Aug. 2 2006 12:00 AM

Of profits, promotions, parades and pandering

San Diego's 32nd Annual Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Pride Celebration got underway last Saturday with a parade that passed in front of my house. Location, location, location. Although nobody actually counts heads at parades and what-not, fire officials put the number of spectators at around 40,000, well under the 150,000 LGBT Pride organizers had expected. The spin on the poor turnout is that the light mist dissuaded many would-be attendees from showing up. Sez me: that's crap.

I doubt seriously that the thin ranks of onlookers lining the parade route owed anything at all to the fact that Saturday was the first morning in recent memory that wasn't hot enough to peel paint. I think, instead, the poor showing might have more to do with the fact that this year's LGBT Pride celebration went further than ever before away from demonstrating community cohesion, tolerance and inclusiveness and toward a flagrantly commercialized celebration of consumption and carnality.

Back away from your keyboards for a moment. You can write all the letters to the editor you want, but not until you hear me out.

The tradition of pride celebrations goes back to 1969 when the first parade, called the March on Stonewall, occurred rather spontaneously in New York City. The march, rooted firmly in the civil-rights movement, was called to protest discrimination and violence against gays. It was a bold and momentous moment in the advancement of civil liberties for which the generation before me should feel genuine pride.

Today's nationwide pride celebrations, however, don't exactly mirror that first march. As in years past, this year's parade began with dykes on bikes, a group of 100 or so women on motorcycles who thundered along promoting, presumably, open defiance of helmet laws and the virtues of the V-twin engine. They were followed by a smaller group of men on motorcycles, a half-dozen of whom sped up and down Sixth Avenue at speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour, popping wheelies to parade-goers' delight and leading me to wonder if the event was adequately insured.

After an inexplicable 10-minute gap, a few fairly sedate entries were followed by the Bud man on a four wheeler and a string of other Budweiser promotions. Nothing says pride like Anheuser Busch products. A handful of charities were represented, followed by more than a dozen elected officials and aspiring elected officials, several political groups and countless local churches, one of whose representatives told me, “We need more gay people at our church.” I sat quietly. There were dozens of human-rights groups and civic organizations, thankfully.

One has to admire all of those groups for their public stance, their courage and their openness. But in the end, they were drowned out by the corporate promotions and commercial sponsorships. There were entries promoting Long Beach Pride, Las Vegas Pride and Palm Springs Pride. LGBT Pride celebrations, you see, are scheduled not to conflict with one another so that celebrants can make the rounds. There were bears, cheerleaders, scantily clad samba dancers, leather devotees and a group out of Phoenix called Lezbos a Go-Go. I liked them the best.

There were countless local businesses eager to show how welcoming they are of LGBT spending. There were seven radio stations, a neighborhood association and some real estate agencies. I was particularly touched by the Starbucks truck, but not as much as I was by the Jägermeister bus. After entries by five local bars, the parade wrapped up with a float promoting pride parades. I'm not kidding.

I'll tell you one thing-if pride has to do with publicly displaying one's devotion to hard partying and harder spending, then the celebrants at San Diego's LGBT Pride are mighty darned proud. So proud an event is it, the general rules of conduct that normally constrain us don't even apply during Pride. Whether at the parade or at the ensuing two-day party at Balboa Park, you can't go far without finding a corporate icon encouraging you to drink. I'm proud of that, but then, I like to drink. Neither can you go far without noting that the celebration has mostly to do with spending money to find an opportunity for immediate gratification, whether by working with the right realtor or purchasing the right brand of vitamin water. You have to be proud of staying up on corporate iconography and conspicuous consumption. It's one heckuva party and the LGBT community has earned it. Maybe that's what pride is all about.

Maybe I have fallen behind. Maybe I have become one of those anachronistic fuddy-duddies who still think that civic pride and community solidarity have more to do with a group's values than with its taste in beverages and its commitment to buying the right stuff. Silly old me.

Many a straight friend has asked me, “Why don't we have a Straight Pride weekend.” Well it's simple, really. We don't need one. We long ago succumbed to the power of marketing. Take my friend Tony and me, for instance-we have the same first name, the same orientation and roughly the same life expectancy, and whereas I drink Corona and Bushmill's, he favors Absolut. We're still in the distilleries' pockets all the same. I shop at Ralphs; he goes to Vons. I subscribe to Cox's combo package; he has Satellite TV. I wear Stacy Adams; he likes New Balance. But no matter how you slice it, we've bought in to product placement.

The sad fact is that when it comes to being proud, all of us-including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders-have jumped Good Ship Sell-Out. We've all grasped the modern fact that being proud of one's self is best demonstrated by one's commitment to a business or a brand. I, for one, envy the LGBT community, and I am ready to put aside my own personal tastes for the sake of unity and to promote one kick-ass block party. I hope the rest of you will do the same. If you will, I'm sure Budweiser would be happy to sponsor us.

Tony Phillips blogs at Write to fifthavenuegazette[at]yahoo[dot]com and editor[at]SDcitybeat[dot]com.


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