Parading towards equality

Although North Carolina banned same-sex marriage in May 8, 2012, dialogue about gay marriage has not halted on Wake Forest’s campus. Feb. 8, Katherine McFarland Bruce, a visiting assistant professor in the department of Sociology, gave a lecture titled “Parading Toward Equality” about the effect of Gay Pride Parades (or “Prides”) on American culture.

Photo courtesy of college.wfu.edu

Last year, Bruce attended six Prides nationwide in Salt Lake City, New York City, San Diego, Burlington, Fargo and Atlanta – and shortly thereafter completed her dissertation on the efficacy of Prides. Her takeaway? Prides are highly effective in changing culture.

“Looking at the impact and the size of protests, pride parades wipe the floor with other protests. They get lots more people,”McFarland Bruce said. On the surface, Prides look similar to standard protest marches, which are associated with raised fists and angry demands. However, McFarland Bruce differentiates Prides from other protest parades in noting that they are more pacifistic. At Prides, there are invariably anti-gay groups in attendance, holding signs in condemnation of the LGBTQ community. According to McFarland Bruce, the instructions given to Pride marchers are generally, “Don’t fight with them, don’t argue, just be your cheerful selves. Counter them by turning up the volume on who you already are, rather than fighting back with words.”

No matter how friendly Pride marchers are toward counter-protesters, changing American culture is difficult. Without a change in culture, McFarland Bruce asserted, public policy rarely evolves. Through her studies, McFarland Bruce discerned four tactics that Gay Pride Parades employ in order to change the culture: defiant visibility (a popular saying is, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”), educational visibility, support, and celebration. Bruce labels this an “inside-out” approach to changing culture – “change individuals’ attitudes, and after changing enough attitudes, they’ll adjust their behavior (like voting), which will change [political] representations.”

In McFarland Bruce’s opinion, this inside-out approach is highly effective in part because it does not involve a large political element, as political talk often causes harmful friction. After participating in six parades, McFarland Bruce cannot recall anyone talking about political parties or pressuring the Obama Administration into passing LGBTQ-friendly legislation. “Prides are about changing culture by replacing harmful old code with a positive new one…people at the parades just enjoy being their fabulous gay selves, and having a good time,” McFarland Bruce said.

Each attendee seemed to take something different from the lecture. “She was smart in that she noted that the Pride Parades aren’t going to be broad political platforms. You have to change the culture before you change policy,” senior Megan Chaney said.

Will Hayward was surprised by the fact that Pride Parades are put on in both stereotypically gay-friendly cities and stereotypically gay-unfriendly cities.“I found it interesting how she went to marches in gay-friendly cities like New York City and in not so gay-friendly cities like Salt Lake City,” Hayward said.


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