Gay pride

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(HOST) With recent advances in gay civil rights, commentator John Scagliotti has been wondering whether the gay pride events held here and across the country this time of year are still needed.

(SCAGLIOTTI) Vermont officially celebrates Gay Pride for the 25th time with its parade and festival in Burlington in July. Where I live, in the southern part of the state, this is only the second year we’ve hosted this kind of event, so we’re still novices compared to some communities.

Why do we celebrate Gay Pride? Well this idea began thirty-seven years ago this week when some of the people who were involved with the Stonewall Riots after a routine bar raid by the police at a gay bar in Greenwich Village in 1969 decided to commemorate the riot a year later with a march. The idea of pride marches and events took off like wildfire and in recent years numbers of participants are quite staggering: 300,000 in New York, 250,000 in San Francisco, close to a million in Sydney Australia.

There are those who see all these gay extravaganzas in places like San Francisco as a bit excessive and perhaps wonder after all the advances towards equality for gays and lesbians why there is a need to continue doing these big events anyway. There are some folks like myself who take slight offense at the commercialization of pride – especially when Paris Hilton was picked to be grand marshall of the Los Angeles parade a couple of years ago.

But somewhere in all the hullabaloo there are some real important things happening that do make a difference. A booth at the upcoming festival in Burlington by the staffers and volunteers at Safe Space – which helps people who have been beaten up for being gay – might just attract that one young person who so desperately needs to find help. After all, since Safe Space opened its doors in 2002, more than 245 people suffering from anti-gay violence have been helped there.

And since gay history is still not often taught in our schools, these pride events are one of the few places where young people can hear some of our old pioneers tell – among other things – what it was like to be arrested just for being gay.

And mostly it allows people to understand that these freedoms we have here are not yet complete and safe. Yes, gay marriage has just been given more official status in Massachusetts, and should be safe in that state for the near future, but in the other forty-nine states gay people still need to struggle to become equal when it comes to marriage. Even here in Vermont, Civil Unions was a compromise that put gays and lesbians into a second class status. And in many other parts of the world they still arrest, torture and throw people in prison just for being gay.

So I say stop at the booths and talk and take some time in all that celebration to think about the history of civil rights in this state and country. These gay pride events can still have meaning for us if we focus on those accomplishments and challenges ahead, rather than what some celebrity grand marshall is going to be wearing, while waving from the back of a Mercedes convertible.

John Scagliotti is a documentary filmmaker who also directs a film consortium dedicated to the exploration of issues important to the gay community.

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