I guess that if they thought about it, most participants in the NYC Gay Pride Parade would agree that the March is something akin to performing a Sacred Ceremony. As with all ceremonies, this one starts with a period of waiting around for the Ritual Performance to begin. Join the Pagans of the NYC Pagan Pride Project and the NYC Open Gay Men’s Pagan Circle on W 38th Street, as we wait for our turn in the 2012 Parade. Prides (like Paganism) being an Eclectic affair, we have a Renaissance Fair contingent over here (Renaissance Fairs for Gay Rights!), very impressive in their costumes, with a handsome Renaissance Fair float (love to be the Ren Fair Queen who gets ferried down 5th Avenue enthroned in Ren Fair glorie on that float); over there, we have the Caribbean-American Pride group, fantastically done-up in Carnival costumes resembling plumed tropical birds-of-paradise. Marching in the Parade in front of us is a troupe of actors performing The Rocky Horror Picture Show somewhere; they are all dressed up as the characters, and are having a fine time posing for the folks who want to take their picture. One of the Parade rules is that you have to have at least one Marshall for each group, and the Marshalls have to wear identifying orange T-shirts (you can imagine the joy when predominantly Gay people discover that they are expected to wear orange Tees). Since this is Gay people that we are talking, the Marshalls soon begin to turn up having made certain various impromptu alterations to their Marshall shirts; Gary (one of the Pagan group’s two official Marshalls) wishes to show off the smart I “Pentacle” NY T-shirt that is the official NYC Pagan Pride logo. Accordingly (he’s into clothing design), he cuts the front out of the orange Marshall’s shirt; pins it with the back; and now has an orange Wizard’s Cape of a Pride Parade Marshall’s shirt hanging behind him- showing off the more Pagan tee underneath (which because it is black, is actually complemented by the orange, achieving a sort of Halloweeny effect .)
When the excitement of Gary’s wardrobe-alteration wears off, we start to do Tarot readings for the Rocky Horror actors.
A philosophical realization of Pride-Parade participation is, that it is a bit like Life, as you wait for your opportunity to join the great Parade of it all. I moved to NYC in January, 1990, and have Marched in I don’t know how many NYC Pride Parades. I have always Marched with either the Pagan group, or with the NYC Radical Faeries- which a lot of times, can seem like a specific form of Paganism for Gay men (for spirituality-seeking, earth-reverencing, gender-bending Gay men). Back in those days, there was an intrepid organization called New Moon, New York that wanted to bridge all of the disparate Pagan and Witch Traditions and Groups in the city. Feeling strongly the need to show public solidarity with the Gay Pagans of the Big Apple, New Moon would organize a Pagan contingent to march for both Gay Rights and Pagan Pride. I remember many years making my way downtown in the company of NYC Pagans, dancing my feet off to the accompaniment of the drummers (non-Pagans always find it exotic that Pagans will have drummers with them). The Parade route is shorter this year, meaning that we no longer pass St. Patrick’s Cathedral as once we were wont. This could be a surreal situation, because often back in the Act-Up days, you would find the Cathedral surrounded by police, sometimes with all the priests resolutely parked outside the doors, ready to defend Christ’s Church against the Menace of Out Homosexuals. St. Patrick’s was also the place where you could expect to find the Evangelical Christian demonstrators against the “Sin of Sodomy.”
This would add an extra layer of conflict for the Pagan Pride-Marcher. Whether Gay or Straight, every Pagan marching in the Parade was ostensibly there in support of Gay Liberation; obviously condemnatory Christians encountered en route hit another set of buttons for Witches and Pagans. As I remember, the Pagan Drummers in those days would just throw off an extra-vehement rat-a-tat-too in front of the Evangelicals and we would move on. I remember the Radical Faeries making a point in front of St. Patrick’s to stop, point, and laugh at the stern priests and prelates massed there (pun); in other words, a bunch of drag-dressed men made a point to laugh in the Cathedral’s face, because we found they and the situation so mockable. Then I think we formed a gigantic Spiral Dance (to swirl away the bad Church energies), and continued on our way (the Radical Faeries were always forming Spiral Dances down 5th Ave; no one put on a Pride-Parade show like the Radical Faeries- very Street Theater).
I remember one year, my friend “K-Boy” went off on the Evangelical demonstrators: My PAGAN GOD is a God of Love, NOT Hate! My PAGAN GOD is a God of Love, not Hate! Parade Marshalls came hustling over: Sir, sir, sir, please just move along. I know, sir; we all know, sir: But please just move along.
The Parade route doesn’t pass in front of St. Patrick’s this year; don’t know why. We still encounter the Fundamentalists, however, intent upon Standing Witness against the Abomination of Gay Marriage. Our Pagan group calmly walks up to them, and holds up our banner so that they can see, Witches & Pagans For Gay “Rites.” Then we move on.
I am willing to bet that those Fundamentalists recall very few groups from Sunday’s Parade, the way that they recall, Witches & Pagans For Gay “Rites.”
One thing that I am noticing, is that we Pagans are getting a lot of attention as we wait to make our way in the Parade. Since we (and a bunch of other groups) are hanging out on 38th Street (closed to traffic), there is a lot of milling around, and many people want to know if they can take our photo (Sure, say we. OK everybody, One! Two! Three! “PAGAN!!”). Some reporter guy, making his rounds through the Pride folks, happens across us. Out comes his notebook, as he starts asking the Pagan Pride Priestesses about Paganism. From the ladies’ body-language, I can tell that they shift instantly from “NYC Gals waiting to start in a Pride Parade” to “Professional, Responsible Witches and Pagans, giving succinct, articulate answers in a spontaneous media interview.” Rock on, Pagan Ladies!
One guy (in his early 20s) happens by, with a Gal Pal (also in her early 20s). She sees our banner, and grabs his arm. “Look! Look!” I’m thinking that it’s the novelty of “Witches and Pagans” that’s catching her attention; but he looks, and breaks out into an ear-to-ear grin. “Oh, get out! Oh no way! I have to go over and say ‘Blessed Be’.” So he comes over to the group, and (cause there’s a lot of Eastern influence in NYC: yoga is big; Buddha statues are all over, once you start looking for them), he makes Namaste with his hands, and makes a point to say, “Blessed Be” to the Pagan Pride Priestesses. “Blessed be, Blessed be, Happy Pride,” back to this young guy who wants to Namaste and “Blessed Be” Witches and Pagans for Gay “Rites.”
This happens again and again, as we move into the Parade; people will start shouting from the sidewalks, Witches and Pagans! Witches and Pagans! I’m a Pagan, too! I’m a Pagan, too! Blessed Be!! Blessed Be!! Happy Pride!! Happy Pride!! One woman was pointing with determination towards her collarbone, to show that she was wearing a Pentacle. “I’m a Witch too! I’m a Witch too!”
Of all these impromptu “Pagan Coming-Out” moments- none made more of an impression upon me than this. Behind us in the March, we had the LGBT Task-Force of the City University of New York (CUNY). This means, a small, fired-up mob of college-kids, waiting to take on the Homophobic World as Queer Power Activists. Now, leading this group, as its Marshall (obviously empowered by these Queer Power kids to act as their leader and group-representative) was this guy in his early 20s that I called “Street Kid” in my head. “Street Kid” has the look of a hard-core Skateboard Kid; probably heavily involved in the Occupy Movement; pretty much a pro at Street Demonstrations in general. He is leading these fired-up CUNY kids (and the Repressive Straight World had better watch out, once these Act-Up Kids hit the streets); they all have worked-out this system of hand signals and whistle-blasts, to indicate “CUNY! Prepare to STOP!” “CUNY” Full HALT!” “CUNY! Prepare to MOVE!!” (They’ve obviously been rehearsing this; they have all this down.) “Street Kid” has solved the problem of the obligatory, Marshall-identifying orange T-shirt by pinning it to the backside of his Skateboard Kid shorts, in a brilliant Punk Rock accommodation of both fulfilling his group’s obligations to the Pride organizers, and not looking like a Corporate Establishment Tool.
I catch one of “Street Kid’s” chums indicating our banner with a “nudge, nudge” of his head. “Yeah, that’s me,” says Street Kid. “I’m a Wiccan.”
At last we start, and enter 5th Avenue, officially taking our patiently-won place in the NYC 2012 Pride March. Here is the part where you become a performer for the spectators, with the unusual experience of dwelling in the middle of an avenue otherwise filled with rushing traffic. Here is the Empire State Building, giving you the confirmation that you are in NYC, looming first beside you, and then behind, as you move downtown. There are people turned out every which way on the walk, all cheering and screaming; all bursting with Pride and Happiness.
It is when the March turns across Sixth Avenue, however, that the Real Sacredness comes to be felt. Ahead you, around a bend in the street, is Stonewall itself (“Stonewall, where Pride began”). The crowd is always off the hook here, and you can feel the Thrill of History as you pass the bar and the site where Queer Liberation started, and the 20th century changed.
Now you cross Seventh Avenue, and here you are Marching down Christopher Street. There are people hanging out windows; off the fire-escapes; thronged on the roofs. Everyone is yelling to everyone else; I remember the Radical Faeries stopping here and forming a Magick Circle, singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow- sing it with me, please.
This is your moment of Pride, as a Pride Parade Participant. Own it, feel it. It is yours, forever. This is your Pride. Blessed Be.