In Troy, it was Flag Day, but in Albany it was ... well, I'm not much of a poet, so let's call it by its proper name: the Capital Pride parade, an annual gay rights march. When I lived in Troy, the Flag Day parade passed by my window every year. In Albany, the Pride march goes past the coin-op laundry I use on Madison Avenue. These two parades couldn't be more different. The Flag Day parade began as a Vietnam-era "support the troops" gesture, but has pretty much become an excuse to have a bunch of marching bands, floats and mummers. It seems to be intended for entertainment purposes only. I haven't been to one since I moved to Albany. For years before then, to see one was to have seen them all.
The Pride parade had little of the entertainment value that anyone in Troy would expect. It had only one marching band, and little in the way of floats. There were flamboyantly dressed people, as you might expect, but there were also lots of nondescript people riding in cars and trucks and waving at spectators. There were politicians in cars and one truck from a radio station. At the tail end, there was a big Jagermeister truck, apparently inviting marchers and spectators alike to get hammered afterward. So by Troy Flag Day standards it was a poor excuse for a parade. Yet I think the Albany event was closer to the authentic spirit that originally animated street parades.
There used to be many more parades per year in both cities. The point of them wasn't to entertain spectators, but to show the strength in numbers of political parties, labor unions, fraternal organizations, and so on. Parades were demonstrations as much as any public protest is today. You might have a band with you, but the point wasn't to perform for an audience, but to impress them with your numbers, your organization and your discipline. That's why so many groups used to march in uniform and in formation. Today, in most cases, these details amount to pure meaningless performance. As I saw it, the Pride parade was more impressive because it was a real parade, a genuine demonstration, an affirmation of existence and a show of solidarity. I shouldn't overrate all this, since much of it involved people prancing about in stereotypical costumes or with their shirts off, but I think I've made my point.
Judged solely by aesthetic standards, the Pride parade wasn't pretty. The lesbians never live up to the pornographic ideal, while the men inevitably activated my "ick factor." Some people think that the "ick factor," or whatever you call that almost reflexive repugnance certain things trigger in some folks, is a fair guide to social policy. I'd like to think I know better. There are plenty of phenomena out there that I find disgusting, but I don't feel a need to ban any of them. Some people may have found today's parade repulsive, though I didn't notice any protesters, as I did last year. They should ask themselves: how does it harm you? They should ask the same question whenever any gay rights topic comes up. It may strike you as icky nasty, but that doesn't count as harm, much less as harm to the body politic. You may even be offended, but that's no harm, either. This is where arguments against gay rights fail; they cannot prove harm, so they substitute offense to themselves or, worse, to God. Leaving God's existence out of it for a moment, offense to God is no crime in this country, and God has no legal standing to seek redress. Reduced to essentials, the argument against gay rights is based on a primitive fear of God's wrath that is unworthy of the heirs of the Founders. With that in mind, which was the more patriotic parade, today?