Charlotte Ashlock

Marching in the Rochester Gay Pride Parade

July 26, 2011 My Life 0
justice chicken

And when a giant stuffed chicken quotes Martin Luther King Jr, you know he’s right.

I felt like a superhero, riding my bike, my robe of many flowers fluttering behind me in the breeze. Actually, it wasn’t a robe, but a dress printed with gardens, unbuttoned down the front and worn over my tank top and shorts so that it functioned mainly as a cape with sleeves. I hoped it would be flamboyant enough to equal the costumes of the others at the gay pride parade. I whizzed over bridges and past pedestrians, the wind tousling my hair and the warm breeze sliding over me. Down Park Ave, with its prosperous houses and anticipatory parade-goers. Then, a left on Argyle streets, all those floats getting ready to go. “What color T-shirts are you wearing?” I phoned my friend, Drew Langdon. “I can’t find you.”

“Charlotte!” he teased me. “What color T-shirts do you think we’re wearing. GREEN!” Then I saw him with the rest of the Green Party delegation, preparing their banner for the parade. I ran across the street to hug him. He was wearing a jaunty rainbow pirate belt and a pink bandana along with his Green Party T-shirt. We helped him tie a rainbow flag around his shoulders.

pride parade happiness

Drew Langdon in his sporting rainbow superhero garb.

Then it was hurry up and wait until the parade was ready to go. The Green Party members were mostly engaging in earnest discussion on social issues (local food, evil corporations) as they waited in the sweaty heat holding their sign. I ignored them and darted around snapping pictures of other floats. I was here to have fun, after all. And it was all so fascinating.

The Animal Rights float was right behind the Green Party and they had human-sized stuffed animals (chicken and cow) wearing T-shirts with a Martin Luther King quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” There was also a lady dressed in a cow costume (probably drowning in her own sweat) who obligingly struck a silly pose for me when I made her picture. A rainbow haired lady was energetically dancing inside a contraption of rainbow hula hoops, and the float ahead, advertising creampuffs and cocktails, was completely covered in pink and yellow flowers and floating with sparkly streamers. The Planned Parenthood marchers were wearing giant paper hearts that covered their torsos and held pink signs saying things like, “We want to keep our breast exams.”

Then finally the time came to move. I felt our display was a little bit tame, since we didn’t have a float, only the Green Party of Monroe County sign. So I tried to make up for it by putting on a visual display of my own. I strutted. I danced. I ran from side to side. I held out the corners of my robe like giant wings and flapped them from side to side. I bopped to the music. I threw large extravagant handfuls of kisses like a queen returning to her own country. I felt as if the prim and proper Charlotte had fallen away, and the real Charlotte had come to the surface. And isn’t that how a Gay Pride parade is supposed to feel?

“Happy Pride!” we shouted, and they cheered back at us, a sound that went like an electric thrill from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head. “YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME! YOU GUYS ARE ALL AWESOME!” shouted the Green Party guy behind me in a drill sergeant’s bellow. I looked over my shoulder and saw he was shouting at a happy group of small children in facepaint with rainbow flags. “CHILDREN ARE AWESOME!” he cried out, giving them the double thumbs up, and then we continued on our way.

Every block or so, someone in the crowd would recognize one of the green party folks, and run out into the street to hug them. Occasionally this made our sign crooked, as the person on one end of the sign was getting hugged and the person on the other end of the sign was marching on. Our sign also kept trying to blow away, and every time that happened Steve would jauntily remark in piratical tones, “Wind in our sails! Yo ho!”

Then we came to the stretch with the protestors. They had megaphones and enormous signs explaining how God hated gays and marriage was only between a man and a woman. We boooed them, and then we shouted, “God loves you!” at them, just to confuse them. I added in a shriek, “God loves all people, no matter who they love!” Megaphones and all, they looked scared and outnumbered, and dripping with sweat from the heat. Still, it seemed like a cold chill emanated from them. “Well,” somebody said, finally, as we drew past them. “It wouldn’t be worth doing the parade if there weren’t ANY protestors.”

“It must take courage, coming here where everyone hates them,” I remarked. “Yeah,” Alex White, the former Rochester Green Party mayoral candidate, replied. “I just don’t see where they’re coming from. I mean, how can you get from Jesus, and love, to…. God hates fags? That just doesn’t make any sense.”

After the parade, and many more exciting sights (including a unicorn made out of balloons, a BALLOONICORN, in fact) I resumed the discussion with a couple of friends I ran into. “I wonder if it’s occurred to the protestors they’re the only ones at the parade who aren’t having fun,” said Lore, with that slight analytical twist to his lips.

BALLOONICORN!

“Hey, they’re angry!” said Eugene of the pink bandana and the “Legalize Gay” T-shirt. “I find being angry to be very fun. Especially if it’s RIGHTEOUS anger. So much fun.” He made a face. “Rawwr, God hates gays,” he said, mocking the protestors. In defense of religion, quite a few religious groups were marching in the procession. Too many people think it’s gays vs. religion, when in fact there are many devout gay people trying to reform their churches from within.

That evening, I walked down to the corner store to buy a candy bar. They say my street is in “the hood” but I don’t really feel like it is. A lot of young families live here, and there are always children riding tricycles, etc. However in the night, some of the sketchier types do come out, and one of them was in the line ahead of me at the corner store. “I was walking down the street and then this fucking faggot comes out in front of me,” he said, and then told this long story in which “fucking faggot” was repeated at least once in every sentence. With each casual obscenity I felt like I was being punched in the stomach. And with each thump, with each blow, I felt anger rising in my stomach like a cloud of hot acid.

The protestors with their signs and their megaphones were idealists of a sort. However hurtful and misguided their actions, they believed they were protecting some type of world. It’s the people who make hatred a casual part of their daily life that bother me. My teenagers mimic behaviors like these, calling each other “gay” and “faggot” when they are fighting. A gay teenager is four times more likely to commit suicide than a straight one, and there’s a reason for that. Do people realize that their attitudes and prejudices have a body count?

The gay rights movement has often been compared to the civil rights movement, but there’s one important difference: you can’t conceal your skin color, but you can conceal your sexuality. I plan on changing the world, pursuing politics, and all that good jazz. I also happen to be attracted to both men and women. For a long time, I thought I would need to keep that quiet if I wanted to succeed in my goals. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe the time is coming when gay politicians will be as common as black politicians are now. But what I’m wrong? What if we don’t make any progress?

I still shouldn’t keep it secret, and there’s a reason. Somewhere there’s a gay teenager locked in his room listening to the stereo with his feet up against the wall, thinking he’s a freak, thinking he’s abnormal, thinking his private innermost thoughts and feelings— his love— his soul— are shameful. He (or she) happens to live in a community where gays are very much discriminated against, where his parents would cast him out on the streets if they knew. And he doesn’t know his parents and friends are wrong. He thinks maybe HE’S wrong.

Maybe he kills himself. Maybe he lives, and after many difficult years, finds a community where he is welcome to be himself. But he shouldn’t have to feel this way. NO ONE should have to feel this way. And he’ll never stop feeling this way, unless he knows there are people out there like him. And how will he know, if people like me keep it cowardly quiet?   That’s the importance of being out.

For me, Pride has a message that transcends gay and straight. I remember all the times in my life I’ve felt left out (not because I was bisexual) but because I was different. Just different. An eccentric, a bookworm, a girl with her head in the clouds. What we were trying to say, with all that wonderful rainbow and glitter and tomfoolery, was that I LOVE BEING DIFFERENT! Being different is a good thing. And don’t you forget it. That’s all.

 

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