Gay Prude Parade
Inaugural Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce parade scorns Saran-Wrap tops and dildo costumes. Can you imagine?
If it wasn't for a quote in the May 31 edition of the Austin American-Statesman, there's a chance Austin resident Asher McShoe wouldn't have donned a dildo and Saran-Wrap tube top for Saturday's first annual Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Pride Parade. Or maybe she would have. But once she saw a comment attributed to AGLCC parade organizer Chad Ballard in Friday's paper, there was no way she was going to attend without wearing her plastic garb.
"When people think of gay parades, they think of all the freaks and things you see in the media and on TV," Ballard told the daily, "but ... we want to portray a positive image and represent this community as a whole." McShoe found the comment brazenly offensive, so she contacted her friends -- all of whom agreed -- and decided to stage a protest, which she dubbed the "'freaks and things you see on TV' contingent of the parade." Enter the plastic wrap.
When McShoe showed up at the parade staging area Saturday evening clad in her custom tube top, she says, a parade organizer pulled her aside and told her she wouldn't be allowed to march because her outfit violated the established dress code. "He said, and I quote, 'this parade is about normalcy, it is about assimilation,'" McShoe recalled, adding that she didn't catch the guy's name. "He continued by saying that we were [there] to 'look like your next-door neighbor.'" The organizer explained that the parade wasn't a gay pride parade but a Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce event designed to increase the visibility of Austin's gay-friendly businesses. "That's when we decided to call it the 'like me please parade,'" she said.
And McShoe wasn't alone. Former Texas Triangle columnist Ellen Hobbs -- who claims she witnessed the exchange between McShoe and the parade organizer -- hadn't planned to participate in a "freak contingent," but was irritated by Ballard's infamous quote and showed up wearing a customized T-shirt that read "Freak Seeks Parade" on the front and "Celebrate Real Diversity" on the back. "Pride day is about being visible and being political and being visibly political," she said. "My feeling is that there wouldn't have been quite as good a turnout if they had advertised it as a parade celebrating normalcy. [But] it seemed like a big marketing thing to sell these products in these stores and to show people these are the gay-friendly businesses -- and they didn't want anyone to offend those customers."
For his part, parade organizer Ballard, who also serves as AGLCC's membership director, says the quote heard 'round the world was, in fact, a misquote that many people apparently took out of context. "In visiting with [the Statesman reporter] ... what she asked me was, what type of parade it was going to be," Ballard said. "I said it was going to be a parade celebrating diversity and that there would be all walks of life, adults, children, whatever [people] see fit. I mean, I am a female impersonator, and I've never labeled any group, and I won't." Which, of course, sounds little like what the Statesman wrote.
Nevertheless, Ballard says parade organizers did come up with a dress code for the affair, because participants likely would encounter children along the route. Furthermore, he asserts, McShoe was part of the AGLCC's parade organizing committee, and never told the group she opposed the code, which ruled out outfits that might be demeaning to the community. (McShoe claims she attended the first meeting only, and never heard of any dress code.) Also a no-no: Clothing that failed to comply with state or local obscenity statutes, including bottoms smaller than jogging shorts for men and see-through clothing for women. (Note: In Austin, women are permitted by law to go topless.) Enforcement of the code's provisions, Ballard said, was left up to on-scene parade coordinators.
While Ballard said he did not attend the parade the night of the altercation between McShoe and the organizer, McShoe's attire broke two of the parade rules. No. 1, her breasts were visible through the Saran-Wrap. And No. 2, the dildo simply was "not appropriate, and not a positive image of the community." But it is precisely that sort of notion that irritates both McShoe and Hobbs. "So drag queens are normal, boys in hot pants with no shirts and bulging crotches are normal, but we're not?" Hobbs asked.