Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Fer's PrideFest Adventure

I went to Harrisburg to attend PrideFest with a little bit of trepidation. I've never gone to a gay pride event before but have always wanted to. A gay friend of mine from Philly wasn't interested in driving out halfway to meet me there, and the lesbian couple I'm friends with at work weren't really interested in going either, so I went by myself. The drive was 3 hours but it didn't feel too long-- I had some good tunes to play on the road, and I was looking forward to it. When we go to conventions we start seeing cars with anime stickers and such on them as we get closer, so I kept looking at the other cars as I was driving up, but all I saw were stickers for Bush and a lot of those ribbon magnets.

I finally arrive at Harrisburg, and start circling around to find the park where it's being held. (You know MapQuest directions... actual reality may vary.) I was starting to worry that I was lost when I saw a park with a rainbow-arrangement of balloons. I turn to follow it and got a little rush as I saw more of the park, now lined with LOTS of balloons and rainbow flags! Ooh, and look at all the cars! Lots of gay pride and John Kerry bumper stickers!

Oh cool, and across the street is a bunch of protesters with signs and megaphones shouting about how we're going to hell! Wow!

So I finally find a parking spot and head on in. The walkway into the park is lined with rainbow flags and two smiling people holding signs saying "God is Love" and "Love is All." It's like this bright, optimistic walkway into a new world. As I look closer to the flags I'm sobered some when I realize each one has a little plaque on it, dedicated to someone who has died of AIDS.

Inside the park, there's a stage set up where people are performing (mostly musicians) and lots and lots of booths. One of the first booths I come across is for the Human Rights Campaign (www.hrc.org), which I'd seen their logo around ( a yellow "equal" symbol in a blue square) but never got the details of exactly who they are and what they do. Essentially, they're trying to counter all the things that the Bush administration is doing against gay civil rights. I liked what I heard so I made a donation.


Lots of booths selling rainbows on just about anything you can think of. Flags, shirts, keychains, magnets, teddy bears, bracelets, necklaces, etc. etc. etc. I browse the booths, I look at the crowds, I buy some pizza. I'm not exactly great at starting up conversations with strangers but in a couple cases I have a few short talks with people. Mostly I just watch and listen in on other people's conversations.

There's a few drag queens and people dressed loud (my favorite one was a kid with a Mohawk dyed in a rainbow) and a few people who if you saw on the street you'd go "Oh yeah, they're gay," but most of the people just look like your average people on the street, just wearing pride pins and shirts. And of course, a lot more same-sex couples holding hands.


The protesters were quite fun to watch. They were all religious groups, of course, and there were three different groups, spaced out along the street. There was a decent amount of police to make sure things stayed calm. Most of the protesters had signs that said "REPENT!" and similar things. The one I found most interesting was one that said "THIS WAY TO HELL -->" and was being held up by a woman dressed in old fashioned clothing, and which obviously she was supposed to keep pointed at us. The thing was, over the course of the day, she'd get tired and start holding it kind of lazily, so instead it was sometimes pointing the hospital next to her, or the building behind her... which I knew from circling around to find a parking space was a church! Woah, careful with that sign, Eugene!

The people with the "God is Love" signs would also wave their signs back at the protesters, which I thought was a good tactic.

Most of the protesters are of course shouting about how the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination, and how Jesus is the only true way to God and other similar things. One guy, however, is getting a lot more personal. He's yelling things like "When someone murders, there is no murderer's pride! When they rape, there is no rapists pride! What makes you Sodomites think YOU'RE the exception? The law may be on your side today, but God is not! You are going to hell, and you hate it when a preacher man stands here and warns you about it!"

So eventually the police step in, which gets a round of applause from the people in the park watching him, myself included. The main officer talking to him, this big, black tough looking cop, is shaking his finger at him and obviously is losing patience with the protester. And as I watch, I find I've got a lot of different feelings going through me at once, and wondering if I was right to applaud. Sure, I think the guy is verbally abusive, and I think it's sad that someone is so narrow-minded in their beliefs that they can't see they're responding to a gathering based on love with an act of hate... but he's doing it because he honestly believes that our souls need saving. Even if I don't agree with him, I respect his right to believe it. Not to mention his right to say it-- if he was over here in the park holding a "We must protect the sanctity of marriage!" rally, then we'd be the ones on the other side of the street doing the protesting. Do I want him gone? Sure. Do I get a feeling of relief watching this policeman tell him to shut up? Absolutely. But do I want the policeman to take away his right to say it? No, definitely not.

So watching this sight, I just had this amazing mixture of feelings and I thought, you know, I should take a picture of this so I can explain it to everyone later. So I went up to take it, and two guys asked me not to-- "If you give him the attention, it just feeds him," they said. Well, personally I figured his attention was pretty much occupied by the police right now, but I agreed with their point-- don't feed the trolls. So I didn't take the picture. But man, I still wish I had.

About an hour later, I see a paddy wagon where the protester was with its lights flashing. The police arrested him and his group. They've left the other two protest groups alone, though-- I guess since they were more general preaching and less specifically abusive.

In general, I'm enjoying the festival... at one point I was looking at necklaces. I normally don't wear jewelry much anymore, since people are confused enough when they see me, but in this environment I can go to town. I find this nice little round one made out of a blue and green rock, so it looks like a little Earth on a leather rope. And as I'm picking it out, a new band comes on stage and starts playing Erasure's "Respect," which has of course always been a staple in my Better Than Radio tapes, but which you never hear anywhere else anymore. The moment felt really good... a real sense of "yeah, I belong here." The kind of feeling I got at my first convention.

But I've got to say, overall during the day I found I was having very mixed feelings. Now, I know I'm very lucky to be surrounded by such good friends and family who are understanding and supportive. But... well, everyone in my life over here is pretty straight and while everyone is cool about me none of them really *get it.* So I function in a straight world just fine, but I still always feel a little out of step. And I found I was feeling the same way here. A part of everything, having a good time and being accepted... but I still felt like I was the only bi in the place.

I've read about this happening to bi people, but I guess for some reason going into this I thought it would be different. See, the "politically correct" term you're supposed to use for anything gay is GLBT (or sometimes LGBT). It stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender. Personally it always makes me feel like I'm the bacon in a BLT sandwich, but that's the PC term everyone uses. So when the promotional stuff I saw for this event said "An open invitation has been issued to all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning members of our community along with their families and friends to gather..." I thought this meant there was actually going to be something there geared towards the Bacons, and didn't realize it was just so them being, well, PC. Which, y'know, is good and all-- the promotional stuff could have just said "Lesbian and Gay" and stopped there, so it's inclusion in the invitation, and that's a start.

But there were no bi-themed flags, shirts, keychains, magnets, teddy bears, necklaces, etc. etc. etc. I did find one bracelet. It was the wrong colors (the bi colors are pink-purple-blue, and this was red-purple-blue), but I bought it just to be appreciative to the vendor for making the effort. There was stuff for the Bear pride (big hairy guys), Leather pride (pretty self-explanatory there, and yes, they do have their own flag and colors), lesbian-specific booths, and a transgender booth. But for bis... not so much.

Kinda' like going to a science fiction convention and the whole dealer's room is filled with nothing but stuff for Phantom Menace.

It seemed to me that the problem was that bis weren't answering the invitation. I mean, I've been a vendor, if the stuff sells out you bring more next time, and if it doesn't sell then you stop bringing it. A transgender group got a booth together, but apparently there was no bi group to do the same. Over the course of the day I counted three other people wearing something to show bi pride. So there was four of us bi folk who showed up in a crowd of several thousand!

So after about four hours, I headed back home. The festival still had about another hour to go, but I figured I'd seen enough. I had a good time, but I would have enjoyed it more if there was someone I could have gone with and talk about things with while I was there, and if there had been more there geared towards my group. I wouldn't drive three hours each way to do it again, but there will be a local one in Pittsburgh next June, and I'll probably go to that. I've looked to see if there are any bi groups around Pittsburgh to be a part of it. There is one, but they haven't updated their website since 2004. I'm inspired enough to keep looking into it.