As summer winds down and everyone starts grabbing their sweaters for fall, we received one more account of a chapter’s participation in their summer Pride celebration. This piece came to us from PFLAG board member Sy Zivan and was written by PFLAG Rochester (NY) president Bonnie Hallman-Dye about their experiences at the local Pride parade. The chapter decided to use the event as an opportunity to promote their work in the community and highlight their own artistic interpretation of PFLAG’s Straight for Equality project. Here’s what they reported:
The Rochester chapter of PFLAG has been in existence for nearly 29 years. Over the past couple of years, interest in chapter activities had waned. In the spring of 2008, however, a small group of people began the task of reinvigorating PFLAG in Rochester. One of our big and exciting decisions was to sponsor a PFLAG float in the 2009 Pride Parade.
The theme of this year’s Pride Parade was “Our Rights, Your Rights, Human Rights.” We all supported the theme statement, but were somewhat stymied by how to present the theme in a float. Several brainstorming sessions followed, and we decided to depict the National PFLAG program “Straight for Equality.”
Many in our group lacked experience in designing and/or constructing a parade float. Fortunately, we had Anne Tisher, a local marriage equality advocate and Rochester PFLAG Board member. Anne has worked on many parade floats and has won prizes for her efforts. She even came to one of our meetings with a mock up of her proposed design! In the best brainstorming tradition, we combined elements of several different ideas into the final concept.
Working on the float was a big challenge. Several of our work sessions were cancelled due to the incredibly rainy weather Rochester has experienced this summer. We devoted one of our pot luck suppers to making the frou-frou that we needed to decorate the float.
The weather on the morning of parade day was iffy, but it was not actually raining. We gathered at Anne’s house for the float assembly. Anne and her wife, Bess Watts, had most of the “artistic” stuff done. All we had to do was put the pieces together on the trailer. We had a good crew, and it didn’t take too long for us to finish the preliminary work. Some of the construction needed to wait until we were at the parade start. We hooked the trailer up to the car, plugged in and tested the lights. They were totally covered by the float platform! We needed to drive 7 or 8 miles through the city to get to the parade start. We decided to have a car follow close behind to prevent problems with the lack of lights and to catch anything that might fall off of the float.
At the parade start we found a marshal who showed us our assigned spot. We quickly finished the rest of the assembly. Spirits were high as we waited for the parade to begin.
My mother, Anne Hallman, was visiting from Philadelphia for the weekend. She, being a professional driver (she works for Enterprise Rent a Car), was pressed into service to drive the van and pull the float.
In the line of march, PFLAG was behind the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. They offered a street Eucharist, and Mommy and I went over. She commented, “I must admit I had a problem concentrating on the service with a very tall drag queen dressed in a gown of golden sequins, wheeling around the intersection on gold roller blades. She wore a blonde wig that would have made Dolly Parton ask, ‘where did you git that?’"
Finally, the parade started. The City of Rochester provided a good deal of support to the parade. A large contingent of police assisted the parade organizers. The Mayor, Bob Duffy, and the Police Chief, David Moore, marched. Many other politicians marched also. There was even what every parade needs - a fire truck.
Our Treasurer and his wife carried the PFLAG banner. Then came the van, decorated with rainbow buntings, pulling our float. A bunch of us followed with rainbow streamers, wind socks and signs which said things like, “We’re proud of our gay children!” The spectators greeted us with enthusiastic cheers. We heard many young people say, “I wish my parents would march!” or “Your kids are lucky!”
We knew from previous parades that there would be protesters along the parade route.. My mother said, “When we reached the area where the ‘detractors’ were with their bull horns and nasty signs, I just blasted the horn, smiled and favored them all with a Peace sign.” As we marched by the angry, yelling protesters, our daughter, Rachael, and I put our arms around each other and smiled. I know that I can’t protect her from hearing what they say, but I can give her a foundation of love and acceptance that will strengthen her to live with joy and integrity.
In hindsight there was one thing that we should have done as a part of our parade participation. We should have had PFLAG business cards to hand out to the parade spectators. We’ll do that next year!
My mother summed it up: “I was glad to be part of the parade in support of my grand-daughter, Rachael and her parents, Bonnie and Chuck. I hope I can do this again next year!”