Swept Up or Held Back

April 30th, 2014, 12pm

I was swept up in a Gay Pride parade the other day.

I didn’t know what was happening, at first. I had just dived back into writing a book, after over a month of being on the road, and started out unable to focus, unable to get into the ‘voice’ of this particular series. I’d never spent much time around the university campus in Columbia — a college town in central Missouri, where I lived until after high school — and decided to explore the area while walking about; allowing my brain and legs to take me where they would, sorting out what they could while my basic kinetic functions were occupied by my meandering.

After maybe thirty minutes, there were shouts up ahead. Weaving down a narrow thoroughfare was a procession of maybe forty people. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but the rainbow balloons made the theme pretty clear. I only had a moment to take it in when someone jumped out of the crowd and bodyslammed me with a hug.

After I was sure I had my balance and wouldn’t topple to the ground, I realized the assailant was my friend Niki; one of the few people I still knew in Columbia, after the pilgrimage that took place among most of my high school friends, leading them to resettle along the coast.

I joined Niki and the parade, and we caught up while headed toward a monument on the far side of campus.

The crowd was made up of smiles and good intentions, and the duo who were leading the pack were keeping everyone motivated with slogans and antics. A flurry of reporters with cameras hustled to and fro, hoping to catch a money shot for the evening news or school paper, hoping but not hoping that there would be some kind of counter-protest or other disruption to liven things up even further. There wasn’t.

The parade was lively, but it was nothing like some of the other Pride parades I’ve attended around the world. Thankfully.

Columbia is incredibly liberal, for Missouri, and though you still find the fire and brimstone types hiding out on the fringes, they’re not taken seriously. People are far more concerned with their studies, with their quality of life, and with whether or not Lucky’s Market has their brand of organic milk in stock, than with what gender their neighbors might be interested in.

Not so in other cities around the world. A Pride parade I attended in Buenos Aires was under threat by the police for its duration, and I was advised to avoid the parades in other parts of South America completely — things sometimes got out of hand pretty quickly, I was told, and as a foreigner, I would be all the more likely to be among the wounded or killed.

It’s the opposite extreme in other cities, however. In Reykjavík, everyone comes out to the Pride parade. The schools march in support of their gay students, and the mayor dresses in drag, perched atop a float.

What’s boggling to me is that there are people who don’t see this as a civil rights movement. Who don’t see the increased public presence of homosexuals, transgendered people, and all the other long-trampled-upon and misunderstood groups as a move in the right direction. Who seem to think this is somehow different from all the issues we’ve had (and continue to have) with race, gender, and essentially anything else outside the norm at different moments in history.

One of the things Niki told me about, when we were catching up, were her wedding preparations. How is it okay that she has to travel to Iowa in order to get married? That her home state has legally determined that her love for her girlfriend isn’t as legitimate as the love I could have for a woman?

I know people don’t update their beliefs for numerous reasons. Dogmatic beliefs that tell them prejudice is okay, and in fact correct behavior. Noble behavior.

Ignorance about the ‘other,’ and an illiteracy about the idea and history of civil liberties is also quite frequently to blame.

I would guess that the vast majority of people who take issue with equality will be gone soon; most were born in a time when such things weren’t spoken about. In a times when it wasn’t right to question, and when we didn’t know as much about the world and the infinite beautiful variations that can be found there.

It’s sad when a problem can only be fully solved with time, though. With the death of certain limiting beliefs and stigmas, and perhaps even the people who hold them dear.

That does seem to be the case with this particular issue, though. And in some parts of the world more than others.

Ragini, Shu, Christine and David Wade said thanks.

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Colin Wright

Author, entrepreneur, and full-time traveler / I move to a new country every four months based on the votes of my readers / My work (http://colin.io) / My blog (http://exilelifestyle.com) / My publishing company (http://asymmetrical.co)

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