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Foolishness on Parade

Media coverage of Pridefest dwells on stereotypes

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What's so funny about a bald lesbian walking her lover like a dog down the street with a chrome leash? Plenty, acknowledges Sue Kerr, prominent Pittsburgh lesbian and budding news-media critic. What pisses her off is what she considers shallow news coverage of the June 18 Gay Pridefest parade in Dahntahn Pittsburgh.

 

 

"We expect more. We are a part of this community and we expect better coverage," says Kerr.

 

The Tribune-Review's Mike Seate really got her goat. Seate's June 23 column essentially made the case that if the gay community wants to be taken seriously, it shouldn't parade its biggest freaks so prominently in what Seate called a "'Hey, Look at How Weird We Are' display."

 

Seate wrote "Lots of men ... made a point of bumping and grinding each other whenever a crowd of confused onlookers stared their way. It was an interesting piece of improvised street theater, but a performance whose point was too murky to discern.

 

"Stranger still is this: Can anyone imagine many ethnic groups staging parades that emphasize stereotypes?"

 

Kerr takes offense at the implication that the gay community needs to keep its more colorful characters in the closet. "So we isolate people who are in the fringes of the community so we can pass for straight? Of course the most outrageous colorful people get the most attention. It misses the point that there are a lot of people who come to Pridefest who are your average, normal, typical-looking American family. Mr. Seate just happened to notice the more outlandish ones. That's more about him."

 

Kerr acknowledges that Seate's entitled to his opinion. But she believes that, with the gay community under assault by right-wing homophobes, the news media has an obligation to touch on serious gay issues -- even when covering a parade featuring drag queens squeezing their breasts.

 

Kerr says not all of her gay friends agree with her. "There are some people in the gay community who want to straighten up Pridefest to emphasize how normal we are, and I find that insulting. Just because you're a drag queen doesn't make you abnormal."

 

Until recently, Kerr sat on the board of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh. She is a member of the Democratic party gay-activist group Steel City Stonewall Democrats, and was recently featured by Pittsburgh Magazine as one of the city's "40 under 40," focusing on up-and-coming movers and shakers.

 

She says despite the fact that the 'Burgh isn't exactly on the cutting edge of social progress, this is a good place to be gay. Oddly enough it wasn't Seate's column that got the largest share of her goat. It was a seemingly harmless article by Post-Gazette reporter Caitlin Cleary, who spent much of the piece detailing a conversation between two onlookers.

 

"It's 10 to noon," Cleary quotes one saying. "They're on drag queen time."

 

"They're on Gay Standard Time," the other agrees.

 

Later, one observes that thanks to the parade, "The people you see in the bars, now you get to see them out in the daylight!"

 

"Which may or may not be a good thing," his friend observes.

 

Mildly amusing, admits Kerr, but she wants to know why no one was interviewed about gay marriage, or something that was more substantive than two guys making small talk while they watched the parade. "It was just a campy little article about how cute and funny the gay community is," she says.

 

Personally I'm torn. If I had covered the gay-pride parade, the zanier characters would be too irresistible not to feature. They're not in the parade because they don't want attention. On the other hand, a media focus on the queerest of the queers, if you will, does allow straight society to ignore the whole lot of them and dismiss them as oddballs on parade.

 

Sue Kerr is not humorless. She recently signed on to an idea of mine -- a "take a homo to lunch," contest, where sponsors pay for the lunch and local straights get to know local gays. Now if I could just find a sponsor.

 

Still, she says, "They're exploiting the most colorful members of our community just to sell newspapers."

 

Sue, welcome to journalism.

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