LGBTQ community can take PRIDE this weekend with those who helped make itpossible
I'm one of the lucky ones. I’ve never been openly discriminated against because of my sexuality. I'm fortunate to be living in a time and place where I can be honest and transparent with all aspects of my life. Maybe it’s the hair and make-up? Maybe it’s the heels? Maybe it’s the bubble I live in called Austin? Or maybe I should stop being so vain and take a second to thank Kip Dollar, Jody Mekkers, Joanna Labow, Toby Johnson and Pat Cramer for my relatively fearless life.
What? You don’t know who they are? Well, I didn’t either until I walked into The W last week for a press conference announcing them as the Official Grand Marshals of Austin’s 20thPRIDE Parade. I know what you’re thinking. Boring! No Sean Hayes? No Liza Minnelli? Come on Austin PRIDE! But it didn’t take long for me to realize this year’s Grand Marshals are more remarkable and courageous then any gay actor or star.
They are the men and women who paved the way for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community. They made it possible to peacefully assemble in parades like the one Austin will host this Saturday.
Now your decision to attend this weekend’s events, which include a 5k run and festival, will likely be based on factors like scheduling, interest, heat, and maybe even lack of support for the LGBTQ community. However I suspect few will steer clear for fear of death. Forty years ago that’s exactly what kept people away.
“We had people marching with bags over their heads; people were so frightened,” Mekkers said of the first ever PRIDE Parade hosted in1971 by the liberal mecca of San Francisco.
Mekkers, Labow and Cramer are not household names but they are among those who had the guts to parade as openly gay in the late 60s and early 70s knowing they'd be met by screaming protestors throwing dog shit at them.
I'm not sure I would have been so courageous and I certainly would have thought long and hard before jumping on the organizing committee for Austin’s First Pride Parade in 1991.
Kip Dollar and his partner Toby Johnson were among those who helped lead the charge. Dollar recalls having a hard time securing city permits and insurance for the event. In fact 48 hours before the parade they were still not sure it would happen. While many years had past since the first parades in San Francisco and New York, it was obvious that he and so many others were still concerned.
“I was frightened by the entire event,” Dollar said. “I thought people were going to get hit and that people were going to throw rocks at me.”
But in true Austin style the parade went off without a hitch, with little protest and a lot of support.
“We were expecting a few hundred and we ended up getting about 2,000 people. We were blown away,” Dollar said.
This weekend organizers are expecting 35,000 members of the LGBTQ community to participate in PRIDE.
PRIDE Vice President Paul Huddleston said this year’s Grand Marshal's should be thanked for bravely starting and supporting a tradition of celebrating diversity in Austin and elsewhere.
“It’s awesome because they are a direct link to the beginning of the gay rights movement,” Huddleson said.
The gay rights movement is one that has seen great success with the passing of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and same-sex marriage in New York. While there is still much work to be done, evident by the recent beatings of gay teens across the country, the LGBTQ community can take pride in celebrating how far it's come this weekend with those who helped make it that way.