Pride Parade's Wrong Move

Don't lose the magic: Keep Houston's Pride Parade where it belongs — in Montrose

Don't lose the magic: Keep Pride Parade where it belongs — in Montrose

13 Pride Parade Houston June 2014
Colorful floats have been a hallmark of the Pride Parade on lower Westheimer. Photo by Dalton DeHart
Houston City Hall pride colors rainbow light gay pride parade
Houston City Hall bathed in rainbow lights. Pride Parade organizers believe a move downtown is best. LGBT Pride Houston Celebration/Facebook
News_Gay Pride Parade_June 2011
Floats snake their way along lower Westheimer every June. But next year, they'll be downtown. Photo by Dalton DeHart
13 Pride Parade Houston June 2014
Houston City Hall pride colors rainbow light gay pride parade
News_Gay Pride Parade_June 2011

A few years ago, organizers of the Pride Parade wanted to move it out of Montrose, where it has been since its inception in 1979, to downtown Houston. They said that the parade had outgrown its location and needed more more space. A downtown venue would highlight the parade as a premier Houston happening.

And, with rapid development of pricey townhomes taking the place of longtime gay and lesbian bars, Montrose just isn't so gay anymore, some whispered.

 He listed a lot of the same reasons that we've heard before, along with some new incentives —  an enhanced Family Fun Zone, a cultural stage and even misting stations! 

It was just time.

The reaction was so negative that organizers quickly pulled back from the notion. But now they're at it again.

Pride Houston president Frankie Quijano told the Houston Chronicle organizers have decided to move the parade downtown starting next year. He listed a lot of the same reasons that we've heard before — better access to parking, public transportation and hotels, more space, yada, yada, yada, along with some new incentives —  an enhanced Family Fun Zone, a cultural stage and even misting stations!

But even Quijano seemed a little nervous about announcing the move, which seemed to come as a surprise to many in the gay community. "We implore the community to have an open mind and embrace the evolution of one of the largest Pride celebrations in the U.S. Our organization will keep the momentum moving forward," he told the Chron.

Bad idea

I've never thought I was resistant to change, but I think the move is a really bad idea. Take away the Montrose location and you take away a lot of the reason we're there — to celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement's history in the center of where it all began in Houston— and the parade's magic.

When the idea was bandied about — once again — a few weeks ago, About magazine noted a posting by Houston bar owner Charles Armstrong on his Facebook page. Armstrong wrote:

You would NEVER dream of moving the Gay (GLBTQ) Pride Parade from West Hollywood in L.A., Cedar Springs in Dallas, Halstead Street in Chicago, or the West Village in NYC”......“Houston’s Gay (GLBTQ) Pride Parade belongs in Montrose on lower Westheimer. Moving it from the gay area would be nothing short of a nightmare, not a dream. Please don’t move it.”

Because Armstrong owns a number of successful gay bars within walking distance of the Montrose parade route, some might think his profit motive is shining through. But he has point: No other major city would dream of moving the parade out of the area where the movement was born in their respective cities.

Now instead of winding its way down Westheimer past Montrose Boulevard, the spiritual home of Houston's gay movement, with bars, organizations and shops that gays and lesbians still gravitate to, the parade will move down a concrete canyon of soulless skyscrapers that could be in just about any city in America — all in the name of progress.

"Yes, the neighborhood is changing, but there's a need for the young people to understand what our community is," says Jack Valinski, who was involved with the Pride Parade for 25 years and was instrumental to its move to a nighttime parade in 1997. "Sure (gay) people have kids and move out of the city, but (Montrose) is still our focus."

That being said, Valenski is not against the parade being moved to downtown, but he thinks no consensus was reached before the Pride Committee made the announcement. "It's not their parade, it's the community's," he says.

Changing times

I live in the heart of the parade area. Yes, the streets are clogged with floats in the staging area. Yes, cars take up every available space as paradegoers scramble to find a place to park. Yes, it's loud and a bit messy. But it's also exciting to see so many people in the neighborhood in a festive spirit and so dedicated to the cause. And it's only one day out of the year.

In recent years, however, the Pride parade has lost some of its vigor, as dancing boys in Speedos have been replaced by church groups, corporations and family-friendly organizations. It's a reflection of how gays and lesbians have become mainstreamed into American society.

Moving the parade downtown only hastens that move to forget the movement's roots. The Pride Parade becomes just another downtown parade, not that much different from the Thanksgiving or Martin Luther King Day happenings. See the glittery floats, politicians in convertibles and marching bands! Now, I forget, what are we here for?

I bet, before long, organizers will decide to move the parade to the fall because it's just too darn hot to hold it in June. Houston has always held the parade in the dead of summer to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots on June 28, 1969, when a group of drag queens at a New York bar fought back against a police raid and launched the modern gay rights movement. Like moving the parade to downtown, I bet it will become just a matter of convenience to move it to another time of the year.

We've sure come a long way — or have we?