It’s been a full week, one that’s been somewhat busy and very wet, since the OutReach Pride Parade & Rally, but I’m finally ready to share with you some of my experience. As I’ve mentioned here and here, this year’s parade and rally was held under an ugly shadow, not from any rain clouds but under the specter of controversy. A loud contingent from Madison’s LGBT+ community raised a ruckus over the presence of the Madison Police Department at the parade, with some threatening to stage a counter-protest. In the end, parade organizers withdrew the applications of LGBT+ employee resource groups from MPD and UW—Madison Police as well as the Dane County Sheriff. Members from those groups could (and did) march in the parade, but had to do so unarmed and out of uniform. (Side note: The Madison Fire Department decided to withdraw one of their engines from the parade in sympathy to the boys in blue; it was MFD’s decision.) While OutReach’s move to formally eliminate the police entries upset some parade supporters and still likely upset some protesters (especially since the parade permit still required MPD to provide security), the parade and rally (**SPOILER ALERT**) went off without a hitch and without any rabble-rousers causing disruptions.
My 2018 pride experience began on Saturday (August 18), when some members of the trans/CD support group I’m a part of constructed our float for the parade. Our float’s theme was “The transgender community: We have always been here and we always will.” The float’s centerpiece was a poster featuring images of notable trans and gender non-conforming people, from Elagabalus to Nancy Nangeroni.
While we were building the float, I posted an in-progress photo of the float and its poster to our group’s Facebook page, just to say “hey, here’s what it looks like so far.” But even those image weren’t pleasing to some in our Facebook group, i.e. the ones who not only bickered about the police presence in the parade but also raised the broad, legitimate issue of treatment of trans/queer people of color (TQPOCs). Or more specifically in this case, the representation of TQPOCs on our float. Admittedly, a great many faces on our float’s poster were white. And with that came the online gripes of “needs more whites (#sarcasm)” and “Where’s Marsha?” The Marsha in question is Marsha P. Johnson, a drag performer, gay rights advocate, and a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of June 1969.
Though it didn’t placate some in our online group (and I should stress the term “online group”), we did reassure them that, for one, it was a work in a progress at that moment, and that names of trans people of color would be included. Also, the group member who arranged and printed the poster had concerns of image copyright issues, their fear being that if someone challenged an image appearing on the poster, said “hey, did you receive permission to use it?” and if that image’s copyright protection was violated, our group would be in deep you-know-what legally. (Even that concern didn’t placate one commenter who claimed they knew copyright laws. No, they didn’t elaborate. Yes, I got the impression they were acting like a know-it-all.)
Make no mistake, our float was a sincere effort to display positive, actual representations of trans people, those who made their mark in one way or another before and since Stonewall. And as noted, our float was a work in progress when I shared that initial photo. Indeed, we were applying putting finishing touches just before we were given the go-ahead to step off and march up State Street on Sunday (August 19). How did our float look? Well, while it wasn’t the biggest or grandest float in the parade (and that’s okay, for we were proud to have made it), it did stand out in a positive way.
And, yes, Marsha P. Johnson and the names of some notable TQPOCs had a presence as well. Here’s a better look at the illustration of Ms. Johnson done by a very, very talented member of our group, Victor. (Side note: He’s open to artwork commissions.)
(Another side note: When a photo of this finished product was posted on our Facebook group after the parade, not a peep from the all-knowing naysayers was typed or uttered. Ahh, the joys of online peace.)
As mentioned above, the visible presence of members of the police was limited to the on-duty officers who established traffic barriers and kept the peace during the event. (They had to be there, as OutReach’s parade permit with the City of Madison required the police to provide security.) But if any group or sponsor had any reservations about OutReach Pride after the police controversy, they didn’t show it on Sunday from what I saw. One notable group was Orgullo Latinx of Dane County, which as their name suggests is a Latinx LGBT+ organization based here in Madison and throughout Dane County. Orgullo Latinx released their own statement, which is a must-read even after the fact (you can check it out here), about the police-at-pride controversy. Simply put, Orgullo Latinx would still take part, doing so “for the sake of UNITY.” (The all-caps were theirs.)
Sure enough, there in Unit# 53 of last Sunday’s parade was Orgullo Latinx and their float, decked out in trademark bright yellow t-shirts and carrying large lettered balloons spelling out, well, “UNITY.” Their rainbow banner had an all-too-important message for the times we’re living in — “¡No retrocederemos!” For the anglophones, that translates to “We’re never going back!”
Well, you’re wondering, where was my group’s float? Well, just as with last year’s parade, our entry was the third unit, right behind the OutReach banner that fronted the parade and the grand marshal’s vehicle (I’ll talk up the grand marshal later). Though I had my phone with me, I kind of wished I had the chance to take a photo of us while we were marching. But I couldn’t, because… well…
Here, thanks to a shutterbug from Our Lives Magazine, are four members of our group holding up our banner, with our float and other members trailing us. You see that figure with the sun hat, rainbow leggings, and trans pride flag in her hand? Yep, that’s me! I hadn’t been expecting to be among those carrying the banner, but just as we were about to step off, the matron/mother figure of our group (I hope she doesn’t mind my calling her that) was shouting and asking someone to pick up the group banner and lead the float. Well, if there’s a need to lend a hand, and if I’m able to do so, I don’t mind raising my hand and saying, “I can help.”
And I’m glad I did, for it felt good to do more than just waive at and flirt with the crowd alongside a float. I helped present a good image for our group and the trans/CD community as a whole. Yes, it’s just helping to build a float and holding a banner, but any little thing that helps create a positive image helps. It also helped my muscle tone: One of the perks of the job I had to leave behind back in June was a gym complete with exercise machine and free weights. I gotta get back to more exercise soon; my arms deserve it.
Oh yeah, I still flirted for the crowd, perhaps a little more than I had expected to while holding up our group banner, but also much more than I recall flirting at last year’s parade. That flirting took the form of a gracious smile to an onlooker, a sly wink at someone cute, or even a somewhat suggestive waive of the trans pride flag in my left hand. In my recent years of presenting Allison to the outside world, and in my years of dressing up in general, I’ve discovered that being en femme allows me to shed my inhibitions (within reason), lets me break out of my reserved male-mode shell, and puts smiles on others’ faces as well as my own. I gotta learn how to transfer some of that openness to my mostly serious and all-too-reserved male mode side.
One more thing about our group’s entry before I move on: For all of the valid concern about lack of TQPOCs in our group’s float, it was heartening to know that there were people of color marching with us. Two of them were friends/relatives/allies (I’m sorry that I’m not sure which word applies) of one of our group members. To those in our group who didn’t march with us last weekend but voiced concerns about TQPOC representation, well, I sincerely hope you will appreciate how diversity truly exists within our group.
As has been the case the past few years, the pride parade went up State Street, circled once around the Capitol Square, and terminated at the rally point at the top of State Street. With our float parked and our marching group dispersed into the crowd, it was perfect time to catch some parts of the parade that I wasn’t in a position to enjoy while marching. That included more than a few sponsoring business groups…
More than a few supportive organizations that walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to LGBT+ acceptance…
A whole bevy of people openly living their true lives and supporting those who do as well…
Oh, and a sound similar to a rolling thunder, or rather a lingering storm (and not the kind from Mother Nature either)…
You see that banner in the distance? That was the contingent of those who had been the most vociferous in demanding the police vamoose from the parade entirely. And they didn’t dare let anyone forget the subject. They were loud. They were shouting. They were chanting in unison. They… felt scary. I must make clear that I do agree with many of this group’s concerns; black lives (and TQPOC lives in particular) do matter, and abusive police tactics should leave everyone in fear. It’s just that a “our way or the highway” viewpoint combined with a bullhorn and a unison chant leaves me unsettled… much in the way a group of bigots marching in Charlottesville a year ago and leaving death and tragedy in their wake leaves a whole country unsettled. I know, socialism and bigotry are separate ends of a spectrum; it’s just that the former shouldn’t always emulate the latter. (Side note: You see the person in front in the below photo has a bullhorn? I was of the impression that bullhorns were not permitted in the parade. At all.)
As you’ve guessed from the image at the top, it’s the OutReach Pride Parade & Rally. And once the parade ended, there was strike-up-the-crowd-and-have-a-good-time type of rally. There were drag performances, including those by the Mr. and Miss Madison Pride of 2018, Kasper James and Amethyst Von Trollenberg. Unfortunately, I missed most of their performances as I was walking up and down the crowd in spots not near the stage, holding up a donation canister for OutReach. Yes, I’m still one to step up when someone needs help. And, yes, I did collect a good amount of coin for OutReach donations. But while I didn’t see Kasper’s and Amethyst’s performances, I did hear the music and the positive reactions of the crowd. And there’s also some still shots Our Lives Magazine posted of their performances. Both Amethyst and Kasper looked fierce! And Kasper’s silver outfit really does drive anyone wild. (P.S.: If I come across any video of these performances, I’ll add them to this post.)
But before the performances, there was the speechifying. There were some words from the emcee, David Clarenbach, who during his time in Wisconsin’s State Legislature was famous for helping shepherd into law important legislation that prevented discrimination in employment and housing based on one’s sexual identity. There were some words from OutReach’s executive director, Steve Starkey, who sounded relieved that the police controversy was put to the side for a day (more on Mr. Starkey in a moment). And there were keynote words from the likes of T. Banks, a TQPOC who presented passionate words about treatment of TQPOCs in general and by the police in particular, and wasn’t afraid to call out OutReach about their handling of the matter the prior two weeks. T. was spirited in their remarks, and they did receive a polite amount of applause from the crowd… though in likelihood, it was just the anti-cop choir saying “amen.”
Much more than the applause for T. Banks, however, it seemed that the biggest applause of the entire rally went to the grand marshal. Perhaps you’ve heard of Sarah McBride. She was a major advocate for laws in Delaware against hate crimes and gender-based discrimination (the latter we’re still seeking here in Wisconsin). She is a noted author (her memoir, Tomorrow Will Be Different, was released earlier this year). And she made a big splash at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, becoming the first openly trans person to speak at a major political convention in the United States.
Sarah McBride is currently the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, they of the blue-and-yellow equal sign. Last weekend, she appeared at a couple of events related to OutReach Pride, including a speech at a Methodist church that ran the same time our group was building our parade float (bummer!). And on Sunday, Sarah McBride was grand marshal of the the OutReach Pride Parade & Rally. She wasn’t alone in that Grand Marshal’s Fiat convertible, riding and waiving to the crowd with her niece. (Little kid voice: “Wow, Auntie Sarah, this is fun!”)
As you can tell from the above photo and the below Instagram post, Sarah McBride had quite a few words to say at the rally. She was indeed passionate and very articulate. And just as T. Banks wasn’t afraid to talk up the police situation, Sarah wasn’t afraid to take it to the conservative-leaning leadership in Washington, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. More than once, she pointed in the direction of the State Capitol and called out our governor by name (“We are coming for you”). Though you may not see it in the below post, I recall how Sarah noted how our community is far from a single-issue force. It felt like good food for thought for everyone there, in light of the police controversy surrounding the parade. Good on you, Sarah, for speaking so passionately and not being afraid to be you.
All in all, last Sunday’s OutReach Pride was a fun time. Though I can’t say it will entirely top the first time I participated as Allison last year, it felt more fun than it did a year ago. Part of that was the fact that J., my friend and a big cis-gender ally for our group, was in better spirits than she was last year, when she joined us with a heavy heart after losing her job just days earlier. J. just seems to lift everyone’s spirits when she’s around. (I will highlight J. a little more in my next post.) When I went home after the rally started to die down and the crowd started to disperse, I felt happy… nay, proud (see what I did there? *wink*) to have again help present a positive display of the trans community to the world, or at least to a welcoming community in Madison. And that controversy over the police presence at the parade? Heading home, it felt less like a dark storm cloud and more like a haze far above the ground.
Of course, that police controversy still lingers, and with that I recommend a little bit of homework for you: A couple of days after the parade, OutReach’s executive director, Steve Starkey, spoke with Our Lives Magazine editor Emily Mills on WORT-FM radio here in Madison. Though most of their conversation was about the whole police-at-pride controversy, it was wide-ranging, including:
- How OutReach stepped up in the mid-2010s to organize the pride parade after other “kitchen table” organizations (Mr. Starkey’s term) that staged previous parade incarnations came and went for various reasons.
- The requirements the City of Madison put forth regarding police and security (not just this year but in previous years), and how OutReach agonized in discussions with those who were afraid of the police presence.
- How the OutReach and/or parade website suffered an attempted hack in the heat of the controversy. (Yikes!)
- How sponsors were asked by potential boycotters to withdraw their participation in and support of the parade (though OutReach has a bad financial bruise from the withdrawal by other benefactors).
- How those from law enforcement, including Dane County’s sheriff, did indeed participate in an out-of-uniform civilian capacity.
- How it’s never been Outreach’s intention to marginalize or turn away any group within the broad LGBT+ alphabet (they are a 501-c-3, non-political, non-profit organization that receives government funding, meaning they can’t shun anyone).
- How *sigh* OutReach doesn’t want to do another pride parade “under this kind of [controversial] atmosphere,” and how other supportive groups and organizations might step up and assist (or take over?) the organization of the parade and rally.
That last bullet point feels distressing, in that OutReach’s organizational efforts in the past half-decade have made Madison’s pride festivities the best it’s ever been. Should OutReach ever decide that enough is enough for them, it will make Madison’s pride event not as special as it has been under their auspices. (How would you like that, protestors?)
But does this all mean that OutReach will strive to listen better to the concerns of the broad LGBT+ community in the future? That is made crystal clear by both Mr. Starkey and Emily Mills, the latter commenting that a pride parade should be a day that our community can enjoy with pride and camaraderie while not ignoring the broad issues our community does face, police-related or otherwise. Their WORT discussion was a great one, and I highly recommend you listen to it at this link.
Whatever happens in the next 12 months or so until the 2019 OutReach Pride Parade, I do indeed hope that our LGBT+ community will be stronger and more unified, despite our differences. And as Orgullo Latinx mentioned above, unity in our community is beneficial; indeed, we need it now more than ever… for there are more dangerous wolves — ones without badges or uniforms or firearms — just waiting to knock down our collective door and do us real harm.
(Oh, yes, I do have some follow-up notes from my 2018 pride experience that I don’t have room for here, so check out my next post to learn more about them.)