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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Pride Parade and Its Meanings

posted by on April 24 at 12:45 PM

With the news that Seattle’s Gay Pride organizing committee has collapsed and will file for bankruptcy, a lot of the discussion about next steps will concern money and logistics: Can the Pride Parade and festival be made profitable? Who should run it? Why, exactly, did the festival fail at Seattle Center? Etc.

That’s all important, but I want to talk for a moment about symbolism, which is what parades are all about—grand symbolism, on a scale that alters the city-scape and perhaps the mind-scape of participants and observers.

The idea of moving the parade downtown last year may have been motivated, in part, by practical and financial concerns (specifically, that the size of the event was outgrowing Capitol Hill and Volunteer Park, and that organizers thought the Seattle Center would be more conducive to running a celebration that brought in money through beer gardens, merchandising, and perhaps ticketed performances).

But it’s important to remember that the move was sold to the community using symbolism that tugged at the yearnings of gay people to be accepted and celebrated in the heart of their city.

Now, it must be said: Anyone, gay or straight, who ties his or her entire sense of self to a parade deserves to be disappointed.

But, it must also be said: People love parades. They line sidewalks to watch them. They march in them. They link huge meanings to them, even if their more rational instincts tell them not to. In the case of the gay community, which has historically used parades in cities across America to push for acceptance and equality under the law, parades come with tremendous emotional baggage and symbolism attached. They become an embodiment of a city’s gay community at a given moment, a snapshot of its best, worst, and most bizarre aspects. The fact that they happen at all—that gay communites are able to parade their best, worst, and most bizarre members down the streets of major American cities each summer—is a testament to how far gay Americans have come since the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

Thus, the location, within a city, of a particular parade, is important and hardly devoid of meaning. When the Seattle parade’s move downtown was sold last year as a major symbolic statement—an announcement that gay people here were not just denizens of the “gay ghetto” on Capitol Hill, but in fact a central part of the civic fabric—people bought into that. They bought into the meaning of the move.

And they loved it. As Dan noted earlier, Ed Murray, dean of this state’s gay legislators, summed up the sentiments of lot of gay parade-goers with this statement after last year’s march down Fourth Avenue:

“There was a sense, marching down the streets today, of having arrived. Of being viewed as equal,” said state Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who strode down the broad, leafy avenues of Fourth Avenue holding hands with his longtime partner, Michael Shiosaki. “I think the fact that people felt comfortable downtown is new. Michael and I hold hands on the Hill. We don’t downtown. But we did today.”

The organizers of the Pride Parade should of course be accountable to their bottom line, and they shouldn’t put on an event that can’t support itself (why they weren’t able to turn a profit on an event that draws 200,000 people is another, very mind-boggling, question). But the current and future organizers also need to see themselves as accountable to the symbolic storyline that the gay community was sold, and enthusiastically bought, last year.

By “voting with their feet,” as Dan says, and picking the downtown parade over the scraggly counter-parade held last year on the Hill, gay Seattleites were saying, among other things, that they see themselves as part a grand narrative that begins in the gay ghetto and ends on Fourth Avenue, or around the fountain at the Seattle Center. It’s a narrative that begins with marginalization and scorn from the wider community and ends with integration, acceptance, and celebration in the heart of Seattle’s civic space.

What would it mean for this narrative, then, if this year the Pride Parade and celebration slinks back up to the gay ghetto on the Hill, due to the gay community’s inability to create a self-sustaining celebration in the center of Seattle?

The abject failure of the Seattle Pride organizing committee, however well-meaning and devoted its volunteers may have been, is already a huge embarrassment to the larger gay community in Seattle.

Whoever picks up the pieces of the organizing committee’s financial mess will not just be dealing with a financial mess, however. They will need to fix a symbolic mess, too, and answer this question:

Is retreating back to Capitol Hill simply adding embarrassing, self-inflicted insult to embarrassing, self-inflicted injury?

RSS icon Comments


Sorry for cut 'n pasting Sean's and Dan's posts, but it deserves yet another go:

"If Seattle has one defining characteristic, it’s the inability to reach anything approaching consensus on any issue, no matter how large or trivial."

That's the 'real' meaning here. End of story.

Posted by redundantcity | April 24, 2007 1:07 PM

Redundantcity -- sorry for the sports metaphor, but: To hit the ball you first have to want to hit the ball.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | April 24, 2007 1:15 PM

I am going to throw this out there and probably get bitch slapped for saying this. (And yeah I am gay BTW) But maybe, just maybe the community has out grown the parade and rally(?) Maybe our priorities are not the same one's that we had 20 or 30 years ago. Perhaps we are more concerned about just living our lives versus trying to keep up all the sterotypes that most of us never fit into anyway.

I do like the idea of a block party over Pride Weekend though.

Posted by Just Me | April 24, 2007 1:25 PM

Personally, I always thought moving it downtown was a silly attempt to get corporate sponsorship from groups that talk a good game, but never deliver.

The Hill is where it should start - only the ending should be in discussion.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 24, 2007 1:31 PM

One stereotype my born-again mother always held about gays was that they always made a huge, crazy amount of drama over things that could be easily resolved.

I'm normally one to argue against such stereotypes, but....

Posted by Gomez | April 24, 2007 1:41 PM

@ Will in Seattle, I think at this point it is no longer an issue of where the parade starts/ends but if it will happen at all. I mean, they are bankrupt.

And frankly the parade as a defining moment of who I am is really pretty shallow. There are a great many things that I am (gay, trumpet player, Stephanie Miller fan, son, brother ect) that are defined by one thing and that is me. Maybe that is ultimate narcisism but in the end of it all I have to answer to myself. Not to a parade.

This is the call for the community to grow up and leave the next boys and girls. Parades were great in the 1970's when we were finding ourselves. And guess what? We have found ourselves and achieved a certian amount of civil liberties this past week. The next big step is not going to be done by parades or rallies.

Posted by Just Me | April 24, 2007 1:42 PM

I'm pretty much where Just Me is but the giant (non-circuit) party can be lots o fun.

Posted by monkey | April 24, 2007 1:50 PM

@ Monkey: But come on! Let's have an outdoor circut party in front of Club Lagoon!!! Now THAT is something worth fighting for!!! :)

Posted by Just Me | April 24, 2007 1:52 PM

I'm not a member of the community, straight and boring here, but I always think it's sad when communities start disintegrating. Outsider perspective: This seems like a big nail in the coffin to Seattle's gay community. Could Pride become a multi-culti event?

Posted by Soupytwist | April 24, 2007 1:58 PM

All this said, how much pride can there really be when a group can't even put a parade together without melting down?

Posted by Gomez | April 24, 2007 2:04 PM

@Soupytwist. I do not think the loss of a parade is going to kill off the community. But are you suggesting a "Humanity Pride Parade"? You know the Republicans would really really hate that..... heh heh heh

The gay commnity was origninally held together (and in many ways still is) by oppression of the rest of the society. Unlike other communities we are diverse in our ethinicities, and other socio-economic make up as a community. As gays and lesbians achieve equality more and more the unifiying nature of our community becomes less and less.

At some point the issue of sexual orientation will not even be an issue in anyone's minds or hearts. It will be a case of two people attracted to each other pursuing something with one another. And at that point would we still need a parade?

Posted by Just Me | April 24, 2007 2:06 PM

In Denver, people love our PrideFest because it's the second-largest of the summer festivals downtown. It draws over 150,000 people every year, despite the fact that the organization is traditionally a huge clusterfuck.

Maybe there's something in the Starbuck's coffee or everybody's depressed by all the rain or something. Because ours is a huge success every year despite the fact that the organizers typically can't find their asses with both hands on a good day.

Posted by Michael Ditto | April 24, 2007 2:10 PM

Looking for a parallel, I think of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in most cities with a sizable population of Irish descent. Does anyone ever, ever, ever say, "You know, the parade is silly. I'm Irish-American, but I'm also a mother and a nun and a carnival barker and the Irish thing is just, you know, a fraction of what I am?" No, they don't. St. Patrick's Day is a day set aside - ideally - to recognize and honor history and tradition. True, some people just want to get drunk and have fun. Nonetheless, it is a day of recognition - recognition that being Irish does not mean one is less than human - that one has human rights and human needs. So, the Pride parade (am I really defending the Pride parade?), same song, different chorus. There are those mouth-breathers out there who just see it as a day to enjoy the eye candy and score some easy boy/girl pussy, but it is also - and more importantly - a day set aside to recognize who we are, what we've done, and how far we've come. And if you think for a moment that just because YOU don't suffer discrimination, that there's no need for this little festivity - that's its past it's prime and relevancy - I have two words for you: Weimar Republic. Keep the Parade downtown and let us glory in our attachment to this city as a whole. It's about way more than sex and it's about way more than Capitol Fucking Hill.

Posted by Bauhaus | April 24, 2007 2:25 PM

@ Bauhaus: Then I take it you are footing the $100K bill that is owed to the City of Seattle and pulling the event out of debt?

Posted by HUH?? | April 24, 2007 2:37 PM

Hey Bauhaus, how about directing some of that defensive vitrol towards the organizers who are insisting on throwing a hands-in-the-air hissy instead of just doing what it takes sure the parade happens?

Posted by Gomez | April 24, 2007 2:39 PM

TO MAKE sure the parade happens? WhyTF does Slog keep cutting words out of my replies?

Posted by Gomez | April 24, 2007 2:41 PM

@6 - yeah, whatever. great dreams, but if you end up spending lots of time arguing and no parade happens, it's all on you.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 24, 2007 2:47 PM

It's been about eleven years since I have been to the Pride Parade because, well I hate parades almost as much as I hate clowns, but I do hope that the Seattle Gay Community will be able to find a way to have a 2007 Pride Parade. A well-meaning friend said he wished that people would just accept homosexuality as a fact of life, so there wouldn't be a need for a Pride Parade. My answer is "Tell it to the Irish."

Posted by elswinger | April 24, 2007 3:00 PM

I disagree with Eli's assessment--that Pride could have raised the money to pay for Seattle Center but failed solely due to bad planning. There was no realistic way for Pride to succeed in Seattle Center given the exorbitant regulatory fees. The mistake was moving there too soon.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Before Seattle Center can be a viable location for the Pride rally, the pricing schedule needs to be revamped to accommodate constitutionally-protected events. Pride should work with the city council to pass such a law.

Eli asks a good question:

Is retreating back to Capitol Hill simply adding embarrassing, self-inflicted insult to embarrassing, self-inflicted injury?

Yes, but not as embarrassing as watching a downtown parade wither away over a period of years for lack of funds. Unless Pride finds major corporate sponsorship, the rally is necessary to pay for the parade through vendor fees, drink sales, and donations bins). Other than Seattle Center, Myrtle Edwards Park is worth considering but it has some major drawbacks. This isn't to say it can't work downtown this year, just that we haven't found a good plan yet.

The most important thing here is have a big, well-produced, and sustainable pride parade. And for the organization to develop the major sponsorship it needs. And then to move into Seattle Center.

A calculated strategy like that would be symbolic of a movement worth supporting. Chasing dreams on matters of principle without a strategy to make those dreams a reality, and then watching those dreams crumble in a public spectacle, is symbolic of an immature movement. It looks like Pride already made that mistake once, let's be wise and avoid doing it again.

Posted by Dominic Holden | April 24, 2007 3:06 PM

I disagree. Many funding strategies could have been used including a modest admission fee. They chose to do nothing except raise that $21.00 from donations. HA!
Anyway, the Seattle Center gave them an estimate of the fees going into the process.
I do think a conversation is due on whether reduced fees could be made a future policy but until that happens current policy rules.

Posted by ummmm | April 24, 2007 3:13 PM

Okay... honestly, the Pride parade bit off way more than it could chew by moving to Seattle Center in the first place, without having concrete funding in place to pay for it. They foolishly assumed that the funding would show up between then and now, and obviously that's not how things work.

They can throw hissies and be giant wanks about it, but honestly, it's the organizers' own damn fault that they're bankrupt.

Hopefully someone will pick it up, move it back to the Hill, where it's had a history of success, not have such an ego about needing to be Downtown or in Seattle Center, and just focus on rebuilding the Pride parade's success. Being a bunch of bitches about this isn't going to solve anything.

Posted by Gomez | April 24, 2007 3:49 PM


@ 5: “One stereotype my born-again mother always held about gays was that they always made a huge, crazy amount of drama over things that could be easily resolved.”


@ 13: “And if you think for a moment that just because YOU don't suffer discrimination, that there's no need for this little festivity - that's its past it's prime and relevancy - I have two words for you: Weimar Republic.”

-Discuss amongst yourselves

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | April 24, 2007 3:57 PM

I had to think about that one for a few moments, but that's hilarious.

Posted by Gomez | April 24, 2007 4:12 PM

Queers would exist without Pride, just like fiddlers would exist without Folklife, and local bands would exist without Bumbershoot - the point is celebration, and an opportunity for communities to come together. This is supposedly part of the mission of Seattle Center. That's the story here. Why is this city gathering space that promotes itself as such so inhospitable to the events they host? Is anyone paying attention to the Century 21 plans they are cooking up over there for the future? Pride just exposed how expensive and poorly run the place is, because they were a bunch of volunteers trying to pull off a large scale production - not an easy task for people who do it professionally, so let's cut them some slack. The Seattle Center is not a place where a fledging event can take off, and it's a place where established ones struggle - they just try not to admit it.

Posted by Clearly Canadian | April 24, 2007 4:16 PM

Yeah, SOaP fucked up royally, getting themselves $100k in debt, with no realistic way to dig themselves out. Absolutely, they deserve to go bankrupt and disband.

But that in no way means a downtown parade is a bad idea.

Everything about the LGBT Community center takeover reeks of fighting over the inheritance before the corpse is even cold.

I think that the LGBT Community Center is a great resource. I have no problem with the general premise of needing to raise money. Non-profit does not mean they run on pixy dust. They still need money to operate, and fundraising is a core function of any successful non-profit.

But seizing this as an opportunity to yank the parade back to the hill without even a whiff of a discussion over whether or not that is a good idea or something the community supports is completely wrongheaded. I see no reason why they couldn't carry on planning a parade downtown, and fundraise off of that.

Hey LGBT Community Center: take off the blinders. Not every homo in the Puget Sound region lives on Capitol Hill! We don't have to restrict ourselves to one neighborhood ghetto. The downtown parade is a lot more fun.

Posted by SDA in SEA | April 24, 2007 4:56 PM

Hey, here’s a radical idea.

Instead of just jumping to the LGTB Community Center (a group that arguably may have had a hand in SOaPs demise), why not look around and see if there are any groups in the Gay Community that actually have a track record of pulling off complex and expensive community events that involve nurturing sponsorship relationships.

One such organization comes to mind (WAY before the LGTB Community Center), Three Dollar Bill Cinema, the organizers of the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. I doubt that they could ever be convinced to wade into this cesspool, but man wouldn’t it be a blessing to the community if they would pick this up and fix it…

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | April 24, 2007 5:29 PM

Maybe I'm just dense, but I don't understand why SOaP doesn't just organize some sort of fundraiser to come up with the $100K. Do they really think that they couldn't find 1000 queers willing to kick in $100 each (or 10000 @ $10 each) to save pride? If they can't, doesn't that fact mean that Pride is dying a justified death due to lack of community support.

As far as reduced pricing for "first admendment" events at the Center, careful what you wish for. Does anyone really want to see Hutcherson and his "prayer warriors" holding "save marriage" or "love won out" hatefest at the Center, knowing that said hatefest is subsidized by reduced rates? Can anyone explain any legally defensible reason why Pride would qualify for reduced rates, but Hutcherson's group would not?

Posted by John | April 24, 2007 5:39 PM

Three Dollar Bill Cinema’s MISSION statement reads: “Three Dollar Bill Cinema enriches, strengthens, and connects diverse communities by supporting queer film and by producing the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and other events.”

Lets start a letter writing campaign to convince them that “other events” could (should (oh please god please)) include Pride day.

Here is their contact info:

Three Dollar Bill Cinema
Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
1122 E. Pike St. #1313
Seattle, WA 98122
206-323-4274 phone
206-323-4275 fax

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that they may be the only fully functional, mature, fiscally responsible gay group with the professional expertise to do anything like what needs to be done. Lets through our selves on their mercy…

I’d much rather go to a party hosted and organized by the film community than a retirement community any day… think about it.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | April 24, 2007 5:41 PM

If Capitol Hill is a 'ghetto', I shudder to think what Burien is....

Posted by Gomez | April 24, 2007 6:18 PM

The Tackey Tourists have more than 25 years of throwing major events such as the Bump(now in the hands of gay city), the cruise and other parties.

They #26-"have a track record of pulling off complex and expensive community events that involve nurturing sponsorship relationships" and organinize a lot of volunteers through the organizations they work with and they have relationships with sponsors.

Have you been on the cruise in August? Take a look here...

Now they can throw a party.

Posted by seamaster | April 24, 2007 6:41 PM

Capital Hill is not a Ghetto. The Gay community can not afford the Seattle Center, what is hard to understand about that? Why make a big drama out of it? Has not Capital Hill been good to the Gay Community? Why take the parade and its buissness to another spot?

Posted by Gay Jesus | April 24, 2007 7:00 PM

Seamaster: Sounds great! How do we get them to take this over?

Posted by you_gotta_be_kidding_me | April 24, 2007 7:02 PM

Dear John @ 27,

I've never written a "Dear John" letter. I wish it didn't have to be this way...

On your first point: You're not dense, but a little naive, perhaps. Raising $100,000 from a benefit would take a miracle. In general, producing fundraisers (especially big ones with the potential to raise big bucks) requires a sizable up-front investment, months for planning, and a team of people with professional production experience. At this point, Pride lacks all three. So I don't believe this financial squeeze indicates a "justified death due to lack of community support." Rather, considering the huge turnout last year, I think it's a sign support for Pride has exceeded the organizers' expertise.

To your next point: Yes, it would still be worth changing the rules at Seattle Center to accommodate certain constitutionally-protected rallies, even if it means Hutch and his cronies could hold an event there. But that would never happen because to qualify for a fee waiver under this proposal, an event would need to have already outgrown other Seattle parks. I doubt a homophobia rally could ever fill Volunteer Park.


Posted by Dominic Holden | April 24, 2007 7:22 PM

Dom. Your optimism is so cute!

Posted by you_gotta_be_kidding_me | April 24, 2007 7:31 PM

I think of it as a humiliating retreat, and I can't fucking do it. My dojo marches every year, and I usually participate, but there's no way I can do it this year if we go back to Capitol Hill. Honestly, it feels like if I had to move back to my small town in New Mexico.

Posted by Gitai | April 24, 2007 8:06 PM


I realize that a full-blown, entertainment, fancy dinner & tuxes type fundraiser is unrealistic, but how effort would it take for a few local websites popular with the lgbt community (hello Slog!) to throw up a pay-pal tip jar and try and collect the money absent the fancy dinner etc? I mean I haven't attended Pride in years, but I'd probably be willing to kick in a few bucks, seems to me more than likely that there would be a few thousand readers willing to do the same.

Hell, if the Stranger organized such Pride-Saving endeavor, I don't see why they couldn't get naming rights in exchange. So we could have Seattle Pride brought to you by The Stranger, or the Stranger Seattle Pride, rather than just a bunch of bitching, moaning from Dan Savage et all.

Posted by john | April 25, 2007 1:13 PM

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