Relay: Everything’s Rainbows

Pride has become something of a national holiday, with all the marketable trappings of Christmas

A couple weeks ago, the New York City L.G.B.T. Pride march left Lower Manhattan all but paralyzed. I grew up on Christopher Street, less than a block from the historical Stonewall Inn, and the parade passes in front of my mother’s house every year. 

My mother lives there with her boyfriend, dog, and two cats. Occasionally she stays to enjoy the show, but usually she comes here for the weekend out of sympathy for the animals, who don’t appreciate the constant noise and massive crowd outside. So, like any good son whose parents are away for the weekend, I usually invite a few friends over to watch the parade from the fire escape. This year was no different.

I issued an invitation on my Instagram so that people could get by the police barricades. This year the changed route made it harder to get to the house, but if you have an invitation with an address on it, they let you through (the same thing is true of New Year’s Eve in Times Square). The changed route was an attempt to speed up the march, which, by my approximation, did not work; there was still marching outside around 8 p.m., when it usually ends around 6 or 7.

The parades started with the Stonewall Riots, initiated by Marsha P. Johnson on June 28, 1969. The bar down the street from my childhood home was one of the only places in New York where L.G.B.T. folks could come and be themselves, and for this reason was subject to constant violent raids by the New York Police Department. A month after the riots ended, the late Brenda Howard, the “Mother of Pride” from the Bronx, organized the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. A year later she organized the one-year anniversary, and the annual parades became her lifelong passion. Pride month was first officially declared by President Bill Clinton in 1999 and again in 2000, and was again proclaimed by President Barack Obama in every year of his presidency.

In recent years, Pride has become something of a national holiday, with all the marketable trappings of Christmas. When you Google “pride month,” the site morphs into a rainbow-spattered version of itself, even now that July’s heat is upon us. When you order an Uber in June, the slug-trail that shows you the route of the driver is a shimmering rainbow. The Stonewall Inn itself is now something of a tourist trap, and the crowds and perpetual line outside have always kept me out (I much prefer the nearby Duplex). The corporatization is not lost on my friends. Their favorites are the radio station floats, the Ru-Paul’s Drag Race floats, and we all freak out when Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer of “Broad City” fame point at us from their float, but they pay no mind to the corporate “advertisers.” 

I’m a big podcast fan, and Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, writers for The New York Times Magazine who host the Times podcast “Still Processing,” put it well in their “We Louvre the Carters” episode: “I’m saturated with rainbows, they’re coming out of my tits, they’re everywhere in the city, I just don’t like this corporate slapping a rainbow label on something for a month. Seeing these corporate floats, I just wanna grab a microphone and pull a Janet: Let me know [sings], what have you done for me lately?” (In an intersectional slipup they also praise fans of the Mexican soccer team in Germany who, a Star writer pointed out two weeks ago, chanted homophobic slurs at the opposing team’s goalie.) The corporate veneer of the march used to bother me too. I mean, T-Mobile? T-D Bank? As a kid I couldn’t even figure out why they were there. When I got a little older, I realized it was a marketing scheme. Then I wondered, who are these people, the actual mass of people marching? I started realizing what makes the parade special when I really looked closely at the faces above those pink T-Mobile shirts. They’re not a corporate influence, they’re not heartless capitalists looking to market their company to these potential customers, every other day of the year they’re normal storefront employees. 

My favorite every year is the police section. My generation, raised in the midst of the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and the financial crash, has an unbelievably low level of confidence in institutions, and I am no different. I went to public school in Lower Manhattan, and most of my friends are non-white. I’ve spoken to police on behalf of friends too terrified to do so months after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead by Officer Timothy Loehmann in Cleveland. 

I have what I would call a healthy distrust for police. 

But, every year in late June, you can find me sitting teary-eyed on my fire escape, cheering officers I would otherwise eyeball cautiously. It’s not because I necessarily believe in the institution they represent. It’s because I believe in each of them, because I know that their day-to-day life is not easy, made difficult by toxic masculinity and old norms, and today they each deserve to stand and be recognized.

 


Alex Lemonides is a reporter at The Star.