ORIGINAL POST: From an e-mail being sent out by Heritage of Pride (HOP) to potential participants at the 2009 NYC Pride March which is scheduled for June 28, 2009:
Another change for the 2009 Pride March, will be the Order of the March. In the past, all March groups and participants where divided into theme sections (i.e. the Religious Section, the College Section, the Women's Section). This year Heritage of Pride has decided to do away ordering the March by theme sections, and allow for a first-come-first-serve ordering. - By this we mean, those who register sooner, will be given priority in the March line-up; however, HOP reserves the right to exercise discretion when placing one group next to another; in addition, floats will continue to be spread out throughout the entire March route, although priority in the lineup will be given to those who register sooner.Most people won't notice or care about the change but as someone who has marched as part of the People of Color contingent for years I have mixed feelings.
On the one hand there is a reason as to why certain contingents or 'theme sections' have historically marched ahead of others mostly having to do with the recognition by march organizers that women's groups, for example, deserved more visibility.
This was certainly the case with the People of Color contingent which has historically been placed second or third in the marching order since the 1990's thanks to the advocacy of the work of The Lesbian and Gay People of Color Steering Committee which was then led by Lidell Jackson.
The Committee took it upon themselves to sustain a level of involvement and cohesiveness in the march from what is sometimes a disparate array of LGBT POC organizations, a task that was handed over to The Audre Lorde Project in 1999. The Committee is no longer active but, to date, ALP has continued to handle involvement of LGBT POC organizations at the Heritage of Pride March.
But it is also true that, as the march grew and commercial interests trumped some of the activist spirit of past marches, it has also became blander with floats by major companies looking exactly the same (signs lettered with glitter, a drag queen lip-syncing to the latest Madonna single and a bevvy of go go boys bouncing to the beat).
The effect at recent marches has been a rush of excitement during the first hour or two followed by tedium as the corporate floats go on and on and on. The disbandment of theme sections by Heritage of Pride seems to be an attempt to shake up things a bit and push for an even mix between commercial floats and community organizations throughout the length of the march but I wonder if in the end it will end up diluting the cohesiveness and visibility of a People of Color contingent that year after year has proven to be among the most vibrant and inventive in terms of costumes and presentation (see photo above of Venezuela Gays United performing before the judges' stand at the 2006 march).
But it is also true that some POC organizations such as Primer Movimiento Peruano have been moving away from the POC contingent in recent years as they partner with commercial venues to be able to afford marching with larger floats even if it means not being up front.
It's a tough decision. Pride events, particularly in the bigger cities, have come under increasing criticism that they are no longer relevant, that they are too commercialized, that they are boring, that they are a relic of the past. But they can truly be transformative events for younger generations who might not have seen so much gayness out on the street or for people who have just come out even later in life.
In New York City the reality is that Pride events have increasingly lost audiences and participants as of late. Last year Gay City News reported on the meager numbers of people attending the pre-march Rally. And a polemic piece in The New York Observer in 2007 argued that part of the reason that the march has been in decline has been that moneyed gays have drifted away - partly because of the increase in participation from people of color.
But the increased participation of mostly younger people of color is exactly why the march is so important to me. As the Observer article argues, older white gay men might have moved on to private parties and circuit events feeling that gay pride is a quaint idea that is no longer relevant in their lives. As an older Latino gay man who has done long time work in the gay community I get it. There comes a point where you cringe every time you see one more rainbow flag and hear one more drag queen singing "I Will Survive" on top of a float. But I was once entranced by all the pageantry in a way that helped me to come to terms with my sexuality enabling me to claim my identity and the fact that you might be over the whole deal does not mean that the march doesn't have value for others.
Perhaps it's true and we are observing an irreversible decline in these kind of demonstrations. The disbanding of 'theme sections' at the HOP march certainly seems like the end of an era and I am sad to see the potential disbandment of a People of Color contingent, if that is what the changes mean. I'll be interested in seeing how it's actually worked out and if it actually serves the purpose of jump-starting a more consistently entertaining march from start to finish come June which I assume is HOP's ultimate goal.