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Justin Lee on faith, culture, and nuance

Justin Lee on faith, culture, and nuance

From the Blog

“If being gay isn’t about sex, why are pride parades so sexual?”

A reader wrote:

I have no comments but a question. If it is not about sex, then why have the gay pride parades across the nation that promote sexual acts. The way people dress in the parades flaunts sexual acts, shows nudity etc. Why must they be outlandish in the dress and behavior? Just saying. If they want to promote family values then they should present themselves as such.

Thanks for the question!

I have two things to say about this. First, I agree with you; when people at Gay Pride parades or other events behave in lewd or hypersexual ways, it sends the wrong message. I don’t like it, I don’t like the message it sends, and I wouldn’t do it.

But it’s important to recognize that when you turn on the news and see a guy in a thong simulating sex acts in a pride parade, he’s not representing the entire gay community. In fact, he’s in the minority. I know lots of gay people, and as far as I’m aware, I don’t know anyone who has ever danced in a thong in a Pride parade.

This does not represent me as a gay man:


Just like this does not represent me as a Christian:


In both cases, the most visible and outrageous people get the spotlight, and they get way more than their fair share of the TV coverage.

And in both cases, if you’re in the group, you know that these people don’t represent you, but if you’re outside of the group, it can be easy to assume that everyone else in the group is like the most visible images (even if they’re better about keeping it quiet).

I suspect you may have some follow-up questions, so I’ll go ahead and ask them for you.

Okay, so maybe you and your friends wouldn’t dress up like that, but clearly some people do. Why do they do it?

I don’t want to speak for someone else, but I can guess. Here are a few reasons I can think of:

  • Some gay people treat Pride events kind of like Mardi Gras or Halloween. In New Orleans on Mardi Gras, for instance, lots of straight people dress outrageously, get drunk, and behave lewdly in the streets. And while some Halloween costumes are scary, a large percentage of adult women’s Halloween costumes are skimpy and sexual. But a straight woman flashing her boobs on Mardi Gras or dressed as a “sexy nurse” on Halloween might not act that way at all the rest of the year, and she certainly doesn’t represent all straight women. image
  • There are some gay people who live their lives around sex, just like there are straight people who live their lives around sex. (Research suggests that gay people aren’t any more or less promiscuous than straight people.) For gays whose lives do revolve around sex, being surrounded by gay people can be an excuse to show off their bodies and “let it all hang out,” so to speak.
  • Some gay people use intentionally shocking images as a form of protest. For instance, some people feel like, “If I’m going to be judged for my sexuality regardless of what I do, I’ll give these judgmental people something to be upset about!” I don’t think that’s effective, but then, I’m not the one doing it.
  • We don’t all have the same beliefs about what is appropriate/offensive/shocking/etc. Not all straight people have the same beliefs or values, right? Same thing with gay people. Just because I find something to be inappropriate or offensive doesn’t mean everyone who has the same orientation as me will also find it inappropriate or offensive.

I’m sure there are many other reasons as well, but you get the idea. And regardless, most gay people at Pride events dress and behave just like anyone else you’d see on any other day of the year. You only notice the outrageous ones, because they’re outrageous.

So perhaps you’re thinking:

Okay, but if the hypersexed images don’t represent all gay people, why don’t any gay people speak out against them?

Sometimes they do. Back in the mid-90s, for example, gay author Bruce Bawer wrote a whole book called A Place at the Table all about how images like that hurt the gay community and represent only a minority of people, and many others have spoken about it since, both publicly and privately. I have plenty of gay friends who refuse to even go to Pride events because they find them offensive.

But, to be honest, I think many gay folks are tired of other people preaching at them and so they don’t want to preach at others. A lot of gay people think about Pride events sort of like a lot of straight people think about Mardi Gras or Halloween—if you don’t like it, you don’t go, and if you do go but you don’t like some people’s behavior, you just ignore it.

We’re all different, and no one person can represent an entire group.

Follow up: The day after posting this, I went to a local LGBT festival to take pictures and see how much sexual imagery I actually encountered. Here’s what I found.

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