I was sitting at work a little over a week ago when an email was sent out advising that U.S. Cellular had a spot in the upcoming Tulsa Pride Parade and that we, as employees, were free to show our support and walk in the parade. I sent an e-mail back immediately asking to be a part of it. As long-time readers know, I had the opportunity to walk in a Pride Parade in Osaka, Japan back in October of 2009 and not only was this an opportunity to support the friends and relatives I have that are gay but would provide me with a unique comparison opportunity.
I headed downtown at around 5:00 PM on Saturday after picking up my friend Isaiah. I was thankful that the parade was taking place at dusk, as it has been brutally hot. We arrived downtown, parked, and walked to the area we knew the parade folks would be assembling. However, before we got there, we ran into an already-in-progress Tulsa Tough Bicycle Race! We walked up just as they were at two laps to go on the current event and we watched as the racers completed the circuit and finished their race. I have tremendous respect for anyone who bicycles, for leisure OR sport, as most bikes defeat me in a matter of minutes. We followed the track down and found our gathering point, which for us specifically was in front of a tattoo parlor on Archer Ave.
We met up with a few folks en route and the rest joined us closer to 7:00. I watched as other groups gathered and floats arrived. I walked about a little and already sensed quite a difference. Japan’s culture is very conservative, and though the flamboyant folks in Japan went all out (i.e. Pokemon costumes) there was a larger density of flamboyancy at this event. At about 7:15 the organizer got on a loudspeaker and reminded everyone that we live in Oklahoma, and there was a good chance we would run into protesters and folks being generally unpleasant. He advised to turn the other cheek, smile, and wave. A loud cheer went up and not long after, the procession got underway.
There were many organizations represented in traditional parade format, quite a few of them faith based. In Osaka, it was generally just a gathering of people bookended by an organization. We had marched down the central financial district in one of the most advanced cities in the world. In Tulsa, we marched through downtown, across railroad tracks, and next to run down warehouses. The turnout was underwhelming, honestly, until we got to Centennial Park. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We had groups from churches, other businesses, support groups, and even a contingent of Tulsa furries. The atmosphere was fun and friendly throughout.
We crossed the tracks on Elgin Ave and past McNellie’s Pub before we started seeing decent numbers of people. We had all been armed with U.S. Cellular goodie bags and we bestowed trinkets on children throughout the parade. It’s amazing what a keychain or frisbee will do for a kid. As we crested the small hill past the Blue Dome District, we saw what we’d been hearing on loudspeakers for the past few blocks: protesters.
We had absolutely NO protestors in Japan. Just old men frowning disapprovingly, confusion, and people deliberately ignoring the procession. Here, we had a guy on a megaphone shouting about Matthew Shepard burning in hell and lines of supporters holding signs of scripture and sadness. There was active booing and other derogatory remarks, but no actual projectiles. Once we powered through that corner, they were gone. A short walk through a quiet warehouse street and we crossed over near Centennial Park and were greeted with THRONGS of people.
When I got a good look, I slowed my pace a little. There were hundreds of people cheering and waving, and as soon as we got in the middle of it we ran out of USCC swag quickly. We passed right by the VFW Post, which is where Indi and I had our farewell party last April. It feels like forever ago. Just outside the VFW, a familiar shout caught my attention and I saw an old AT&T friend of mine. I got a quick hug, but we kept moving on. Shortly after that, the parade was over and we started walking back. Isaiah and I ate at Fat Guy’s Burger Bar (it was amazing) and I dropped him back off at his place before heading home.
Overall, the vibe here was much more open and active … on BOTH sides. The participants were hugging people, handing out things, cheering, hollering, and having a great time. The folks on the sidelines were likewise, and the protesters were loud and clear. In Japan, the participants were more organized and put a LOT of focus into costumes and appearance while the only folks watching seemed to be concerned that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In that culture, it’s still a very closeted issue. I was proud to walk in both parades and proud of my employer for giving me the opportunity.