I Love a Parade

In an old Woody Allen film the hero recounts a recurring dream: he’s on a dark train full of sad old people and everyone is settled silently in seats waiting for departure.
There’s an ancient conductor creeping down the aisle checking tickets. The hero looks out the window and there’s another train headed in the opposite direction ready to leave. On it there’s a party under way with exuberant people in brightly colored clothes, nobody’s seated, and the lights are on. The conductor doesn’t even seem to care who has a ticket over there.

As the conductor approaches the hero holds out his ticket, and gestures that he’s on the wrong train and points out the window at the party underway on the next track. The old conductor checks his ticket and shakes his head. No, he’s on the right train.

I felt like I was in Woody Allen’s film as the Gay Pride parade left the Unitarian Church in Spartanburg on Saturday morning. The difference was that I was on the train full of light and celebration.

There were hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender marchers supported by hundreds of straight Spartanburg family and friends like myself. It was a parade of diversity, of tolerance, of joy. The air was filled with brightly colored balloons bobbing as we gathered and headed out. There was laughter and excited recognition as community members greeted each other. It was the first time such an alliance had rallied and it was a powerful experience.

And to oppose the parade the streets of downtown were spotted with pods of protesters. Many of them wore dark suits, long pants, long dresses, and they carried signs weighted down with too many words, heavy with Bible verses. They all looked sad to me.

One protester in black shirt, black pants, a black hat, and mirror sunglasses sat high above us astride a horse. Another next to him screamed, “You should read the Bible!”

Others along the parade seemed frightened, and some even showed bursts of passion, preaching fire and brimstone from the sidewalks as we passed, their Bibles thumped and jabbed like daggers toward the marchers.

The whole parade route was like one of those cultural collisions I’d always read about in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories.

One English professor friend did a quick literary analysis of the repeated images on the signs as he walked: “Don’t you think they’re a little obsessed with sodomy on the sidewalks?”

One friend was down from Durham, and she had a good time marching. “We’ve had a Gay Pride parade up there for over a decade,” she said. “Our mayor marches at the head of ours.”

It felt as if I had a window right into the past as we walked down the street. Over on the sidewalks it could have been the 1950s or 1960s. The protesters seemed to have their heels dug in, trying desperately to stop time. In the street, the parade seemed headed toward the future.

The parade on Saturday put Richard Florida’s “creative class” in the streets. Those in the parade sang a song made up of many different notes.

Communities today can’t be competitive without such diverse cultural groups at the table. All the seats can no longer be filled with conservative churches, traditional businesses, and old-time politicians.

Spartanburg is finally moving into the 21st century. The parade changed a great deal in this community, and there’s no way to deny it with those dark suits and Bible verses. Saturday the parade acknowledged publically how diverse we really are here in this corner of the upcountry.

So maybe Spartanburg’s diversity train has finally left the station. I’m all for parades like this. They’re good for the community. They open up the shades and bring a little light in. Maybe with this parade a whole city opened the closet doors.

Before the group departed from the Unitarian parking lot a local news reporter asked a participant why she needed to do this.

I wanted to lean in and sing, “I love a parade.”

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