Pride and prejudice

Growing up in the prejudiced precincts of Cincinnati, Ohio - the Gateway to the South according to the Chamber of Commerce types, the Gateway to the North for my black friends - the civil rights issue that compelled me was the unequal treatment afforded African Americans.

After a two-year stint as a draftee during the Vietnam War, I returned to America as a little pink Martin Luther King and Malcolm devotee. I began running black.

I was a daycare teacher at a Black Panther facility, the only white male on the premises except when the cops came by to harass the folks trying to feed and inform the little preschool tykes. I also haunted some of the inner-city playgrounds hooping it up, often the only white boy in the game. Working with blacks and running with blacks led to dating black girls until I eventually married a "sister" and had the only three kids I ever intend to have.

Gay rights were not on my radar.

You couldn't have made me say the N-word, except when I was running with my partners, who liked to mess with me via the H-word and seemed to expect a ribald comeback.

But only if no other Caucasoids were around.

It all seems quaint to me now.

Here in Seattle, mixed couples of every hue seem to predominate on many occasions.

And when I try to talk race with younger folks, they look at me like some dinosaur from prehistory.

Except in Seattle's outer precincts, race - at least on the social, bar and dating level - is a non-issue.

Here, when I hear something negative about a minority, from blacks or whites, the minority slandered is the group that calls itself queer.

Now, to be honest, one of the things that appealed to me about being accepted by a lot of black folks in the racist old Upsouth of my origins was that everyone felt, if few whites ad-mitted, that black dudes were way higher on the macho scale than your average white boy.

To be accepted as a man by a lot of my post-Vietnam black friends meant more to me than making a good living or being a "nice" guy.

But gays ... Who wanted to be weak? And right or wrong, that was the common perception.

In my two decades out here, I have grown more and more familiar with the gay lifestyle, to drift into politically correct semantics.

It never appealed to me the way black urban life did, but I did learn to respect the struggle of friends who came out here to come out. Listening to the recounted struggles of gay friends from Kentucky and Tennessee, I began to develop a grudging respect for the courage it took for them to move away from home and become who they wanted to be, sometimes at the cost of losing family relationships and longtime connections with friends, schoolmates and others.

So when I hear people complaining that gay Pride festivities are moving this way - to be centered at KeyArena instead of Capitol Hill's Broadway - I bristle a little.

That doesn't mean I don't understand the reservations some good-hearted square folks might have.

Gay Pride festivities are more about showing off than showing out.

And I can remember my feelings listening to young black suburbanites talking about their sufferings after their parents and older brothers and sisters fought off real, palpable, dangerously everyday racism. A bunch of cats dressed up in dresses and seemingly enjoying rubbing the squares' faces in the stark differences all too evident seems like overkill to me.

But I still think it is a good thing that the Pride focus is shifting. People all over the city need to address, whether or not they can personally celebrate it, that Seattle is one of the cities that seems truly hospitable to gay people.

When I'm talking with one of my retrograde childhood friends in Cincinnati and they mention how gay Seattle seemed to them on their three-day vacation - Pike Place Market, Ballard Locks, ride a ferry and be appalled at boys holding hands with boys and girls holding hands with girls - I laugh in their voice (my contacts with Cincinnati, except for occasional visits to my mother, almost all being by telephone or e-mail).

It is 2006, and gay people are as viable and intrinsic to the city as partially employed, aging, heterosexual columnists.

Shrugging off a little flamboyant overkill for one weekend a year is a small price to pay.

But if the gay activists who seem most to enjoy the tweaking of straight squares really want to do something prideful, maybe next year they could move the festivities to Lynnwood, or Kitsap County, or some other place where they would be rubbing the "enemies"' noses in their lifestyle choices.

I don't think most Queen Anne urbanites really care. After all, honest Pride that doesn't turn into spiteful arrogance is a damned good thing for everybody, gay or straight.

As the old-line Irish rebels might have said, Up the Pride!

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