What One Gay Dad Learned After Marching in a Pride Parade With His Kids for the First Time
John Hart's son was excited to march in a parade in front of thousands. But what does it mean when he doesn't want his classmates to know?
At the beginning of June, my seven-year-old daughter said her class started learning about the Pride flag. They were going through the colors one by one to learn what each represented. She also brought home a permission form, saying that she wanted to be in the club that was building a float for the Pride parade.
Twice a week she stayed late after school to help work on the float. "I used a sander today!" she said on our way home after her second session. Already she has used a power tool more often than me! Later in the process, "we painted today!" A fact I could tell by the bright flecks on her shirt.
"Daddy, because I'm helping to build the float, can I ride on it too?" she asked. Of course, but because she was young, she'd need a parent to ride with her. I've never been in a Pride parade before, never invited nor have I asked, my shyness too strong. To join my daughter in the parade seemed like the best reason.
My ten-year-old son then asked if he could come too. I was surprised because he has been self-conscious about having two dads recently, mostly due to teasing at school. I thought it was a big step forward for him to march in the parade, and I hoped it would help build his confidence.
Both kids have attended the parade before because I have wanted them to participate in Pride festivities and to feel a part of the community. I think they like to go because of the free crap that gets thrown into the crowds. Each year they come home bedecked in t-shirts, sunglasses, beads, bracelets and fans, and pockets full of flyers, whistles, gum and condoms, all pretty much useless to them the day after. One year I appreciated the teachers' union because they gave out pencils.
Pride Day came wet and soggy – the forecast looked like rain on our parade. Although the morning was a downpour, the weather let up as we arrived at the staging site. Down a tree-lined street was a row of flat-bed trucks. People were glancing at the gray clouds above while pulling tarps off and hurriedly affixing final decorations to their floats. We found the school float and I helped screw on the colorful wooden words my daughter helped create. Soon after, it was time to hop on board. Choir Choir Choir was warming up on the truck in front of us and the Trojan condom hotties had marched up the street to the cheers of adults and hopped aboard their float. On our float, we had boxes of t-shirts and bags of rainbow bracelets at the ready to throw into the crowd (relieved that my children were distributing this year instead of collecting). Luckily we had cases of water too – my daughter needed to stand on one to see over the rails of the float.
The DJ turned on the speakers and started the dance music, our driver started the engine and soon we were off. The staging site for marchers was on a different street, so as we approached, the floats merged with marchers before hitting the parade route itself. We turned the final corner to the route and were met with a sea of people and an incredible cheer. My daughter looked at me in fear. "There's a hundred people in the crowd!" I told her that, in fact, there would be closer to a million.
There was so much joy, love and energy coming from that crowd. We danced, we sang, we waved and we threw our t-shirts and bracelets. When we saw friends along the route, we waved harder and danced more abandonedly. My son decided not to ride on the float, but to walk behind. Partway into the parade, however, I looked back and saw that he was riding in the support car following us, not hiding but standing up through the sunroof. He was throwing his arms into the air, dancing and dabbing, and soaking up the crowd's attention. He couldn't have looked happier. I caught his eye and, ever so cool, he gave me a chin nod, then pointed at someone in the crowd and tossed them a bracelet.
Near the end of the parade, which went by way too quickly, I saw four protesters each holding a tall sign. I caught words like "sin", "crime" and "repent". Bless the people who came prepared and stood in front of them with rainbow umbrellas held high and proud, dancing and waving back at us. Still, the protesters were a good reminder of the hate, intolerance and ignorance out in the world, a reminder of why we still need a parade. There is still more work to do.
I still had so much energy and adrenalin after we hopped off the float. My kids seemed subdued, however. I asked how it was for them, and they answered in monosyllables "fun" (my son) and "fine" (my daughter), though they both want to sign up again for next year.
Taking my son to school the next day, I was met with more monosyllables. Did he have a good time? Yes. Does he feel more proud? Kinda. Will he tell his class about it? No. Why not? Because. How come? "It's ok, dad. Don't worry about it." But it wasn't ok to me. I didn't push it then but brought it back up later that night. He told me that having two dads sometimes makes him uncomfortable, that it makes him different and that people tease him. I told him that that's not right and not fair.
And I feel like my hope failed – that being in the parade didn't give him more joy, more confidence, more connection to a broader community. I also feel like a failure because I haven't worked hard enough to show him that different is ok and that we celebrate what makes us unique. Instead he still fears getting teased. He doesn't mind being seen by a million people in a parade, but he didn't want his classmates to know. There is still more work to do.
I need Pride every year to remind me that I am not alone, that there are others like me and who like me and who will fight alongside me. Despite the protesters, the teasers, and the people who want to bring us down, we need strength to work together for our rights, our dignity, our safety and a chance to be different. There is still more work to do.