An advocate and an opponent to moving Pride downtown comment on the simmering controversy.
By John Nechman and Bridgette Anon
Historic photos by Blase DiStefano
At the conclusion of a lively, contentious community meeting in January, which we reported on last month (“Pride Houston postpones 2008 decision”), Pride Houston president Carol Wyatt announced that her organization would postpone voting on recommendations made by a task force regarding a move of the parade and festival to downtown in 2008 as well as a potential date change from the traditional June to late September.
The controversy in the community continues, even as Pride Houston, which organizes and produces the GLBT Pride parade and festival, proceeds with plans for the 2007 celebrations, which will remain in Montrose. To bring more clarity, we hope, to the issue, we asked two individuals involved with the opposing sides to comment on their perspectives. Bridgette Anon is a member of the Vision 2008 Task Force appointed by Pride Houston. (We originally solicited remarks from Carol Wyatt. She requested that we instead publish comments written by the task force, because, she told OutSmart, the Pride Houston board has not taken an official position on the task force report.) John Nechman is chair of People Opposed to Moving Our Parade Out of Montrose (POMPOM), a grassroots group that emerged early this year to respond to the possible changes to the Pride observances in Houston.
People Opposed to Moving Our Parade Out of Montrose (POMPOM)
Pride Houston, Inc. is again threatening to move our parade from Montrose to downtown and from its traditional date commemorating Stonewall to September. Despite claims that the board has made no decisions nor arrived at an official position, Pride Houston president Carol Wyatt continues a relentless campaign for the moves. The Pride Houston board should listen to the overwhelming opposition and reject this proposal, which has the potential to turn into the most divisive event in the history of our community.
A group of concerned citizens, including several past Pride grand marshals, formed People Opposed to Moving Our Parade Out of Montrose (POMPOM) in January and sent the Pride Houston board a list of compelling reasons to reject the proposal. At a Pride Houston hearing on the proposal on January 13, only one of 50 people in the audience spoke in favor. When the Queer Voices radio show invited callers to voice their opinions during a January broadcast, no callers spoke in favor. Even the Houston Chronicle published an editorial on January 21 calling for Pride Houston to leave our parade where and when it is.
Our parade does not have to move for Pride Houston to accomplish its stated goals of creating the best possible Pride festivities, outreaching to the entire community, and making Houston a weekend travel destination. Why not show communities of color that they are integral to Pride by sponsoring events such as Splash or Latino Pride? Ms. Wyatt has proposed a commitment ceremony on the steps of City Hall, but why not support the weeklong Freedom To Marry events that already take place each February? Why not gauge support for a downtown event by trying the festival there? Taking these steps would give our community reasons to celebrate and visitors reasons to visit Houston throughout the year and not for just one weekend.
The essence of our parade does not come from flashy floats choreographed to zip through the soulless canyons of a downtown devoid of GLBT businesses. Furthermore, the notion that downtown provides some imprimatur of credibility we lack in Montrose is offensive. Montrose is where our community’s soul resides. These are the streets that nurtured us and taught us to be strong and proud even as we endured demoralizing raids and arrests and saw our loved ones perish from heinous acts of hatred or our own government’s shameful neglect. These are the streets where our heroes planned, fought, and won the battles that give us countless reasons to be proud and carry on their legacy. Despite repeated efforts to rebuild, redefine, redevelop, or redistrict the Montrose we know into oblivion, the colors of the rainbow continue to shine proudest in this resilient, remarkable neighborhood and never more so than at our parade, when we invite Houstonians and thousands of out-of-town visitors to our home to celebrate our community and those extraordinary days in June 1969 when we told the world, “No more.”
Pride Houston should abide by its mission statement and lead the effort to embrace and reconfirm Montrose as our home, educate the world on our amazing history, and leave our parade where and when it belongs.
John Nechman is chair of People Opposed to Moving Our Parade Out of Montrose (POMPOM).
People Opposed to Moving Our Parade Out of Montrose (POMPOM) will meet on March 14, 6:30 p.m., at the Houston GLBT Community Center. The meeting is open to the public, POMPOM chair John Nechman says.
Pride Houston Vision 2008 Task Force
In an unsuspecting red state, a movement is gaining acceptance and paving a road less traveled by southern states not accustomed to openly embracing their GLBT communities. If united, Houston GLBT citizens may be taking the next steps in creating a bond with city leaders and touting the clout of a community that represents a healthy share of disposable income, healthy voting habits, and intolerance for anything less than equality.
Andy Warhol stated simply, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” Pride Houston has taken those words to heart and assembled a task force in 2006 to study improvements to the current Pride festivities. Improvements challenge the notions that Houston can become a destination weekend just as Atlanta, New York, and San Francisco have during their Pride celebrations.
Destination weekend? Why not?
The task force methodically solicited the opinions of political, social, and business leaders in efforts to produce a set of recommendations for the Pride Houston board of directors to contemplate. The task force studied the possible impact to Houston and trends experienced in other extraordinary cities that opted to optimize the manner in which they celebrate Pride.
The by-products of change, the task force learned, can be attractive. For example, Atlanta is estimated to bring in $30 million of revenue for their city during Pride. Imagine Houston GLBT political positions when backed by evidence of revenue generation and significant impact in travel and hospitality industries.
Now in fairness, it is important to state that not everyone agreed. There are those in our community who hold tightly to the details of Pride weekend that have become tradition. Their concerns were voiced passionately. They represent an important part of our community. Their determination is admirable; however, the positioning of the Houston GLBT community is underserved by a reluctance to grow.
The task force identified a number of concessions that were feasible and exciting if included in the planning for 2008 Pride. Regretfully, opponents have a zero tolerance for change. Doesn’t it make sense that we must press forward and grow past the comfort zone of those who would rather see the GLBT community left to mingle in Montrose?
Montrose is the cornerstone of the Houston GLBT community. Is there really anyone out there who thinks we leave our pride behind by growing beyond our usual borders?
Regardless of what the Pride Houston board of directors decide to do, one thing is certain: The idea of growth was about improving our standing as a community. If we fail to come to the table and find a way to grow together, we will only add to the obstacles that exist against us. Last time I checked, there were enough of those.
What do you think would have happened if those brave women in New York had listened to the whispers that urged them to stay hidden in the Stonewall bar? What if brave entertainment executives listened to those who told them to only make movies and TV shows about heterosexuals and keep those gay people in the dark? Employment protection, safety, civil rights…how long do we wait to go beyond the borders someone else set for us?
It wouldn’t take much imagination to determine that the GLBT community has enough constraints and obstacles. Perhaps it is time to make change happen and grow beyond our borders in Houston.
Bridgette Anon is a member of the Vision 2008 Task Force appointed by Pride Houston.
Pride Houston board meetings are open to the public. At press time, details of a meeting this month had not been announced. President Carol Wyatt indicated in an e-mail sent to OutSmart, “Because of the busy travel schedules of many of our board members (me included) we have found it impossible to keep to a fixed monthly meeting date. So, I don’t yet know when the March meeting will be.” Wyatt recommends that interested individuals call the Pride Houston office (713/529-6979) for updates. The organization website, www.pridehouston.org, includes more information on the task force and the status of its recommendations.
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The Vision 2008 Task Force report as well as the letter presented by POMPOM that includes its list of opposing points.