A gay old timeWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
The 1997 summer day I moved to Washington, D.C., was sweltering. D.C., like Toledo, was built on a swamp, and the August humidity can be strangling. I parked the small U-Haul truck I drove from Toledo off of Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle and walked the sidewalks, seeking “for rent” signs in apartment windows.
I was stopped at an intersection by a large line of people several deep, dressed in everything from denim and T-shirts to feather boas, smiles and little else. I chose a woman dressed like Marilyn Monroe and asked, “What’s going on?” in my best Midwestern tourist accent.
“Gay Pride parade, honey!” he said, following that with several celebratory “WHOOP WHOOP!” shouts.
I would see many strange and wonderful things during my time in The District, but few would be as intensely concentrated in as few blocks as that parade. The scores of floats and cars and marchers were having fun — singing, chanting, being who they wanted to be. But my impression was one of forced naughtiness, shocking to shock, partying to party, not true liberation.
The first Toledo Pride parade, Aug. 28 in Downtown Toledo, was powered by a sense of true freedom, open joy and triumph.
During the past year, Toledoan Rick Cornett has worked tirelessly to keep Toledo Free Press informed of many of the local LGBTQA community’s events. We co-sponsored December’s Holiday with Heart fundraiser at the Toledo Club (this year’s event is Dec. 3 — save the date) and he facilitated the weekly listings of bands and promotions at local “gay bars.”
It was Cornett who brought Toledo Free Press to the attention of Toledo Pride. We met with Lexi Staples, executive director of the Pride of Toledo Foundation and event director for Toledo Pride 2011, and LGBTQA advocate Emily Hickey. That meeting led to the Aug. 25 Toledo Pride section of Toledo Free Press Star, the first such section any local mainstream media outlet has assembled, which for Toledoans should bring simultaneous pride (that it happened) and embarrassment (that it had not happened before).
When the section was published, we were prepared for a volley of hatred, but aside from one hostile letter from a person whose head was so far up his own rear he ironically violated the sodomy laws he swore to uphold, the feedback was supportive and underwhelming in an “it’s no big deal” kind of way.
In addition to publishing the guide to Toledo Pride, we participated in the Aug. 28 parade. I did the best I could with our Chrysler Town & Country, taping Toledo Free Press Star logo placards to the sides and hood and tying a rainbow flag to the antenna.
We were among the last vehicles to arrive, so aside from the obligatory ambulance at the end of the parade, we brought up the rear. Go ahead and snicker; I’ll wait.
What an awesome energy radiated from the participants. This was true pride, a sense of freedom and “we did it!” that created palpable good vibrations. There were major corporate players in the parade — Owens Corning, Yark Fiat, certainly others I missed. The first part of the route was sparsely populated, but as we circled through Owens Corning to Water Street and to Promenade Park, the line of people thickened until it was just as packed as the line I saw in D.C. all those years ago.
People waved, smiled, jumped up and down, yelled out “thank you” and stood united in love and freedom.
It is tempting to make a grand summation about the healing impact of such a demonstration but that would be premature.
Later that day, with the Toledo Pride Festival drawing thousands to the riverfront, my family enjoyed its first visit to Imagination Station. It’s a truly impressive facility, in the same league as the outstanding Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier, where we spent several hours earlier this summer. Our boys, 3 and 5 years old, loved the upper floor of Imagination Station, with its massive treehouse, pretend grocery store and hospital and especially the Water Works.
They took way too many turns in the Hurricane Chamber (as the then-feared Hurricane Irene made its way up the East Coast, it was morbidly fascinating to stand and face winds that reached 101 mph). They loved the erosion exhibit, on which they built fortresses of sand and watched as water jets slowly, or quickly, washed them away.
While working on the waterfront side of the table, two boys, I’m guessing between 8 and 11 years old, approached the other side. One started to reach for the blue hand shovel to move sand, but his companion said, “Nah, that’s gay. Let’s go back downstairs.”
While thousands of people, just football fields away, celebrated their lives and identities, a preteen boy used the pejorative “gay” as casually as he might name a color to describe something. Does that tiny insect ruin all the grain in that day’s harvest of unity? No, but …
On the Toledo Free Press Facebook page Aug. 24, Jay Everingham posted, “Kudos for devoting your latest issue to Toledo Pride! Thank you for your acceptance!”
But the thanks for acceptance go from us to Toledo Pride and the gay community. You trusted us with your message and mission and we look forward to solidifying our relationship.
There is clearly a lot of work to be done.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at email@example.com.