Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
OUT AND ABOUT: Steven Cochrane, president of San Jose Pride, says he didn't realize he was gay until three years ago—and wishes he'd figured it out sooner.
Pride vs. Prop. 8
Organizers of this year's parade predict an enthusiastic response to anti-gay legislation
By Alastair Bland
THINGS couldn't be brighter in the gay community following Proposition 8's recent upholding by the California Supreme Court. So says Gary Walker, festival director for the upcoming 34th annual San Jose Pride Celebration and Parade (June 13–14). Walker says that since Californians decided in November that same-sex couples should be denied the right to marry—and especially since the court decided on May 26 to keep it that way—enthusiasm and energy among GLBT activists have strengthened.
"The community is entirely fired up over this," says Walker. "This has reinvigorated support and determination."
San Jose Pride itself is a decidedly nonpolitical entity. President Steven Cochrane, a 33-year-old native of Scotland, says the organization's primary focus is the celebration, and its objective is to raise money to hold the two-day festival and in turn raise more money to seed the following year's event.
Yet the parade provides an open venue for political crusaders, and he expects that the heightened spirit of commitment toward gay rights and equality will give this year's event a particular surge of energy.
Cochrane has observed many new faces in gay rights activism emerge from the woodwork since the passage of Proposition 8, and he hopes the current political fervor might boost the parade's attendance, which has been dropping with the economic decline. Where nearly 20,000 people attended a decade ago, last year saw a low of 12,000 visitors. He thinks 15,000 may gather this year.
Walker is at once disappointed and encouraged that such states as Iowa have advanced beyond California in progressive legislation. As a resident of Salt Lake City for nine months of the year (he spends summers in Boulder Creek with his partner of nine years), Walker says that even in the heart of Mormon country support for gay rights is firm. While Proposition 8 was fueled and funded by members of the Mormon community, Walker says just as many Mormons believe in gay rights as those Mormons who oppose them.
The Mormon population in Salt Lake City is now 31 percent and dropping, says Walker, and most of the very conservative zealots have left the city for a preferred life of convention and tradition in the suburbs. Many of the Mormons that remain in the city are embarrassed by what their church has done, says Walker. In response to the Proposition 8 campaign, a deep divide has rifted the Mormon community, many members of which attend Salt Lake City's four-day whopper of a gay pride parade, also taking place this weekend.
Cochrane, too, says he is shocked that California is dragging its feet in what he sees as an inevitable cultural shift toward justice. "It's not a matter of if we get equality, but when we get it. And it just blows your mind that California, especially with so much support in San Francisco, is behind the rest of the country."
At San Jose Pride's celebration, Walker anticipates the usual crowd of anti-equality protesters, with their placards and bullhorns.
"They've been coming here since 1998. It'll be between 10 and 30 of them, probably. It's never changed. They're some church group."
Far from being perturbed by the movement that pushed Proposition 8 into law, Walker sees a dawning light on the horizon as older conservatives pass on or otherwise stop voting, and a younger, more progressive demographic graduates to voting age. Such may be the process that makes way for equality.
Yet Walker also believes that, should a majority of the nation's voters maintain an alliance with anti-gay forces, equality will nonetheless arrive through legislation. He cites the days in 1967, when 72 percent of Americans still shuddered at the thought of interracial marriage. Yet such marriage was legalized that year by the United States Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia. And it's now almost unbelievable that "miscegenation" was once illegal.
A Civil Right, or Not?
Many people liken the fight for gay rights to the fight for racial equality, but Larry Pegram, president of the Values Advocacy Council and a supporter of Proposition 8, believes there is a fundamental difference. He says that society must not grant civil rights to a group of people whose lifestyle is one based on choice—and he believes homosexuality is just that: a choice.
"If you're disabled, female, or African American, those are things you can't change," Pegram says. "But gays and lesbians are not born that way; it's a decision they made."
Pegram believes homosexuals choose to become homosexual due largely to childhood circumstances like sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and abandonment.
"I have great empathy for people caught in that lifestyle," he says. "It's one of hurt, angst, and anger."
Cochrane disagrees. He only came out three years ago and jokes that he wishes someone had told him long ago that he was, in fact, homosexual—a fact of life that he says he did not choose.
"There is a huge misconception that being gay is a choice," he says. "People everywhere still believe that."
The first day of the upcoming festival is "Family Day." Pegram, who has no plans to attend the event, says that legalization of gay marriage over time will render the concept of marriage between a man and a woman "immaterial." He points to Scandinavia, where, he claims, legalization of gay marriages has been accompanied by a disproportionate number of children growing up with just one parent. Heterosexuals, he says, have simply abandoned the urge to marry at all, and he blames gay marriages for the change.
Meanwhile, Walker views the main American political arena with dismay; politics, he notes, has become severely corrupted by religious interests. "It's one of the scariest things that's happened in American politics, in my opinion."
But Walker is hardly afraid for the future. The passage of Proposition 8 was just a fluke that arrived because gay rights activists lost their steam by voting day, whereas the anti-gay activists kept campaigning and generating money and spurred the measure into law.
"The powers that led the fight against Prop 8 totally underestimated the Catholic Church and the Church of Latter-Day Saints," Walker says. "The gay and lesbian side became complacent and said, 'How much damage can these people possibly do?'"
At Saturday's family- and children-oriented festivities, Walker expects one third of the attendants to be straight couples and their kids. "Ten years ago no one would have imagined what we have now on the family and community day," he says.
And perhaps just ten years from now, Walker says, Americans may turn around, consider the battle over same-sex marriage, and say, "Now, wasn't that silly?"
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