I never quite understood the parade element of Pride. I was undeniably cynical….
I imagined the sneering gawkers lining Ponsonby Road in anticipation of the ensuing freak-show. Crowds would arrive to laugh at the community, not celebrate its diversity. Deeply entrenched prejudice would be reinforced rather than shattered. The parade would conveniently confirm their misconceptions as truth… and homophobia would be fuelled.
I was adamant in my opinion – don’t flaunt our eccentricities if we want acceptance, don’t shine a spotlight on our differences.
So come Parade day I was anxious. I care too much about the opinions of others and subsequently the potential for judgment was nerve-wracking. I’ve always been that way. I remember as a student at a ‘beyond-conservative’ Christchurch boarding school, desperately wanting to keep my sexuality hidden. I feared being singled-out as different. People wondered, of course, but openly recognising it would have invited ridicule; I didn’t want to be vulnerable like that. I don’t think anybody does. To me, this parade was no different to the stage I stood on to address the college at assemblies in my senior year. As a sixteen-year-old I was terrified of hearing gay slurs from the sea of blue blazers before me and now, at twenty-one, I feared the judgment of Parade spectators. Why shout that you’re gay to a world on standby to mock it?
Prior to the weekend, I firmly believed that flaunting gay culture would drive a larger divide between our community and wider society. I associated ‘being equal’ with ‘being the same’ and therefore thought that celebrating our differences could only lead to greater inequality. The way to be accepted, I thought, was to dim the spotlight on our differences – but, in reality, this only reinforces a lack of tolerance for diversity.
The level of sexuality-based intolerance in society is alarmingly high. Children grasp onto the idea that being gay is weird and wrong and are not afraid to voice these attitudes. They don’t seem to care who their attitudes are projected onto… after I came out, my younger brother was mocked and harassed by his peers simply for having a gay brother. They’re also quick to make judgments and act on them. Just prior to Christmas, I was walking home through the Viaduct in gym gear, headphones in. I wasn’t doing anything overtly gay, but that didn’t stop three kids about fourteen years old from skateboarding past me and laughing as they yelled out, ‘faggot!’
It didn’t feel good.
For me, it highlighted just how much change is still required within broader society. There’s no way that in this day and age, here in New Zealand, three youths would yell the n-word at an African-American. Absolutely no way! They know how wrong that would be and if anyone were to hear them say that, they’d be stopped. Something would be said because it’s beyond derogatory and beyond unacceptable. No one said anything when they heard “faggot” yelled. It was probably just awkward for them. That’s understandable, but it was more than just awkward for me. It was offensive and it was extremely gutting.
With such demonstrations of society’s intolerance echoing in my mind, as Parade day arrived, so did my anxiety. We’ll be laughed at, I told myself, by the grown-up versions of the kids on skateboards. There’ll be jokes about us and rude comments made, either openly spoken or muttered under breath.
But as I sat from a friend’s house on Ponsonby Road to observe the Parade, things appeared different to the pessimistic picture I had painted in my head. Local businesses were out in support – “Ray White for Gay Rights” on specially made uniforms. Parents with young children were clapping at the floats passing by. The atmosphere was celebratory and exhilarating. I felt a huge sense of pride.
This wasn’t about glitter-bombs and fabulousness – though they were both in abundance. This was about having a voice, about celebrating diversity in every sense of the word and teaching tolerance.
The cynic in me had been captivated by Pride and challenged by recent events and conversations that left me readjusting my own way of thinking.
With Pride and other initiatives, the GLBTI community will undoubtedly become a more widely recognisable and accepted part of society – just another ‘norm’ alongside our ubiquitous sports culture, multiculturalism and so on that makes New Zealand such a unique place to live. Maybe then those skateboard bandits will think twice before yelling faggot, or better yet have no inclination to say it at all.
At 21, Damon Woolf works in brand communications and, not able to sit still for a minute, brings energy to everything he does. With a skill-set spanning marketing and PR, he has enjoyed stints working and learning alongside some of his key influences in Miami and London, which has shaped his professional outlook.