June 5, 2013 | by Mark Lee
A celebration for a dispersed, disparate community
Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Pride

2011 Capital Pride parade. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Most of us live our lives somewhere between “Brokeback Mountain” and “Milk.”

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Not that the distinction is as dramatic as to be a comparison between idyllic streamside companion trysts versus urban activist political engagement.

Neither is the diversity in geographic locale among the local LGBT community as stark as the contrast between the mountains of Wyoming and the bustle of San Francisco.

However, we are more dispersed throughout both the District and the Washington metropolitan region than ever before. Expanding acceptance and civil protections have allowed assimilation over the years largely diminishing “bunker-like” concentration in specific neighborhoods or areas.

More than that, recent times have seen the continuing integration of LGBT residents into the full fabric of local life. A byproduct of that cultural evolution is that increasing numbers of us consider sexual orientation a secondary, less significant or even inconsequential characteristic. We have come to reflect back the ordinariness by which the vast majority of the public now views us, at least here.

The annual LGBT Pride celebration is, as a result, the singular opportunity to both celebrate our past and reflect on our future. Therein lies the primary value of the series of events spanning more than a week, culminating in a Saturday parade and Sunday street festival this weekend.

Although fewer of us participate in the auxiliary and primary events than in years past, the mere existence of this highly visible public celebration is testimony to our place in the local community. We might not turn out in droves anymore, but the event still matters.

One pet peeve, though: We place too much emphasis on the purported and publicized Pride participation numbers. It is fanciful to proclaim that an estimated 100,000 view the parade curbside, or that a quarter-of-a-million still attend the downtown festival. Nor is it even important. We end up sounding like size queens, and less-than-truthful ones to boot.

Besides, it doesn’t matter. We are long past the time of needing to prove our quantitative presence in the nation’s capital. Recent Gallup polling places our number at fully 10 percent of the District’s population. D.C.’s LGBT residents, and those throughout the metropolitan area, are acknowledged as a significant and important part of the larger community. That is what we’re now actually celebrating each June.

The challenge for the hardworking coordinators and dedicated volunteers who devote substantial hours each year to planning and producing Pride events is to change with the times, to discern how to best engage the community, and keep things fresh.

In future years that might mean re-thinking what we do now, and have done since 1995 – the first year the festival moved downtown to “America’s Main Street” with a view of the national Capitol.

Our local commemoration is a continuation of what first began 38 years ago with the first “block party” held near the corner of 20th and S streets in Dupont Circle in the summer of 1975.

I had the privilege of coordinating the inaugural events of that mid-90s expansion and festival relocation downtown. That experience allowed me to develop a better appreciation for the importance of the festivities to our still-shared identity. And, most of all, to those first coming out and looking for a connection to a community with which they were only beginning to become acquainted.

And therein lies the importance of this collective celebration – it’s always someone’s first Pride.

So get out, take part, enjoy the festivities – and if attending the festival, arrive prepared to toss a fiver into the bucket at the entrance.

It’s the least you can do to support our special day.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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