The last Sunday in June holds a special place in my heart. The last Sunday in June holds the title of one of my favorite days of the year: NYC GAY PRIDE. The energy, the excitement, the love, the camaraderie felt in the city and on the streets is electric and infectious. This year, add 2 million more visitors to the city as NYC hosts WORLD PRIDE! I am extremely proud to have participated in the past 15+ Pride parades, marching with different contingents from “It Gets Better”to “Gays Against Guns,” and The Gay and Lesbian Center. There have also been years where you may have seen me dancing in a speedo on floats for “HX,” “Next,” or “Univision”. Last June I was thrilled to be representing the “GayTrippersNYC” float. GayTrippersNYC is a gay travel company owned and operated by my friend, John DiStefano. (Yes. this shameless plug hopefully gets me a free trip!)
The nation’s first Gay Pride Parade was held on June 28, 1970. The parade was held on the 1 year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, when members of the gay community clashed with police for raiding the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan. #knowyourgayhistory
Now let me preface what I am about to discuss with the fact that I had an ABSOLUTE BLAST last year, and every year, marching and on the float. And that I still believe Gay Pride is just as important, possibly even more important today, than in 1970. Pride STILL matters. Coming out STILL matters. Visibility STILL matters. That’s not to say that Gay Pride is for every single gay person. My friend Phil tells me, “Robby, I have done pride for more than 20 years, it’s someone else’s turn. I will be on Fire Island for the weekend.” (You go Phil) Celebrating Pride however and wherever you want is why we have Gay Pride!
However, the management of the NYC Parade, specifically, ‘Heritage of Pride’ needs to be completely overhauled and reconfigured. Gay Pride, first and foremost belongs to the LGBTQ community and each year Heritage of Pride succeeds in making it feel less and less like Pride and more like SantaCon or St. Patrick’s Day.
For the 2nd consecutive year the parade runtime passed 9 hours. NINE HOURS. Think about that for a minute. Would you stand and watch a parade or anything straight for nine hours? I wouldn’t and I don’t know anyone that would. There are simply too many groups marching. Period. 450 groups. Even typing that number seems insane. Watching 450 groups march by sounds more overwhelming than fun.
Second, HOP buried the resistance groups like “Act Up,” and “Rise and Resist” way back in the last half of the parade, when they should be LEADING the march. HOP has come under major fire from the LGBTQ for allegedly moving publicized meeting dates and times without any notice. Is this to keep community leaders from attending and voicing their concerns?
Third, the wristband requirement “enforced” last year was a complete and utter fail and epic waste of time and energy. I saw more people marching and on floats WITHOUT wristbands than with. In addition, “Gay City News” reported than HOP gave special permission to 11 corporations letting their marching group exceed the 200 person limit. This limit is supposedly to keep the parade shorter than years past. We know how well that worked out. HOP declined to comment for the “GCN” article. Of course they did.
I am well aware many people worked tirelessly and endlessly to make the day a success, and I am beyond grateful and thankful. Looking back, the question that needs to be asked is – Was the day a success?? Many feel that it was not.
It is quite a different parade for a group marching at 2pm to throngs of screaming friends and allies, and crowded streets of people waving and clapping, than for a group marching at 7pm. Late in the day groups are greeted by almost empty streets and few onlookers. I know this because I have marched at 2pm and I’ve marched at 7pm.
How do we improve the Parade? I don’t pretend to have any answers or solutions, but there should be conversations between HOP and the LGBTQ community. Proposals can range from raising the price of floats but limiting the amount of groups that march from 450 to 250. HOP can hold a lottery for admission to the parade, guaranteeing admission in the next year if you don’t get in the current year. With less floats and less marchers, the parade can run 6 hours and not 9, requiring less overtime for the police guarding every street like Fort Knox and making travel around downtown Manhattan virtually impossible.
Finally, resistance and community groups belong in the FRONT of the parade to honor the memory of those that came before us and the thousands upon thousands who fought for our hard earned rights. Yes, Pride is a day for everyone to celebrate and to come together in joyous celebrations. But first and foremost, Pride belongs to the LGBTQ community, and it’s time we take it back! That is why this year I will be marching in the Queer Liberation March starting at 930am in front of Sheridan Square and marching towards Central Park! #RECLAIMPRIDE