The following column was written by a friend of mine, Ted. Although it deals with the lack of support to LGBT businesses in another part of the country, it very much applies to Fresno and the country at large. I hope you'll read and consider supporting businesses and groups that support you.
Pride season is close to wrapping up, with only Lafayette and Fort Wayne still to go in our region, so I figured it was time to have a personal look back at not only prides, but where we as a community are, and look to be going. I was going to do this last time, but looking at things I decided I'd end up being what partner Ivan calls "a Debby Downer' during Pride Month and that didn't seem appropriate for the June issue — not that it is now, but heavy doses of reality meds are sometimes needed to keep the patient alive. In this case, the patient is our community, the businesses and people who support us and whom we support.
But before I get too off-track, let's just look at prides first. I think the following comment, posted by an Indianapolis friend on Facebook the week after Indy Pride (which partner Anthony and I did go to for a while) is very telling. He wrote: "Did you make it to Pride on Saturday? I decided not to go for the first time in twenty years. It's such a hassle to find parking, get inside, walk around, and most exhibitors are non gay owned businesses. It seems, to me, it's strayed from celebrating lesbian, gay, bi & trans into being a marketing event."
That bit was followed by folks who wrote, called and stopped me to say this or that other Midwest pride was "struggling" or that attendance was down... in some cases 20 or more percent. There were bright spots — despite what I personally find to be the offensive fencing in and gate/inspection system of Indy Pride, official attendance figures were up from 80,000 to 85,000. Sadly, I feel, a combination of the items my correspondent listed above plus other events kept that from going even higher.
I will mention, and feel I'd be remiss not to, that what I see as Indy Pride's total "sell out" of their event to major alcoholic beverage firms is a community embarrassment. Back in the day we had a less-grand event, but it was locals, entertaining locals fence-free and with a much lower budget so that we didn't need and usually turned away those big-bucks breweries. Times change, but I still find it offensive that one drink's name always appeared next to Indy Pride's. It was great PR for them, but I didn't drink their "products" before and I won't be now, though thanks for donating!
But all of the above is really, I feel, a symptom of where we as a community have come and look to be heading. Word has reached us of many long-time local and area gay businesses which have been community mainstays for years (or even decades) closing or struggling. Three of what have been the biggest clubs in the Midwest have either shuttered their doors or have announced plans to — in two cases such big "names" that even telling folks of their demise brought gasps and looks of incredulity.
But as a gay business (and this paper is one) for 22+ years now, I can say that the community is quickly becoming a victim of our own success and, it seems, far too many folks are not sure how to handle it.
Back to the comment I quoted... it's interesting that the commenter was unhappy about so many non-gay businesses being at pride. For what seems like 100 years now (and even I am not that old) we as a community have wanted to be part of the mainstream. We whined when I was in my 20s for what we felt was our right to go dance, have a drink or dinner in the same places our straight friends could.
We pleaded to book hotel rooms with one bed for two men or women or tell a doctor or hospital "this is my partner and here are our medical powers of attorney."
Well, folks, now we can and we do all of the above in huge numbers, which is why so many of the gay-owned businesses are struggling and why prides are filled with Main Street names. Those big companies who never would have returned calls from a gay newspaper in 1995 now call us. Those same firms have booths and support prides and other events. And now we are complaining about it.
We cannot have it both ways which begs the question of what do we do. When a leading club in the Midwest cuts to two or three nights a week and shuts down on a Friday at midnight because there are seven people in the bar they obviously are faced with a business decision.
When people choose a straight restaurant over a gay one for dinner then the owner of the latter needs to see what he can do to get his diners back.
And when we as a community choose to act so irresponsibly that the stale requires a fence and searching of cups and coolers to get into pride, I feel we need to self-examine.
There's also the issue that deaths in the community continue at what seem to be almost the rate they did at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 90s. Not that HIV/AIDS is under control, because despite what some naive or stupid guvs believe there is NO cure and too many folks reading this do not even know their HIV status and fail to practice safer sex. But now drugs and irresponsible behavior have taken their places alongside AIDS to kill us.
From folks who hand out ill-gotten prescription meds to be washed down with wine at clubs, then go out and drive to people who know they have chronic illnesses yet fail to use diligent self-care, we are dying. We have had too many needless obituaries in the past few years and while I won't, I could name a lot of names — famous and infamous — who are no longer here, often because of their own actions.
So where does all this leave us?
At a crossroads. We have jumped up and down demanding the rights we deserve for years, but now that they are arriving, some folks do not know how to handle them. And for just as long we have whined about not being mainstream, now that we are fast approaching it, we can not and must not forget the bars, businesses and people who for years have supported us when few others welcomed our community. Throwing them to the proverbial curb or under the bus by going elsewhere all the time is not the way to treat friends. There is room (and money) for our support of both gay businesses and our allies.
Remember that all of us change. I sure have in looks, attitudes and business during the past 22 years and I am sure everyone reading (if you were even alive in 1991) has too. Two decades ago, if you read The Word you were one of a couple thousand who did so and you did it only on paper. About 13,000 a month of you still read us, but now that's 10,000 on paper and 3,000+ on iPads, iPhones, Droids and computers — devices which were largely or totally unknown when we started in 1991.
We have changed with the times, as has our community. Where we go from here is unknown, but we need to think hard about our goals and those of the communities in which we live.
So often when something of import happens I wonder what this or that person we have lost would have thought about it and I ponder how they would have reacted. All folks — people who were leaders in the community and others who were "just gay" and never thought much about it beyond that. And that's why we need more than ever to get tested, know our status, rethink our drags and alcohol abuse and stay alive so whatever the final outcome we will be here to experience it.
We also need to get involved and rethink whether prides still have a place in our culture. I vote yes, but think we need to pull back a bit from the contest to see which city has the bigger, grander entertainers, wildest party and which pride leader and committee can be most important. Instead, let's refocus on the politics, rights issues and the spirit of community we seem to have lost in many areas. Back in the day I found pride a fun time to look forward to. Now I and others would love to have that feeling back in areas where it's been lost. Let's get involved, support and help but as a community let's not tolerate the behaviors, attitudes and abuses which seem to have crept in as our community has started to achieve mainstream successes.
Have a great July and sorry for being a bit Debby Downer. I just thought everyone should know what has been going through my mind of late.