Marching down Constitution Avenue, my Dad turned to my friend Brian and said, “This is like no party I’ve ever seen.” He added, “and I’m having the time of my life.” At 70 years old, this was my parents’ first Pride and first-ever protest march, all rolled into one weekend.
Straight from small town Arkansas with thick mid-South accents to match, my parents visit me from time to time here in the District. They do love Washington – the sights, the history, the big-but-not-too-big city feel, plus my friends tend to dote on them when they come. And I certainly don’t want to disparage my home state, but life can be rather homogenous there. So, when my parents visit me in the District, I have only one rule for them, “Seek ye first to understand. Meet and talk to someone different from yourself.” But this year, when they suggested coming for Pride weekend, I knew I had to brace myself a bit, and know that our one rule would probably take on a more in-your-face meaning this time.
On the day of the Pride parade, Dad’s first reaction came from seeing all the businesses, gay and non-gay alike, decked out in rainbow bunting in Dupont Circle. Even the 17th Street McDonald’s got in on the act this year. Coming from a place where LGBT issues are still wedged between voters, it was striking to see their reaction to just how mainstream, accepted, city-sanctioned, and celebrated queer life is in the District. When the parade kicked off, Dad, a deacon in his Methodist church back home, verbally acknowledged every church and religious group that passed, simply noting, ‘huh. . .good for them.”
The next day was, of course, the Equality March. When it came to signs, we opted for a little humor. Mom and Dad carried a sign that read, “We love our (single) gay son!” Though a little tongue in cheek, the support and sentiment were real. And, again, their hearts melted with every subtle ‘thank you’ from passersby and fellow marchers, every person that approached and told them frankly what it meant for them to see parents marching. “Can I pretend for a moment that you’re my Mom and Dad,” a young man said to them.
“Remember, it’s always someone’s first Pride.” It’s a popular expression often heard in gay Washington when it comes to Pride week. Said to remind anyone, despite how rote or tame our Pride celebration might seem to some residents, it’s always someone’s first experience. Well, this time around, the first experience belonged to two 70-year-old straight parents from small-town Arkansas. Leaving the Monday after Pride, they could not have been happier. Pride in D.C. means so many things to so many different people in our community. For some it’s a celebration, for others it’s still a call to arms. For me and my parents, it was a showcase of the different shapes and sizes love and community can take.
I thought for sure I was going to teach my parents something this past Pride. When I first came out to them almost 20 years ago, my Dad asked that I not bring any gay friends by the house, because he wasn’t sure if he could be kind to them or not. But that was 20 years ago, and now they marched proudly with their gay son down Pennsylvania Avenue. Seek ye first to understand, I ask of them. But as they changed and grew, maybe it’s me that now understands them a bit better.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer who contributes regularly to the Blade.