Attending my first Pride Parade as the proud father of a gay son
-Peter Henley, Akron
–How did I come about going to a Pride Parade? Well for me this adventure started a few weeks ago when listening to NPR’s Story Corps interviews of older gay and lesbian people. These people were mostly in their fifties, sixties, and older. It was so saddening to hear of the hate that was bestowed upon them. Some of them were even brave men and woman who served in the military.
Imagine hanging out in a bar with your friends. Not conspiring to take over the world, but just drinking, dancing, and having fun. And then the police come in, and arrest you.
In the fifties and early sixties, it seems that many laws were put into place to oppress the LBGTQ community, instead of protect them. Imagine the federal government putting out a video saying that “Johnny was sick, he didn’t have the usual sickness in which you would see outward signs of, but rather Johnny was a homosexual”. As bizarre as this may sound in this day and age, yes, that type of propaganda was put out by our federal government. Imagine hanging out in a bar with your friends. Not conspiring to take over the world, but just drinking, dancing, and having fun. And then the police come in, and arrest you. That’s what Stonewall was about. Look it up, StoneWall50.
The first story, spoken from an older gentleman, was him describing a valentine’s day encounter when he was a boy.
Two stories from Story Corps interviews that stick out in my mind. The first story, spoken from an older gentleman, was him describing a valentine’s day encounter when he was a boy. There was a friend of his that wanted to give him a valentine’s day card, but since it was so special to the young admirer, he said he mailed it, instead of giving it to him in person. Well horror struck over the boy, as he knew the only person to check the mail in his house was his mother. And of course, when he got home, his mother had the card, decorated beautifully with hearts, in hand. When she asked the boy about it, out of fear, he insisted that it was not solicited from the other boy. His mother left the room, coming back in with a shotgun in hand. She handed the shotgun to the boy, and said come with me. The boy followed his mother to the family car. She told him to get into the back seat with the shotgun. From there, they drove out to the country. The car finally stopped. The boy, getting out of the car, with the shotgun still in hand, followed his mother over to a lone standing tree. The mother then told the boy, “see this tree? This is the tree that I’m going to blow my sons head off if I ever find out he’s a faggot”. Obviously from then on the boy repressed his feelings of liking other boys.
As a young man in high school, this gentleman went on to say how he liked dressing up in ladies’ clothes.
The next story told by again, and older gentlemen, is a little more uplifting. As a young man in high school, this gentleman went on to say how he liked dressing up in ladies’ clothes. His father was a farmer, who could mostly be found in overalls, covered in mud and manure. As high school plays go, he finally had his chance to play a part dressing up as a woman. He loved wearing the many lady like items. The night of the play, his father was in the audience. His father had just come in from working the fields,
so he was dirty, and smelly. The young man played the part beautifully. After the play was over, the father went around the back of the stage to see his son. The young man, seeing his father looking for him, sneaked quickly around a corner, so as to not be seen by his father. Later that night when the son came home, the father approached the young man, He sat him down. He explained how he saw him hiding around the corner. He, and asked him why he was ashamed to see him earlier that night. The first
thing the young man could think of was saying that he was embarrassed of what his father was wearing, that being overalls, fresh from the fields. After hearing this, the father knew that was not the reason the young man was hiding from him. He then went on to tell the young man that in life, if you’re hiding something, then you must not feel good about it. And if you feel good about it, you must not hide it.
I would attend my first ever Pride Parade wearing my “Free Dad Hugs” T-Shirt.
After hearing story after story of the pain of so many people, I begin to question, why? Coincidentally, at that same time, my daughter posted on Facebook about a story of a man giving “Free Dad Hugs” at a Pride Parade. My daughter posted “This seems like something you would do”. Little did she and I know, that was the inspiration (challenge? lol), I was waiting for. I knew right then, that’s what I had to do!
As Father’s Day was fast approaching, I jokingly said that would be the perfect Father’s Day gift to me. Well, my T-Shirt arrived. And of course, another coincidence, it was Batavia New York’s very first Pride Parade and Fest set for the following Friday evening. So, it was set. I would attend my first ever Pride Parade wearing my “Free Dad Hugs” T-Shirt. At the same time all this was happening, I was days away from stepping down from an officer position in a local service organization. For the first time in at least fifteen years, I would not be on the board of directors of this organization. This was actually a much-planned decision, as I wanted to move on to helping my fellow man in another way. Of course, I had no clue what that “other way” was, but I just knew my mind needed something much more hands on. Of course, this organization does many wonderful things for humanity throughout the world, as well as local, but all of it just becomes too complicated, and also has to be done under the direction of fellow club members, and even sometimes the international organization.
To me I’m not doing anything special. But to those receiving my hugs, and just being present there seems to mean the world to this community.
As Friday was upon us, I got to the parade fairly early. As I approached the back of the lineup, there was a gentleman in a wheel chair along with a few other people. Evidently the man in the wheelchair was a preacher from in Town. I later learned that this preacher was responsible for trying to make Batavia a sanctuary city for fetuses. Well we went back and forth for a little bit. My final word to him as I walked away was, the people are here having a good time, they are not hurting anyone, so please just leave them alone. I think one of the biggest surprises of attending this event is all the support I’m getting. To me I’m not doing anything special. But to those receiving my hugs, and just being present there seems to mean the world to this community. While walking, I was invited to walk with a group Free Hugs ROC, many having T-Shirts similar to mine, accept saying Free Mom Hugs, Free Sister Hugs, and even Free Aunt Hugs. My gay son also walked with me. It’s a good thing he was walking with me, as I had many questions. I felt like every time I asked him a question, it started with “I hate to ask a stupid question, but”. This was all new to me. The question I felt the dumbest asking was if Miss Gay Rochester’s ass was really that nice or if it was fake. Yes, it was fake…padding, lol. I can see why he was Miss Gay Rochester, as he looked pretty damn good dressed as a woman. Even the makeup cleavage was spot on.
The best part though was that everyone was just having fun. Cheering, dancing, and yes, doing so with no alcohol involved.
After the parade was over, there was a Drag Show. Of course, this was also my first Drag Show. And, yes, still many questions asked to my son. The best part though was that everyone was just having fun. Cheering, dancing, and yes, doing so with no alcohol involved. The local police seemed very relaxed, and could be seen co-mingling with the crowd. I mean, basically, this is all about Love. Accepting everyone for who they are. So how can anyone really have a problem with so much Love?
-Peter Henley, Akron-