02/18/01 - We'd been trying for a couple of years to get something started here. There hasn't been much of a gay "community" that makes itself visible to anybody walking in off the street, nor have they organized themselves to accomplish anything in accordance with a universal gay rights agenda.
A few of us would meet at the local coffee shop and talk about how things are different in other parts of the country (ie, Atlanta or Louisville). But we couldn't seem to get our act solidly enough together to take off with our own local movement. This went on for two or three years, until finally I met somebody, in April, 1998.
This somebody won my love and admiration, and was heavily involved with a Pride effort in her own locale. That she was coming to live with me was the motivation it took to get my ass into high gear and "give" her a pride festival right here. Two months from "pride" season and I start planning this town's first pride festival. We'll have a picnic in the park. If anybody shows, great. If not, we still did it with just a bucket of chicken and a boom box. That was the idea. From there it got fluffed with everyone else's ideas - let's also do a parade! And have live entertainment! And some vendors! Woooooooo!
In two months' time, we'd put together this massive undertaking, complete with the awarding of our first annual Courage 2 B Fabulous awards to three local gay and lesbian achievers. Keep in mind the ideas were offered by the handfuls, but the actual labor/funding/assistance was just a trickle out of an old leaky faucet.
Most of the area's out gays took this "wait and see" approach. They didn't believe it would actually happen so they sat the first one out. But even then, we had 50 something odd people and 5 vehicles in that first parade in 1998, which went right down the middle of town and into the city's main park, into the Festival.
What an eye-opener. Never in my life have I had such ill-conceived notions of brotherly support and universal likeness. No, just because Atlanta is breeming with queers on the streets in broad daylight does NOT mean Atlanta gives a shit about alleged queers "out there somewhere else." I had hoped to draw in support from a more experienced, more well-funded Atlanta population, but every single solicitation letter and phone call fell into file 13. Hopeful but not at the end of my energy limits yet we marched right into it, broker than bankrupt and tireder than Rip Van Winkle. But we did it.
And the mouths fell open, eyes popped out, and the very next year we nearly tripled attendance and funding, and quadrupled volunteer participation. IN OUR SECOND YEAR! The Democratic MAYORAL candidate made an appearance from the stage to ask for our votes! (And he won!) Yes, we're doing something right, timing must be right, something is in the air, this is getting too easy. Maybe it's just time for it. Who knows?
Then, barreling into our third year with only 6 weeks to go, our parade chairman totals his car and withdraws completely from the effort. Our field crew leadership team (a lesbian couple) moved to Minnesota. The local gay bar had closed down with no re-open date on the horizon. My inspiration in 98 and total partner in all things had fled back to her homeland permanently. The tidal wave that washed over this town in 99 had receded, leaving dried out crackly brittle seaweed rotting on the beach. Our third year was a total flop. Attendance was less than in our first year, the parade was less attended than the first... But we who had the faith, had experienced the miracles of 98 and 99 did our jobs again in 2000, beautifully and flawlessly. We could not cry at this apparent failure because we, in our hearts and muscle sore bodies, knew we had not failed. But the deserted field echoed the voices from the stage, off the buildings scattered a mile away with no human flesh to absorb the vibrations. The new Mayor addressed a canyon. But like us, he held true to his commitment and made an appearance anyway, even without a crowd to hear him.
After the soreness in our bones wore off, many of us cried. Many of us burned with a bile of anger and confusion. Many more apparently could have cared less.
It was always a skeleton crew - the first year it was mostly me, the second it was about 12 of us led by me, the third it was about 4 of us led by me. This year, our fourth year, it is steady at about 4 of us, led by me.
I don't care. That is how I was able to accomplish what many had said was impossible in that first year. My skin thickened tougher than a great white's. I didn't allow anyone's negativity to infect me, because this was going to happen, because its foundation was love of another. Nothing was going to stand in my way, failure was not an option (but then again, the definition of failure had been downgraded to the point that not even a bucket of chicken and a boom box would come close to failure). But because I didn't care, because I shut out anything that would cast doubt in my abilities, I didn't hear the anger. I didn't hear the screams, deafening screams, that I was making mistakes left and right. My tone was abrupt. My words were quick and ill-chosen. I deflected all animosity, preparing for the hatred I expected to feel by announcing to the (straight) world I was gay. I shut it all out.
Bitch. That's my reputation. I've made so many enemies in this town you'd think I was a career politician. I'm becoming aware of this now, and I'll tell you why in a minute. But for three years, through three consecutive pride festivals, I stepped on people's toes left and right without caring, without feeling, without applying that balance of karma to feel what I impose on another. In Pride, it shuts down. Would we have had 3 consecutive pride festivals if I had been less rigid?
Today, as we wrap up the year's first fundraiser, I'm struggling with my lack of tact and with my inadequacies, you might say. The words "you've made everybody in town angry" suddenly are heard. What am I doing wrong? Who is angry? Why are they angry? I don't know what the hell I'm doing, never had any training, somebody help me fix these problems I'm creating with angry people all over town.
I don't care. Let them be angry. We are going to have a 4th consecutive pride festival this year and if they don't like it they can get out of the way. I can't do it any other way. And I doubt the infant pride baby can stand on its own two feet yet to just magically happen. So sit down, shut up, and grab that corner of the table so we can put it over here.
I still don't care. I've been pissing people off for 4 years and the town is used to it. They expect it. And they get over it. I don't care. But somebody else cares.
Yes, somebody has endeared herself to me, and I hear her words louder than all the rest combined. "Chris, you're doing this wrong! You're supposed to do it that way! Stop making people angry! The whole town is burning your likeness in nightly rituals! CHRIS!!!!" Ohmygod.
It bothers her that I'm making people angry, and that bothers me.
I've learned alot in the last 4 years, like how to say thank you, but you know what? I still don't care. If I was doing it wrong, it wouldn't be happening, now would it?