SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2011       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Mary Beth Tagge

My Pride Ride

Many beautiful images fill my head from the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago, IL in June of the year 2002. Blue skies hovered above us on that hot Chicago day. Five to eight story buildings lined the busy streets as people began to set up lawn chairs on the curb to get a good view of the parade. Businesses on the first floor of these high-rise buildings hung rainbow flags in their window to support gay pride. Rainbow flags covered the streets of Chicago. There were large flags hanging on every light pole all around the parade route, and small flags in people’s hands in the crowd. Rainbows were everywhere, including painted bodies, sunglasses, shirts, pants, socks, and many hats. As I looked around, all I could see were a slit of blue sky between the tall buildings, hundreds of people laughing, drinking, singing along to music, and dancing. I love the feel of a busy city, especially a city that creates a sense of community within an area consisting of millions of people. Ironically, this very first Pride I went to in my life was my first encounter with discrimination and hatred towards the gay community.

My best friend, Mo, told me she was gay at 20 years old. She told me she had been afraid to tell me that she is a lesbian because she was scared that I might not want to be around her anymore. Mo also was afraid I might act differently around her, scared that she might push me away if she disclosed her sexuality. I will always love and support that girl whether she is straight, gay, transgender, or bisexual. After she came out to me, every June starting that year in 2002, we would attend the Pride Parade in Chicago together.

Before the parade began that first year we went, we walked past a group of protestors on the other side of Diversy Street on the North side of Chicago. They were a group of thirty to forty people sectioned off by police barricades including policemen on either side. The protestors were carrying signs and one man held a bullhorn. I do not know what the man was saying into the bull horn, but I remember turning to Mo, completely naïve in my ways, and saying “Do people really take the time to hate?” She replied without even looking at me, “You have no idea.”

When I told my best friend, Mary, that I was gay she was more than supportive. However, when we went to the Pride Parade in Chicago in the summer of 2002, she didn’t really understand what it was like for me to be the target of hatred by so many strangers. Mary was angry and surprised at how many people were protesting my sexuality, but in some ways I believe her response was more concern for my protection rather than for the cause itself.

As Mary and I walked past anti-gay protestors at the Pride Parade on that June day, they screamed venomously towards everyone across the police barricades. I walked past without even paying attention to them. I’m not going to waste my time with ignorance. It hurts that such people can’t see what an amazing person I am by my personality, they only see my sexual orientation as a sin. I’m happy that my best friend supports me, but she cannot know exactly how it feels to not be completely accepted by society. I know gay rights are making progress, but Mary will never know what it’s like to walk a mile in a lesbian’s shoes.

We stopped by a liquor store along the way, picked up some beer, and found a great spot along the parade route to sit and watch. We were on the corner of Halsted and Belmont Street, excited because the parade had just begun. People were dancing and singing in the streets, playing loud music and many vibrant colors of the rainbow. About halfway through the parade, I heard people booing at a float. I read the sign on the float and I honestly did not understand it at first. It said, “AIDS is a cure!” It suddenly came to me, I was stunned. This float was telling people that the deadly disease, AIDS, will kill off homosexuals, and cure the “disease” of homosexuality. The beer cans started flying the crowd was booing loudly. I have no idea how this float even got in the parade. Maybe they disguised it until it got far enough down the parade route where it could not turn back or get out, but I could not believe someone had taken the time to tell another person that they were better off dead.

When that hate float went past, it made me feel completely enraged. I couldn’t believe the city of Chicago had allowed an anti-gay float into the Pride Parade. I saw the look of confusion on my friend Mary’s face when she read the sign on the float, and then about 30 seconds later she joined in with the crowds’ booing and beer can throwing. I didn’t know if it was the crowd mentality or if she really was mad. In some ways, I felt she went over the top to show that she was okay with my sexuality. I knew she was fine with it, she didn’t need to go to the extreme in proving her support for me.

When my friend, Mo, told me she was a lesbian, I felt as if I needed to understand the background it involved. She had been my friend for over five years at the time, and she was my family. When I witnessed the protestors and the atrocious float at the Pride Parade in Chicago in 2002, I felt as if someone was hurting my family. Mo was being bullied and I wanted to protect her. I did not know why people put so much hatred towards others that they did not even know. In my mind, if they only got to know my friend, they would realize what a wonderful human being she is. Looking back, I realized how much I wanted to push for equality for her, when I, myself, did not really understand it all.

When I attended the Pride Parade, I did not know that homosexuals were being deprived of their rights due to their sexual preference. I knew they were not allowed to marry, but growing up in a community where everyone was to go to college, get married, have kids, and have the white picket fence house, it made me realize that particular life was not an opportunity for everyone. And that day, I realized that life that was available to so many, was not available to my friend Mo. During this same year of this Pride Parade, the Vatican held a campaign against same-sex marriages, and President Bush announced that marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals only. I know that my friend Mo would like to advance her relationship with her girlfriend, but how can they move forward when the government, as well as religion, puts a wall in front of them. It was not until two years after this Pride Parade that slowly the United States, starting on the east coast, began to recognize that gay and lesbians have been deprived of human rights. Same-sex marriage rights still have not reached Chicago, but my friends remain hopeful that someday they can celebrate their love.

The Pride Parade in Chicago, in 2002 was my first experience in the discrimination and the hatred towards the gay community. I was appalled and disgusted with the people who put forth so much hatred on another just because that person is attracted to the same sex, or they want to change their gender. I have opened my eyes to an unfair world, in which my friend has been in a fight for her choice in lifestyle. I see her as my sister, my best friend, my family; I will walk along side her in any fight for her rights. That June day in Chicago made me realize the conflict and prejudice involved in having different ideal than that of “normal” society. The meaning of the rainbow morphed from an image in the sky, to a cause that means so much to my friends and I, which is gay rights. The vision of rainbows on that day forever are held in my heart as the struggles my friend fights for everyday.

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