Reed Cowan, the ex-Mormon director behind the brilliant Prop 8 exposé 8: The Mormon Proposition, deserves much credit for chronicling the Mormon Church’s heavy-handed influence on the outcome of same-sex marriage in California. But then he went and suggested we should all cancel gay pride parades until there’s marriage equality throughout the land, and that’s where he lost us.
Even with the Mormon Church’s financial contributions to Yes On 8, opponents of marriage equality still spent less than the No On 8 side. And yet still, they succeeded. It might be evidence that money doesn’t really change minds on marriage, or simply that groups like Equality California grossly mishandled the No On 8 effort. But as Cowan notes, what really convinces your neighbors and co-workers and strangers at Costco to get behind our marriage battle and go to the polls on our behalf is engaging them, sharing our stories, and convincingly making the “we’re really the same people” argument.
And without people going door-to-door, how will we ever send that message? Enter Cowan’s convoluted suggestion America’s queers stop going to pride events and start canvassing.
“I would like to propose to the entire worldwide gay community that they cancel gay pride events until we have marriage equality,” says Cowan in an interview to promote his film. “All those thousands of people who go to gay pride, those are bodies that could put on a shirt and go into the neighborhood and tell their story. We should wait until we have equality to have our party. In the meantime we volunteer the same passion and air miles and participation and really channel that same participation into our fight for equality.”
No, Cowan, we should not wait to celebrate our community. It’s this annual event — a rite of passage for many LGBTs — that provides the most visibility for our people. More hetero Americans are aware of annual pride events than, say, the federal Prop 8 trial, which is about to wrap up. Pride events are a chance for us to come together and put aside our own differences. To show that 15-year-olds just coming out, two mommies with three kids, drag queens, bull dykes, trans investment bankers, and Alan Cumming are all part of the same pack. It’s the singular event that does more than tell other people “We’re here, we’re queer.” It reminds each of us there are millions of brothers and sisters dealing with the same shit, and we’re all in this together.
Like, say, the five Russian queers just arrested for trying to hold a gay pride event in St. Petersburg. Is Cowan proposing we stymie their efforts to walk in the streets proudly until we get gay marriage?
Moreover, Cowan’s remarks show he puts marriage equality above every other LGBT issue. And while the right to marry is an important cause, and one we should all support, his position ignores the other missing equal rights LGBTs don’t have — which pride events also act as rallying points for. Serving openly in the military. Being able to adopt and share child custody. Not getting fired from your job for using the “wrong” bathroom. Disbanding pride parades so we can all go canvas the neighborhood to push for marriage equality circumvents the other struggles we’re actively engaged in.
Does Cowan mean, literally, we should stop going to pride? I hope not.
But his message — that we shouldn’t be partying until we have something to celebrate — is also misguided. We do have things to celebrate. In addition to the items the White Hosue’s press office will tick off, we have each other. I know that sounds corny and optimistic, but pride parades are nothing if not an exercise in walking down the street and being proud of your identity. There was a time, not so long ago, we couldn’t do that openly. Or at least not without being harassed and assaulted and run out of town.
I wonder what screenwriter Dustin Lance Black would have to say about Cowan’s remarks. Black, who narrates the director’s film, and is an ex-Mormon himself, last year served as NYC Pride’s grand marshal, serving with Anne Kronenberg and Cleve Jones, another of Cowan’s friends. Black found the time to take part in pride. And yet he still finds the time to go door-to-door with the marriage fight.