Grassroots to Lawsuits: How Pride Died & an Army of Lovers Became a Gaggle of Lawyers

Abby Dees

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Abby Dees

By: Abby Dees*/Special for TRT–

Last weekend I was the MC at my local Pride festivities. It had been a while since I’d done anything Pride-y, so I didn’t know what to expect. Historically, Suburban Pride has been more about strollers and soy frappuccinos than leather chaps and fifteen-dollar beer, like its metropolitan version.

But I didn’t anticipate a moribund party whose biggest draw was a mobile free clinic courtesy of the health department.  As I stood on stage looking out, about to announce a demonstration by an LGBT square dancing club, I wanted to call out, “Is anyone here not a volunteer or vendor?”  But that would have been bitchy.

I thought even hinterlands Pride was supposed to be an occasion.

It made me think about the great lesbian activist Ivy Bottini (famously drummed out of NOW in the 60s by the lesbian impaired Betty Friedan), who expressed a keen sense of loss to me recently: As we assimilate, we lose our passion, our sense of specialness, and in particular, our anger – things that empower us, as a community, to fight for our very survival.  Pride meant, “We’re alive, damn it!” Or at least you could hook up.

I’m not sure what it means now.  I don’t know anyone who went to Pride this year who wasn’t trying to promote something. It’s been a long time since Pride was an LGBT High Holy Day, or just fun, at least in my neck of the woods.

Sure, there’s still plenty to be angry about, like gay bashing, reparative therapy, and powerful groups pouring millions into ending same-sex marriage – but something has quietly changed over the years.  Ivy is right.  We’re talking about same-sex marriage and partner benefits, not our simple right to exist in the daylight. If you’re on the same mailing lists I’m on, you’re getting solicitations for $250-a-plate awards dinners, to celebrate some gay celebrity who’s also the face of M.A.C. cosmetics.

Not knocking any of this, but I miss the days when I truly believed the slogan, “An army of lovers cannot fail.” Hell, I miss the word “lover.”  I mourn that rush of freedom that made Pride a profoundly meaningful counterpoint to daily life.

I know there are LGBT warriors nowadays with more passion for justice than I could ever muster, but they are one-offs compared to a generation ago.  This is partly because they aren’t facing the cruelty of AIDS at a time when the president refused to say “AIDS” out loud (Reagan, if you’re apt to remember him fondly).  Mostly, though, it’s because many of us have become complacent about the gains we’ve made. We’re fine-tuning now, not over-turning.

So that’s my lament about what we’ve lost. Now please follow me…

Things are happening this very moment that will take our community where we could only have imagined even ten years ago. Nothing sexy, no fuchsia banners or megaphones.  Actually, it has to do with tax law.

This week, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in favor of lesbian widow Edie Windsor, 83. When her partner of 42 years died in 2009, Windsor owed $363,000 in estate taxes, taxes she would not have been required to pay if her partner were a man. Despite a vigorous fight by House Republicans (who I thought were supposed to be against taxes), the Circuit Court not only struck down a key part of DOMA, but announced that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is entitled to the same heightened legal scrutiny that discrimination based on gender is.

This is the second time this year that a federal appeals court ruled DOMA unconstitutional, which tells me that Windsor’s win is no fluke. Several more LGBT rights cases have won in the lower federal courts, making their way, inevitably, to the Supreme Court, perhaps as soon as next year.

Our movement has officially entered its next phase. This is our battlefield today; the warriors are wearing suits. I’m thrilled, but I hope there will always be room in the movement for some pissed off and gorgeous drag queens to march up the steps of … anything … for the sake of pride.

*Abby is a civil rights attorney-turned-author who has been in the LGBT rights trenches for 25+ years. She can be reached at: www.queerquestionsstraighttalk.com.