Monday, June 27, 2016

The Pride March in New York, 2016, My Photos

Here are my photos from this year's Gay Pride March in New York in the wake of the Orlando Massacre a few weeks ago.  The march this year had an edge that last year's did not have.  That edge was less sorrow than anger and defiance.  It was as exuberant a Pride march as any, but that celebration had a definite in-your-ugly-hateful-face tone about it that I haven't seen in a long time.
I did not see any of the news-making stuff that happened earlier in the parade.  I did not see Hillary make her brief appearance near the Stonewall Bar.  I did not see the newly formed Gays Against Guns (with the unfortunate acronym GAG) stage its massive die-in on Fifth Avenue.  Nor did I see the huge banner that so offended Republicans.  I didn't find out about any of that until the next morning.

I marched with the Episcopalians again this year near the back of the parade as usual with all the rest of the religious and cultural organizations.  The march started at noon, but we didn't join it until just after 5PM.  Once again, I was amazed at how large and exuberant the crowds were even so late in the march.  Last year's march was a record, but this year's was even bigger and more crowded.

The police presence was the largest and most heavily armed I've ever seen.  Below is one photo that I took of cops carrying military type weapons.  I'm not sure how I feel about all that.  They were there to protect us, not to intimidate us.  There was still a measure of informality with people chatting with the beat cops assigned to the march as they always do; but, there were a lot of other more specialized cops who definitely not there to chat with anybody.  And that's only what I could see.  Supposedly there were legions of undercover cops in the crowd and rooftop snipers along the route.  The New York City Gay Pride March has always proceeded under threat, but I don't ever remember this level of security before.

[The march has always been under threat from the beginning.  But that ever present threat was never enough to keep me away from the march or other public demonstrations.  When Orlando happened, I was shocked and horrified as was everyone else, but I can't say I was surprised.  A nutter and a hater finally went through with what so many have threatened for years.  To be gay is to always live under the threat of violence.  To live at all as LGBTQ is the ultimate defiance.]

One thing that I've noticed that has definitely changed in the last five years, the complete absence of hecklers.  In the 1990s and to a lesser extent in the 2000s, there were always people along the route determined to rain on our parade; the Westboro crazies, Catholic traditionalists, various representatives of the Church of God's Wrath, and one year about a dozen Neo-Nazis chanting "Gas the fags!" surrounded by a security cordon of around 200 cops.  And together with those groups were the lone nutters purple-faced and spitting with rage carrying big signs with long lists of groups of people they decided are going to hell.  And of course, fags were always at the top of those lists.  Lately, not even the lone nut-cases are there anymore.  For one thing, the march is just too big.  For another, the cops see them as potential provocateurs and possible cover for those with more violent intentions.

For all of that, the march never lost the joy or defiance it always had since the first one in June of 1970.

Even at the back of the march where we were, there were still a lot of signs expressing solidarity with the Orlando victims and calling for both gun control and a reduction in the levels of violence in society these days.  Some of those signs were manufactured, but a lot of them were hand made and spontaneous.

Puerto Rico was a big presence at this year's march because most of the Orlando victims were Puerto Rican.  New York's gay community, like the city itself, has a large Puerto Rican population.

I will never get over how big this parade is.  The picture below is how it looked at about 5:30PM, about five and a half hours after it started.  There is a spot on 5th Avenue just south of the Empire State Building where I can see down a slope all the way to the Washington Square Arch.  The march fills that whole distance.

This is the extra security I was talking about, very heavily armed police in Greenwich Village.  I've never seen anything like that before at a Pride March.  Also, I think the police went too far with the crowd control.  There was an excess of barricades corraling the crowds into packed bottlenecks, especially in the Village.

Despite all that, this year's march was as joyous and exuberant as any I've ever seen.

Young employees of the Museo del Barrio who marched in front of us, danced in the street to club music blaring from a nearby Google float.

And what's a Pride march without extravagance and fantasy?  This one was no exception.

Here is a pair being absolutely fabulous as they pitch the new movie coming out soon.

Colombia and Mexico each entered large extravagant contingents into the march.

Unicorns have become popular in gay culture these days.

The march passes before the mighty prow of the Flatiron Building.

As always at these marches, the spectators along the route make their own amazing show.

Another thing that I've noticed over the last 5 years or so, lots more little kids at the march.  Children were always a presence, but now they are much more of a presence with more same sex couples raising kids and also with a lot more young hetero families watching and even participating in the march.  They are certainly there to support the cause and gay friends, but they are also there for the massive street party.  These two kids had the grandest time running up and down the Avenue high-fiving people along the route.

My favorite sign of the day.

Another feature of New York Pride marches is the balcony and window spectators along the route.  Thanks to the inflated Manhattan real estate market there are not nearly as many such spectators as in years past (most of the oligarchs who own this property don't live in it and probably have never seen it).  But, there still are some.

And the show continues along the Avenue below.

Here, the march proceeds down historic Christopher Street and gets a lot narrower and crowded.

A famous street sign, though the "gay"in Gay Street refers to the surname of a wealthy landowner in the early 19th century.

More spectator spectacle in the Village

Shirtless men are back on Christopher Street.  I remember in the 1990s, the fire escapes were packed with scantily clad young men watching the march.  They disappeared in the 2000s with the spike in real estate prices that made the Village one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the world.  While the fire escapes remain empty, they are back on the stoops and hanging on the railings along Christopher Street.

The newest National Monument in the USA, the Stonewall Bar.

Our Episcopal contingent was small but very lively this year.
As time goes on, I notice lay participation in the march is declining while clergy participation is increasing -- lots of turn-around collars in our ranks this year.  I can't decide what I think of this.  I'm not happy about the declining laity presence in the march, especially this year.  But, the large clerical presence seems to be good for publicity.  The crowds seemed to love us this year.  They especially loved the collars and cassocks among us.  I can remember in years past when the Episcopal contingent was met with chilly courtesy from the crowds or colder hostility.  All that seems to be in the past now.  We remain very popular with lesbians of color who've always cheered us with the most enthusiasm.  The priestly presence adds a certain measure of institutional weight that the crowds seem to like.  I was surprised to see so many people along the route this year ask for -- and get -- blessings from our priests.  I've never seen that before at a Pride march.

At the back of the march waiting, waiting, and waiting.

Clerical collars.  I think that's Fr. Edward Sunderland of Saint Bart's and Fr. Noel Bordador.

Our group on parade on Fifth Avenue.

Incense of course...

... together with censing the crowd along the parade route.

Weiben Wang does a turn at thurible duty.

Our unofficial guest of honor, Staten Island native and a Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles, Mary Glasspool.  She is the first open and partnered lesbian consecrated a bishop by the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Glasspool was a hit with the crowds.  Here she is doing high fives.

A little reminder of how far things have come; a photo of the very first Gay Pride March in June 1970 on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots.  The Christopher Street Liberation Day march (as it was then known) ran a gauntlet of cops and hecklers up 6th Avenue to a rally in Central Park.  Older activists miss the symbolism of those first marches; marching up out of the former gay ghetto into the rest of the city.  I think the symbolism would be lost on younger generations.  The Village is no longer a gay ghetto or even a gay neighborhood.  The real estate market and the end of housing discrimination against gays meant that we could live anywhere, and that's what we've mostly chosen to do.  Besides, the march is just too big now for that old route.

The media when it covers the Pride march every year focuses on celebrities, politicians, and dramatic protest gestures.  What always fascinates me are the legions of not-famous people marching and watching.  I remember when it was commonplace to complain that the gay movement lacked charismatic leaders like ML King or Gandhi or someone like that.  Gay politics was always bitterly factionalized and still is.  As often as not, gay organizations devour their leaders.  And yet, against all odds, gay liberation emerged as one of the most successful and influential movements of our time.  The reason for that success, in my opinion, is on display at the end of June every year in the New York City Pride March and in other such marches across the country and around the world.  The gay movement was always driven by the aspirations and needs of its members, not the visions of its leaders.  The recent success with marriage equality was initially driven entirely by the grassroots against the advice of the leadership.  The Stonewall Riot itself was not the inspiration of some leader waving a flag, but the spontaneous reaction of the street kids who frequented that bar.  They had finally had enough of being pushed around by cops and the Mafia.  So, they struck back.  If anything, the local gay leadership in New York scrambled frantically to try to figure out what to do with a big golden goose egg of opportunity that landed in their laps.
The people in these photos are a sample of the real backbone of the gay movement and the real reason for its success.  Everyone who ever came out and tried to just be themselves despite the opposition is a leader.

The WTC lit up for Pride Day the night after the march.


Weiben Wang took a selfie before the march with Yours Truly behind him wearing the cap.