year. I just love December and the holiday season, for all the decorations, parties, and family time.
But I also love June because it’s Gay Pride Month.
When you’re in New York City, especially around The Village, Chelsea, or Hell’s Kitchen, the city comes alive during Pride Month. The restaurants, bars, and shops all put up Pride flags…you see a complete buffet of rainbows as you walk down the streets. It makes me so happy for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the public recognition of acceptance. I hadn’t acknowledged myself for years, so you can imagine how good it feels to see Pride so abundant, and the acceptance so abundant.
But the real reason I love seeing all those rainbow flags flying so proudly is because it reminds me of my first Gay Pride weekend in 1997. My son had recently turned two and I felt like I was the one being born again!
I had gone on a couple of dates with this guy I met at the Cartwheel in New Hope, Pa., and he seemed like a good guy. He really understood how much I wanted to get into the community, so he opened his arms and his friends to me, which was so sweet.
It was June, and when I told him that I’d never been to Gay Pride, he seized the opportunity.
He was determined to make my first Gay Pride experience a special one, so we started out with drinks at his neighbor’s apartment before heading into the city. He wanted to make sure that I met his friends before hopping in a car with them.
They were such a welcoming crowd; it felt so good. A few of them asked me about the kids, but in a way that showed real interest, not just gossip mongering.
They seemed to love that I was a dad.
We piled into his car to drive the hour and a half into New York, all of us excited for the day ahead. I knew it was going to be a special day when we stopped at a rest area and the woman at the sunglass counter gave me a free pair of sunglasses because I was “part of the family.” How did she know?
Gay pride, I guess!
When we got into the city, we planted ourselves in front of the Stonewall Inn, the original bar where Pride started decades ago. I hadn’t heard the history before, so they schooled me on the way in. I got a lesson in Pride on I-95 in New Jersey.
The vantage point for the parade could not have been better, right near the corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue where the crowds would surely be the thickest. He wanted me to have the whole experience. Every time someone questioned why we were doing something, he would say, “Because this is Jim’s first Pride.” With that, everyone obliged.
The location proved quite fruitful for a few reasons, not the least of which because it was hotter than hot that day. We could go into the Stonewall Inn to have a drink but not get lost in the crowd or lose our spot on the parade route.
We’d run in, have a beer and dance to a couple of songs, and then run back out to see more of the parade.
At one point, I had gone in with him to grab a beer and he went over to the DJ who was spinning the best dance music I have ever heard. The place was jumping up and down to the beat. It looked like he was putting in a request.
Suddenly the song “I Am What I Am" by Gloria Gaynor came on, and the whole crowd lit up. Our little group formed a circle and started singing along to the song. Well, shouting is probably more accurate, but you get the picture.
Halfway through, he said to me, “This is your first Pride, and I wanted you to experience this.” It was one of the sweetest things that anyone ever did for me, with perfect timing.
Actually the entire day couldn’t have been more perfect. I was proud to be gay. Finally? Maybe.
Hours went by as we waited in anticipation for the parade to come to us.
We were right by a major turn in the route so waiting to see the first glimpse of the marchers was like waiting for Santa on Christmas. The parade was always led by a bunch of women on motorcycles, so you could hear the parade coming for a block or so.
When it finally started to turn the corner and we heard the roar of the engines, I had another one of those overwhelming moments like the first time I went to Splash.
I suddenly noticed, for the first time that day, the immense sea of people and the abundance of waving rainbow flags.
Miraculously the entire street was completely alive and in full rainbow color. I had never seen so many gay people in one place in my entire life. I didn’t even know there were that many gay people in New York!
It was also the first time I witnessed the diversity in gay people. There were very few of the stereotypes most people held, but instead every size, shape, form, color, and texture you could possibly imagine.
They were all walking or watching with Pride, Gay Pride.
I mentioned to him how I had never seen anything like this in my life, and he beamed in response. Mission accomplished.
Luckily, I had sunglasses on to hide the stream of teams running down my face. Pure joy.
Scratch that. Pure Pride.
So that’s why I love the weeks leading up to Gay Pride Weekend in New York so much. That’s why every year I have to see at least a glimpse of the parade, and go to at least one bar to have a drink and hear some dance music.
Those flags of acceptance still make me beam, as do the memories of my first Gay Pride.
I was so proud to be gay. Finally!
Now juxtapose that parade with another one that I didn’t personally experience, but that my kids did: the Pro-Life March on Washington.
The kids were young, very young, and in Catholic grade school.
…to be continued…