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To Parade or Not to Parade? That Is the Question.

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By Rich Arenschieldt

Thirty years ago…

“I’m not really sure I should ride with everyone in the parade. I don’t know what my employers would think…you know I love the work we do, but it may be too risky.” My 1987 conversation with Tori Williams, founder of Houston’s beloved service organization, The Pet Patrol.

At that time I worked as a portfolio manager for Chase Bank, aka the place where you could only wear a tie with three colors or less (a challenge for me, for sure). Also, as the only single man in our department, I was constantly being set up on “dates” with female friends of co-workers. “I had a great date, but Rich never called me back,” they would subsequently complain. I didn’t want to provide additional fodder for the rumor mill.

In those days the parade was full of local Montrose color—absent its current corporate sponsors.

Two days ago…

The phone rings—with no “Hello,” I hear, “I’m not really sure you should go to this parade thing—isn’t it coming up soon? I want you to be careful!” says my 88-year-old pal, Corky, my steadfast friend, mentor, and Mommy for almost two decades.

She continued (and here’s the great part of the conversation):

“But if you do go, I want to go with you!” Corky said, emphatically; which is sort of the way she says everything. She was, after all, born and raised in rural Kansas during the depression and surviving both her husband and her son. This lady defines indomitable tenacity.

“I’ll stand in front of you!” she continues. I laugh, thinking that if a bullet stuck one of her many now-bionic body parts (two titanium knees and both hips), we would each remain essentially unscathed. “Let them shoot an ole straight lady,” she says. “And then they’ll find out what the world has in store for ’em!” I can tell she’s riled up.

I met Corky years ago when we both served on a nonprofit board of directors. I was the junior member of the group, and she was very much my senior. Corky wears a veneer of permanent skepticism that people often mistake for cantankerousness—which, at her age, she’s entitled to. In actuality, she’s constantly questioning information that is presented to her, especially if someone condescendingly addresses her as a “little old lady”—woe to them, FYI.

I remember the first time I saw her. Always meticulous about her appearance, she had an “every Friday at the beauty parlor” hairdo, one so structurally sound that I’ve never worried about her falling on her head; decades of accumulated hairspray would protect her from a tackle by JJ Watt.

Looking across that table, I thought, “Oh Lord, here’s a lady who might have a problem with me.” However, in relatively short order, I realized that we shared parallel views and approached the world in similar fashion (except for our coifs).

I’m lucky enough to be one of Corky’s “guys”—a group a men (of various preferences) whom she looks after, without regard to what moniker we wear. (Though I am a bit proud to hear it when she proclaims: “Sometimes my gay friends treat me better than anyone.”)

In recent days our community has learned that the “bullets” we face are not just words and discriminatory actions; they are lethally real. For the first time in my life I feel like an actual target. However, the Kevlar vest that I now wear has taken the oddest form; that of a tough-as-nails, depression-era woman. She, and others who, in recent days have contacted me just to “check in,” give me the armor I need to march forward. How thankful I am for those who reside outside of the LGBT letters and still care so deeply for me, my family, and those I love.

Having been absent from the Pride festivities for a few years, on June 25 I’ll be back…well protected by a helmet hairdo.

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Rich Arenschieldt

For the past two decades, Rich has written about a wide variety of subjects, mirroring his interests in music, theater, opera and the individuals who pepper Houston’s creative landscape. Additionally, his longtime career as an HIV/AIDS educator enabled him to share life-saving innovative treatment strategies with thousands of patients and their healthcare professionals. He also developed the nation’s finest HIV-specific leadership training program, one whose many graduates are now seasoned local activists, advocating for HIV funding and services.

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