Pride and Prejudice

"I Want to Go to the Parade but I Am Always Disturbed by the Outrageous Behavior of Many of the Participants"

It's the time of year again for the "Gay Pride Parade" and I want to go but as a gay Christian I am always disturbed by the behaviors of many of the participants in the parade. Why do so many homosexuals have to act so outrageous on Pride Day? How can we expect as a group to be accepted for our lifestyle by mainstream society, religious people, and the conservatives who run our government and to continue to receive government HIV funding, if gay people continue to act in this way? The women look like men and the men are either in female drag or in leather with whips and chains or just nearly nude. I would like to be able to go in order to support gay and HIV/AIDS causes, but this spectacle embarrasses, confuses and shames me.

A Response to This Case Study

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Parade should be viewed as a yearly celebration, just as any other New York City parade would be, and it is rather sad that this parade has caused you so much anxiety. Your indication that all homosexuals, including yourself, will be judged as unacceptable by the behaviors of others in the Pride Parade is not completely off-base. The great majority of those who attend the parade are just ordinary people behaving in ordinary ways. But those people who gain the most attention, negative or positive, will most likely be the ones that media and naysayers focus on to confirm their own personal bias or in pursuit of sensationalism.

Of course, one should always be judged as an individual and not be systemically lumped together with all people who have the same sexual orientation -- everyone deserves the right to be viewed as a person in his or her own right. However in the real world, being a member of a minority group often isn't easy. People do tend to label and to judge very quickly -- often lumping the whole minority population together and overlooking the individuality of the members of the group. They then judge the minority group against the norms of what is considered "right" behavior as set fourth by the ruling majority. This doesn't mean that how the ruling majority categorizes certain behaviors is correct; it only means that they have more power, being that they are the larger in numbers. Although you clearly want to be accepted by these groups you speak of, always try to keep these two thoughts in your mind: might does not make right and just because the majority may hold some viewpoint doesn't mean they have the authority to condemn others.

With that said, let's look at why people may act in the way you have stated in the Pride Parade. I will not disagree that when people participate in a yearly parade they act in ways that are theatrical in nature. The lesbian and gay minority is unique in many ways from other minority groups, but it also does follow certain patterns that show the effect of being a minority that must learn to interact with a majority. Psychologically speaking, if one went with the psychoanalytic theory, the mere daily action of being submerged in a heterosexual world would eventually have to come out in some other way. For many men and woman with a homosexual orientation, the act of conforming to a heterosexual society all year long does take its toll. Thus, it is healthy to have at least one day a year for these repressed individuals to "let their hair down" so to speak or to "act out" against the repression they feel from the majority.

Acting out one day a year on a chosen day in the restrictions of a parade is not a bad thing, as long as it is not directed against others in order to make them feel uncomfortable. These men and woman who bring you such discomfort are in all likelihood attempting to create a joyful atmosphere. Their intent is good-natured and possibly exhibitionistic, but intends no harm. People who attend the Pride Parade usually assume that they will be viewing, among other things, other forms of alternative sexual expression. If they are shocked, they must also be rather naive since this is a sexual minority with a history of abuse from society for being different. The intent to "shock" expressed by many at the parade is clearly a reaction to that history of disapproval. For some, this act of being "shocking to the public" can be therapeutic. From a behavioral theory standpoint, these people in the parade who are undressed, or dressed in drag or leather, do receive a tremendous amount of attention from literally thousands of parade watchers, mostly loud cheering and clapping. It can be for some, a great behavioral reward to dress in a provocative manner and receive such attention.

From an educational standpoint, I want you to attempt to understand the people you see in the parade and provide them with a certain sense of support. However, I also want to provide you with some insight into the mainstream society that you feel will never accept you due to the behavior of others in the parade.

First off let's start off with the reality that homosexuality is a sexual orientation, not a "lifestyle." Lifestyle denotes a choice, which homosexuality, for the vast majority, is not. Therefore, to hope that conservative people will somehow only accept gay and lesbians if they dress formally or act in ways the society at large deems acceptable is a big mistake, since such individuals may view homosexuality as deviant lifestyle choice not an orientation. To attempt to discuss this with a religious group, for instance, that literally condemns homosexuality, may be a lost cause. Their point of view is that they are supremely right and their bottom line is not acceptance on any level, as their religion views homosexuality as a sin. It may well be pointless to hope that if only gay men and lesbians would only act in an "acceptable" manner, which is the heterosexual stereotype for appearance and behavior by men and women. The groups who protest against the Pride Parade, I assure you, would not drop their stance if men in the parade wore only tuxes and women ball gowns.

In addition, it is misdirected to subscribe to the view that everyone must "act in a certain way" to gain acceptance from the majority and continue funding for HIV/AIDS programs. If anything, progress it the cause of lesbian and gay rights has been advanced far more by protesting and challenging the mainstream than by attempting to conform to "norms" that just don't fit the reality of gay and lesbian lives. Remember that the Pride Parade itself is held on the last Sunday in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of June 1969 -- a bar fight that launched the modern lesbian and gay movement.

From a cognitive theory standpoint, I would recommend attempting to "let go" of the thoughts that you have about how people present themselves in the parade. You can't control them and this could be a wonderful way for you to let go of these negative thoughts, and redirect yourself to exercise your sense of humor. Hopefully this would allow you to enjoy the parade. Remind yourself while watching the parade that nowhere else can you see so many different people come together under so many different banners. Attempt to simply overlook the people who make you feel uncomfortable. You do not know what they've gone through in life or what their life is currently like. Allow them the freedom to present themselves in the way they feel is most representative for this very important day regardless of their age, size, shape, or clothing. Remember that this is their day as much as it can be yours!

In conclusion, don't be too quick to condemn anyone for their actions when they may have experienced a lifetime of limited support and pervasive contempt from the mainstream society. Allow yourself the pleasure of letting go of your judgments and treasure the day for what it should be for everyone heterosexual or homosexual: a celebration of continued personal and communal growth for gay and lesbian people who deserve the right to live openly and freely without prejudice. Good Luck!

J. Buzz von OrnsteinerJ. Buzz von Ornsteiner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and behavioral consultant in New York City and writes the "Psychologically Speaking" column.