LGBT Month: What Makes a Pride Parade Truly Fabulous?

Destinations

Free music, massive dance parties, colorful costumes and cavalcades upon cavalcades of rainbows–is there a better way to make a sociopolitical statement? Doubtful. June is America’s national LGBT Pride Month, and NerdWallet is celebrating with an in-depth investigative report (humor) on what makes a pride parade truly fab. We’ve assembled a list of 10 primo pride parade particularities, some of which are unique, and some of which are essential. Take a look at our list, and tell us what constitutes your own perfect parade!

1. Live music… duh

Not to be entirely too obvious, but live music is, without a doubt, essential to any respectable parade. I mean honestly, a parade without music is like a birthday party without cake. Or balloons. Or those funny little conical hats. Point is, if you’re organizing a parade, you need music (and preferably something a step above John Philip Sousa compositions performed by the local high school marching band). Here we have to give a shout out to our hometown  LGBT organization–SF Pride. The San Francisco Pride Celebration has hosted artists from Lady Gaga to the Backstreet Boys. This year, we’ll be treated to over two dozen DJs and bands, including the likes of Ruby Summer, JC Jones, Ashley Mendez and Gypsy Love.

2. Mormons

Another great addition to any pride parade is a healthy smattering of Mormons. And no, we’re not being facetious. Just weeks ago, over 300 Mormons marched in the Utah Gay Pride Parade in Salt Lake City. Their presence was met with cheers and tears. The LDS Church has a reputation for not being all that crazy about homosexuality. The participating group, which calls itself “Mormons Building Bridges,” comprised families and children marching in line with typical uproarious pride performers. The gay community showed nothing but overwhelming gratitude for the unprecedented Mormon support. Entertainment factor aside, this is what pride parades are all about.

                                                                               3. Body paint and cowboy boots

Returning to the obvious, vibrant costumes are another vital element to a successful parade. No event is complete without rainbow wigs, body paint and sexy fireman outfits. If you want to dress like a butterfly, perfect. If you want to bounce around in your skivvies, even better. Creativity is key. Many cities have costume competitions and award prizes to encourage the spectacle. CBS even whipped up a list of costume and clothing shops for last-minute parade purchases in Chicago. The city expects over 800,000 participants and spectators in 2012. That’s a lot of glitter!

4. Scholarships. Exciting…

College tuition isn’t generally synonymous with fun, but Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride awards scholarships at its annual festival. It’s important we never to lose intellectual footing. Parades are a time for participants to cut loose and join in a cathartic bout of raucous revelry, but we should never forget the celebration’s origins as an annual reminder of the struggle to broaden human rights.  Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride award a number of grants and scholarships to LGBT students and relevant organizations (HIV testing facilities, for example). The 2012 festival is already over, but applicants will be able to apply in 2013 on the LBLGP website.

5. Floats that float

Almost by definition, a parade requires floats. The bigger, the more extravagant and the more creative the float, the better. But what about a float that actually floats? Amsterdam, which holds its main events in late summer, prides itself (pun intended) on one of the world’s most convivial LGBT festivals. The events include what’s called the “Canal Parade,” which is exactly what it sounds like–a floating parade that traverses Amsterdam’s canal system. Colorful boats full of flags and inflatables float along the Prinsengracht as spectators cheer from either side. If you want to witness one of the world’s greatest pride parades, Amsterdam is your destination.

6. Families

Pride festivals aren’t strictly for young rambunctious LGBT people. In our culture’s evolving social landscape, families are increasingly encouraged to participate. Families march, as part of COLAGE or PFLAG. There are also focused events for families. This year, New York’s week-long celebration includes a family night called Wonka by the Water–a free outdoor showing of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” at Pier 46. Consistent with the theme of the film, snacks and sweets will be available in abundance. And consistent with the theme of the event, the area will be adorned with colorful blankets and rainbow balloons. The actual parade takes place a few days later.

7. Catchy slogans

Like any proper social movement, pride organizations absolutely love slogans. And why not? They’re fun, pointed and memorable. One of our favorites of 2012 is this year’s official Athens pride parade slogan: “Love me, it’s free.” Given dozens of suggestions, the organizing committee unanimously selected this short but sweet four-word phrase. A rather pointed take on the current sovereign debt crisis!

8. Dance, dance, dance ’til you’re dead

You can’t have song with dance. Well, I suppose if Bon Iver is providing the entertainment, you may opt for a gentle, lugubrious sway. That’s beside the point. Dance is an essential element in any pride parade or festival. Some cities even organize dance competitions to get the ball rolling. Montreal, for example, hosts a group choreography competition. Professional or not, if you’ve got a routine, Montreal is a venue you don’t want to let slip away. Check out the footage from this year’s event!

9. Governors and senators

We’re doing well, folks. We have a long way to go, but the nation is taking baby steps in the right direction. We’ve reached the point where politicians are brave enough to openly embrace gay rights. The obvious example here is the president himself. And in this year’s Boston pride parade, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick led President Barack Obama’s supporters in the march. Elizabeth Warren, who is running for Senate, also took part. Their appearances speak volumes about America’s evolving societal values. A truly fabulous parade will have an elected official that both straights and gays think is hot (i.e. San Francisco’s very own Gavin Newsom).

                                                                                10. Art exhibitions

Parading is exhausting–no doubt about that. A good parade will have plenty of places to cool down and rest. What better way to relax than stepping into a gallery and schmoozing with artists? In London, for example, the Gay Photographer’s Network is exhibiting work at the Strand Gallery down the street from the WorldPride festival this summer. The exhibition will be open two full weeks and include work from over 50 Network members. Sales will support the Disabled Photographers Society and London Friend charities. If you need a breather, absorbing a little art may not be a bad use of your time.