Float reflections

This past Saturday, J and I watched this year’s Pride parade in downtown Boston; early on Sunday morning, a gunman went on a shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando.  These two events are unrelated, but I will always associate them because of an accident of chronology.  First, there was a Saturday afternoon filled with rainbow flags, warm hugs, and lots of smiling people shouting “Happy Pride”; next, there was a Sunday morning filled with violence, bloodshed, and the heartbreak caused by one man’s hateful heart.

You deserve love

I’ve spent the last few days going through the pictures I took at Saturday’s parade, and I am tempted to caption all of them “Before Orlando.”  Going back through the happy pictures of Saturday’s parade felt a lot like going through the pictures I’d taken at the 2013 Boston Marathon.  Those pictures show the celebratory scene out in the suburbs before the front-runners crossed the finish line, before lives and limbs were lost and Boylston Street became a crime scene.  In April 2013, I struggled to make sense of the contradiction:  how could a happy, inclusive event suddenly become the site of carnage and hatred, and how could we ever celebrate a happy Marathon Monday again?

Looking fabulous

In the aftermath of tragedy, people talk of returning to a “new normal.”  By an accident of geography, Boston’s Pride parade starts at Copley Square, half a block from the Marathon bombing site and right on the spot where a huge and heart-felt memorial arose after the attack.  Part of the “new normal” in Boston is the simple fact that J and I think of the bombing every time we stroll down Boylston Street or visit Copley Square.  On Saturday, as floats, marchers, and squads of rainbow-decked motorcycles staged on Boylston Street before the start of the parade, J and I observed a gathering of Boston Police officers and a couple of bomb-sniffing dogs:  just another day in the age of terrorism.

Police K9

As a straight woman, I take a lot of things for granted.  I don’t think twice when I mention my husband to friends and colleagues, I’m not afraid to walk down the street holding J’s hand, and I don’t worry if co-workers see family photos on my laptop or tablet.  As a straight woman, in other words, I can simply be myself in public without worrying that someone might condemn or try to hurt me because of my lifestyle.

Hellfire and brimstone guy

Two years ago, J and I marched as LGBT allies in the Pride parade, and there are a couple things I remember from that day.  First, I remember a photo J snapped of two young men in band uniforms walking hand-in-hand as they marched down Boylston Street toward the Marathon finish line:  a blatant “screw you” to the bombers who tried to kill freedom there.  Second, I remember the happy and even grateful looks on spectators’ faces as the parade moved like a loud, rainbow-colored caterpillar through the Back Bay, South End, and Beacon Hill toward City Hall.

LOVE

But most of all, I remember one of the other marchers we met that day.  Ryan was a 15-year-old high school student who had recently come out to his family and friends. I will never forget the look of amazed delight on Ryan’s face as he looked around and saw crowds of joyful, self-assured LGBT folks being themselves in public. It was the look of a proverbial “ugly duckling” realizing the world is full of swans.

Newton South Gay/Straight Alliance

Straight folks take a lot of things for granted, like the freedom to love and be loved. Two years ago, the look on one gay high-school student’s face reminded me that the freedom to be yourself in public isn’t guaranteed. Places like Pulse and events like Pride are essential because they provide sanctuary from a hateful world. I wish everyone knew how wonderful it is to live in a world full of swans.

Pride flag

Boston Pride parade

One of the biggest cheers J and I heard at this past weekend’s Boston Pride parade erupted while the marchers were still assembling on Boylston Street and a much-loved, recently elusive entity Came Out: the sun. After a full Friday of torrential rains, on Saturday even tropical storm Andrea couldn’t rain a single drop on Boston Pride’s parade.

Boston Pride parade

Although J and I have watched Pride parades in other cities, before this weekend we’d never attended Boston Pride. Previously, we’d been what you might call accidental Pride spectators, with J watching the Atlanta parade because it wended its way through the predominantly lesbian neighborhood where he used to live and me watching the New York parade one year when my ex-husband and I happened to be staying in Greenwich Village that weekend. Before this year, though, J and I never made a point to attend Boston’s own parade, mainly because we’d never really set the date aside. You might say that Boston Pride didn’t really register on our gaydar.

Boston Pride parade

And then Jason Collins came out. The minute J and I heard that the current NBA (and former Celtics) center had announced he is gay, we knew we’d have to attend this year’s Boston Pride parade, where Collins marched alongside his Stanford roommate (and our congressional representative) Joe Kennedy III. Coming out as a sports celebrity in an age of unrelenting media and Internet scrutiny is a brave thing, and J and I wanted to make sure there were at least a few rabid basketball fans there to personally applaud Collins’ announcement. I’m sure Collins has gotten more than a few angry looks, nasty emails, and mean Tweets simply because he had the nerve to Be Who He Is, and J and I wanted to add our voices to a chorus of cheers drowning out the jeers.

Boston Pride Parade

I’ve mentioned before that I often get teary-eyed when J and I watch the Boston Marathon every year because there’s something emotionally powerful about cheering for perfect strangers:

What chokes me up on Marathon day is the way spectators show up to cheer on strangers, shouting all sorts of encouragements: “Keep going!” “You can do it!” “You’re amazing!”

Boston Pride parade

Can you imagine a world where we cheered each other on like this everyday, not just on Marathon Monday? Can you imagine a world where strangers shared simple kindness with one another, simply to keep them motivated and moving?

It turns out, I also get weepy at Pride parades, and for a similar reason. Can you imagine a world where everyone you see is happy and smiling simply because everyone there accepts them for who they are?

Boston Pride parade

Long before we spotted Collins walking alongside Kennedy with a throng of photographers shooting their every move, J and I hollered and clapped for the much less famous marchers. At any Pride parade, the participants who make headlines are the flamboyant and fabulous: the shirtless young men gyrating in underwear, for instance…

Boston Pride parade

…or the strong and serious dykes on bikes,

Boston Pride parade

…or the towering drag queens.

Boston Pride parade

All of the above were present at Boston Pride, but they were far outnumbered by the otherwise ordinary folks who were simply doing in public the things straight people do all the time without considering it a Political Statement, like walking hand in hand with their partners while wearing a uniform…

Boston Pride parade

…proudly proclaiming themselves as parents,

Boston Pride parade

…taking the baby for a stroll,

Boston Pride parade

…or just walking the dog.

Boston Pride parade

A Pride parade, in other words, isn’t about flaunting your sexual preferences in public; it’s about having the courage to show your face in a world that often wants to pretend you don’t exist. This is why J and I wanted to attend Boston Pride, look Jason Collins in the face, and let him know that in the eyes of these two straight, entirely non-flamboyant basketball fans, being gay is okay.

Boston Pride Parade

And so when Jason Collins and Joe Kennedy passed where J and I were standing and cheering near the corner of Boylston and Clarendon Streets, J and I got loud.

Jason Collins and Joe Kennedy

“Celtics Pride,” I yelled while pointing to my Celtics ballcap, and J screamed “Jaaaaasoooon!” while pointing to his Celtics shirt. Collins looked at us, smiled, and waved, and I yelled “We love you, Jason,” at which point Joe Kennedy looked right at me, mouthed the words “Thank you,” and walked on.

Boston Pride parade

And that was J and my brief brush with fame. We’d already cheered and gave our “thumbs up” to peace activist and Boston Marathon bombing hero Carlos Arredondo…

Carlos Arredondo

…and later, we’d cheer (and J would dance) as Senator Elizabeth Warren sashayed her way down the street.

Senator Elizabeth Warren

But the real heroes of the Boston Pride parade aren’t the famous or fabulous folks who dominate the headlines on Pride weekend but the otherwise average, ordinary folks who live, love, and deserve common human decency every day of the year.

Boston Pride Parade

Click here for more photos from this year’s Boston Pride parade: enjoy!