By Buddy Early, April 2020 Issue.
This column ought to come with a warning: you may interpret this as one of those “things used to be better back in the day” meditations.
That’s certainly not the intent. But when you become a person of a certain age your proclivity toward nostalgia grows strong. This time of year, I always think of past Phoenix Pride festivals and how much fun I had. I did it all: marched in the parade and/or rode on a float — sometimes in the same parade with two different groups; I staffed booths; I handed out Echo Readers Choice awards from the mainstage; I worked at a beverage stand raising money for one group or another; and I partied pretty hard.
Nowadays if I find myself anywhere in the vicinity of the festival, I remember to make a quick U-turn because, ugh, traffic.
Truth is, I don’t think Pride is any better or worse than the two decades I attended. It’s just … different. If you were to ask 100 people, you’d get positive and negative responses about Phoenix Pride. Back in the day, now, and in the future. I firmly believe that on the date of the second annual Phoenix Pride, there were folks complaining that it’s not the way it used to be. It’s in people’s nature to complain, I suppose.
I’ve seen and even participated in all these debates about Pride:
· It should be free.
· It should be in February.
· It should be in November.
· It should feature more local talent.
· It should feature more big names.
· It should be family-friendly.
· It should be a celebration of sexuality.
· The parade should be on Saturday.
· The parade should be on Sunday.
· Beyoncé should be the headliner.
Some things definitely were better back in the day. These things include the way we taught math, the way we didn’t wear pajamas on airplanes, and the way the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers was superior to any that followed.
But the number of things that are way better today are exponentially greater. These things include 14 flavors of Cheerios, the College Football Playoff, and the most recent A Star Is Born.
I’d argue the Phoenix Pride Festival falls somewhere in between. The volunteers have worked tirelessly over the years to improve every aspect of the event, making it inclusive, accessible, and relevant to as many people as possible. Changes in venue, time of year, strategic philosophy, and technology have all been important to improving the Pride experience.
In fact, when I say the Festival falls somewhere between better and worse, I’m really just talking about how it’s not the same for me. That’s not the fault of Phoenix Pride.
When I first attended Pride in the mid-1990s, it was still an act of courage. Showing up at Pride, for a lot of us, was essentially “coming out.” Today’s Pride is so mainstream that a person is not even assumed to be gay just because they are there. In the 90s our community was still on the margins of society, had experienced very few victories in the social/political arenas, and was slow and calculated when addressing inequality. (“Now is not the time to push a bill for marriage equality” was common back then.) Today’s Pride celebrates many victories and demands equality across the board.
I won’t even attempt to say what Pride festivals were like in the 1970s and 1980s, other than to state that being a participant could cost you your job, your friends and family, your freedom, and your life!
I’ll probably never enjoy Pride the way I used to. And that’s ok. Sometimes memories are all we’re meant to have. However, my hope for everyone else presently in their Pride glory days is that you find something worth celebrating. Please don’t waste your time complaining that your favorite artist isn’t performing, or that there are long lines at the beer truck, or that a lesbian is wearing pasties. Make memories. Please.
And do another thing (to humor me). Thank a Pride volunteer or board member while you’re there. Theirs is a thankless job, so even the slightest acknowledgment will brighten their weekend.