Pushing the Buttons – Denver Pride 2014

The above quote is one lifted yesterday from the Facebook page of an old friend of mine. Someone I would describe as a commie, pinko faggot with strong pacifist, socialist and Wiccan leanings, definitely my kind of queer. A description I do not think he would in any way try to disown. His bit of a rant is in response to this year’s Denver Pride 2014. In fairness it should be noted that this was a post done yesterday after visiting the event on Saturday, the vendors are all the same but the crowd significantly smaller and dare I say less gay.

This friend has been an activist around many progressive causes all of his adult life and an out gay man since I have known him dating back to the 1970’s and for whom I have significant respect. For those reasons alone I can not easily dismiss him as being some old crank yelling at the kids to get off his lawn. And actually his criticisms are nothing new and quite frankly ones I have shared in the past and to some extent still do.

My experiences with Denver Pride date back to its inception in the mid-1970s as an event involving several hundreds tentatively inching our way up Colfax to one that now extends to the hundreds of thousands sashaying from Cheesman Park to Civic Center in a sea of rainbow colors. The main attraction at the end of those early marches, not parades back then, were often political speeches from activists primarily and the rare politician. There were no vendors to speak of and if representatives of Coors Beer had shown up they would no doubt have been driven from the temple as the homophobic moneychangers and purveyors of alcoholism they were and perhaps still are.

Times have changed and overall for the better I think at least regarding Pride, which I’ll get to in a bit. All of the large community events from Taste of Colorado, to People’s Fair to Cinco de Mayo etc. have grown dramatically and at the same time probably lost a lot of their uniqueness and certainly some of their grassroots cache. Whether this is an inevitable evolution or a tragic devolution I’ll leave to another piece.

I remember attending what I think was the third People’s Fair in the early-to-mid 1970’s the exact year escapes me. It was held in its entirety in the playground of the old elementary school at 8th and Downing just south of Queen Soopers. I remember it because I was working at the time as a psychiatric attendant at the old Denver General and we had taken several of our patients, not yet referred to as clients, to the fair for an afternoon outing. The most notable part of that adventure was having to explain to my charge nurse on our return why we came back with fewer patients than we had left with.

I would certainly agree with my cranky friend quoted above that there has been a tremendous amount of corporate cooptation of the Pride event and frequently a nauseating acquiescence’s to local politicians trying to curry favor all the while looking for votes. One positive change around the politicians though is we no longer grovel and jump for joy at their approval but rather have come to expect it. The same can be said for media coverage, which is shallow and often banal in the extreme, but everything they cover is. We do though now expect them to acknowledge our existence, which is something pretty hard not to do when several hundred thousand of us cavort in public occupying many city blocks.

It is this mass cavorting, sweaty shoulder to sweaty shoulder, often cheek to jowl that makes the whole thing still worthwhile for me. Though I do at times wish that the Stone Wall riots had occurred in May or September when the weather is much more civilized.

There is something that remains for me, the quintessential jaded old queen, a gut reaction that is very exhilarating and empowering to be in public literally pressing the flesh with this vast queer mass of humanity. I really don’t give a rat’s ass about any of the vendors, politicians or dignitaries and that includes the gay ones but I do still get a wonderful warm rush by slowing circumambulating with the crowd around Civic Center often encountering old friends who I don’t seem to see but once a year at this carnival.

I can’t help but wonder what the reaction must be of someone just coming out, no matter what their age, who is perhaps watching from the sidelines or has maybe even dived in to swish with the fishes. For many I would think and hope that this experience would do more to water their queer roots than decade’s of trying to come to grips with a queer reality was for many of us in the 40’s, 50’s or 60’s just to pick a few random decades from the past couple millennia.

I don’t really think that folks necessarily have it so much easier coming out these days than I did forty years ago. But I must say it would have been really cool and reassuring and saved me years of angst to happen on several hundred thousand like minded individuals dancing in public on a warm sunny day in 1965. These Pride days, once I have completed my swim around the park in a sea of queer flesh, it’s often nice to sit under a tree and watch the many really very interesting very diverse trips pass by. I still think there is plenty that is unique and potentially truly change creating about how so many of us move in the world. Vendors be damned, I still plan to attend next year.

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