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Pride Houston Eyes Gender-Neutral Grand Marshals

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Organization to consider dropping ‘male,’ ‘female’ titles. 

By Brandon Wolf

Pride Houston leaders are discussing the possibility of eliminating the “male” and “female” categories for parade grand marshals and adopting more gender- neutral selection criteria.

Jeremy Fain, chair of  Pride Houston’s grand-marshal committee, says the organization is seeking input from the community about the possible change.

If the categories are updated, two or three grand marshals would continue to be chosen each year by community vote, but on a gender-neutral basis. The change would not be retroactive, meaning past grand marshals would retain their titles.

Lou Weaver, who became the first transgender man to serve as male grand marshal of the Houston parade in 2017, is among those who support the change.

“We already see a lot of folks who do not identify with male or female, so sticking with grand-marshal titles on the gender binary is starting to be outdated,” Weaver says. “I look forward to a time when we have two or more Pride grand marshals who are ranked on their merits and commitment to the community, without the deciding factor being [their] gender identity.”

Houston’s Pride grand marshals have reflected gender parity since the second parade in 1980. At the time, LGBTQ organizations and events often had male and female co-chairs. For organizations, the co-chair concept gradually gave way to having one executive director.

Today, most major LGBTQ organizations strive to maintain gender and racial parity, and to be inclusive of trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Pride Houston, however, has continued to use the male and female grand-marshal categories. In previous years, there have been discussions around trans inclusion, which led to Pride Houston allowing nominees to seek titles that match their gender identities.

According to a review by OutSmart, Pride organizations in most other major U.S. cities use gender-neutral grand-marshal categories. Those cities include Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, and St. Petersburg.

“We like to have a diverse selection of our grand marshals,” says Dave Cook, executive director of Miami Beach Gay Pride. “It does not matter what gender they are—or are not.”

Jamie Fergerson, executive director of the Atlanta Pride Committee, says his group has had “zero pushback” since switching to gender-neutral grand-marshal titles.

“Maybe some worried when it was first implemented, but only good things have come from opening up the selection,” he says.

Pioneering Houston activist Ray Hill, who was involved with the first Pride parade committees, acknowledges that it may be time for a change.

“In the world I grew up in, gender was not as fluid as it is now,” Hill says. “I trust the Pride Committee to come up with a formula.”

Phyllis Frye, the first trans woman to be elected female grand marshal in 2006, says she would also support a change to gender-neutral grand marshals, as long as gender parity is somehow preserved.

“It has been interesting to watch this gender-neutral movement,” Frye says. “I confess that in the late 1970s, I proposed a pronoun change from he-him-his and she-her-hers to te-ter-tis, but there was no really “out” community back then, nor was there social media. If Pride Houston decides to do away with the gender designation, I shall not resist. However, if the result is the end of gender parity, I will raise a stink.”

Pride Houston welcomes comments from the community on the subject. The organization can be reached at 713-529-6979 or PrideHouston.org/contact.

This article appears in the June 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Brandon Wolf

Brandon Wolf is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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