A rotating canvas of people. A moving stage. Thousands of spectators bonded by patriotism, pride, concern, or support. These words have described every parade I’ve attended, from marching with the Shippensburg High School Band in the Shippensburg Halloween Parade down King Street to rushing onto the street in Avignon, France, to watch protestors demonstrate against France’s signing of the European Union constitution in May 2005. The same energy — forceful, certain, proud, joyful, and sure — was palpable at the NYC Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, June 24, 2012, which ran the length of Fifth Avenue from 36th Street to the West Village. Some estimates suggested that the entire Pride Week festival would draw 1.5 million visitors.
This young boy and his mother were standing near the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street, both sporting rainbow colors. I saw the boy first. He was sitting illegally on the barricade (like I was), fingering a rainbow-colored mohawk of a hat. He put it on and took it off, staring sometimes at the crowd and sometimes at his mother, listless, a little bored. I didn’t blame him. Growing up, parades were no fun unless someone was throwing candy — and even if I as a kid had attended a parade that represented the controversial topic of sexual choice, I wouldn’t have noticed (after all, some conservative groups condemn Halloween). A parade is a parade; any disapproval of the subject would have to be taught. But then I saw the boy’s mom, wearing a black abaya. She waved a flag and intently watched the street. She was not bored; she was there very intentionally.
In two ways, these photos defy conservative expectations, marking both mother and son as symbols of a growing change. First, gay rights are especially supported among individuals under 30 years old, meaning that eventually, acceptance is what our generation will overwhelmingly teach our children. None of us were conscious of how attending church as a child (if we did) or reciting Bible verses at day camp (if we went) shaped our current being; similarly, the child in this photo will likely grow up respecting homosexuality because of his exposure to it. If this child attended the parade, how many other children were there — 10,000 out of 1.5 million? 100,000? Will the generation that follows us shake our heads at our prejudice in the same way we shake our head toward racial violence in the 1960s? (Due to rapidly-increasing shifts in attitude, E. J. Graff, author of the op-ed “Will You Marry Me?” in the July/August issue of The American Prospect, expects that same-sex marriage will be granted within less than a generation’s time: “in a decade at most.”)
Second, this photo challenges the notion that Islam is a religion that acts on the overarching oppression of the underrepresented. As in Christianity, there are various interpretations of Islam which hold ranging stances on homosexuality, meaning that this woman’s presence at this rally is interesting, not earth-shattering. “The photo [does show] more diversity among Muslims than this country’s media usually allows,” writes my friend Kara, who has lived in Cairo and Pakistan and blogs on politics and culture. “Islam is portrayed as a monolithic religion which people follow in only one way. But … social-political culture has a lot to do with how religion is manifested–not just the other way around.”
It’s a relief to see several segments of the population who are not typically represented in media — Muslim women and children — showing support for gay pride. The implications are an America in which we are less afraid of these taboo subjects of religion and love, one in which we address all of these issues to our children. In attending this rally with her son, this woman simultaneously challenges our assumptions about Islam, sexuality, and gender — to our benefit.