The GLT weighs in...
Okay I just read the editorial and I got chills! Finally! I had emailed Russell (the editor) my commentary piece and, now that he got more info, he really went for the jugular! Hooray! Hooray!
Pride's Minor Problem (editorial from the GLT)
Pride announced recently that youth 17 and under will no longer be allowed to enter the annual Pride festival without being accompanied by a parent or guardian. Following last year’s Pride scandal – in which three volunteers, one staff member and the clown from Pride’s children’s garden were discovered to be registered sex offenders – the community anticipated a few changes, but Pride’s move to exclude unaccompanied youth from the festival caught many, including us here at the Gay & Lesbian Times, by surprise.
We spoke to Ron deHarte, Pride’s new executive director, about its new interim policy – interim because deHarte admits it may be a temporary fix for this year’s festival until a better solution is found. deHarte said that Pride is responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for everyone who attends the festival. The moment unaccompanied youth enter the festival grounds they become Pride’s responsibility – and a total liability, he said. Pride can neither effectively monitor this group of roughly 100 youth (by Pride’s estimate) nor ensure their safety.
But what does Pride want to protect our youth from? deHarte assured us that this policy is in no way a response to last year’s events. He said a risk assessment was recently conducted that revealed potential risks for youth. When asked specifically what youth are at risk for, deHarte gave a general statement about the issues (left undefined) that come into play any time 40,000 adults mix with 100 or so unaccompanied youth. The word pedophile was never mentioned, but isn’t that what Pride’s afraid of? Youth can get into all kinds of trouble, sure, but this new policy has everything to do with last year’s controversy, and to expect the community to believe otherwise is insulting.
Pride is working out the details, but it plans to make every parent or guardian sign a wavier before entering the festival grounds stating they are responsible for the well-being of their child. Make no mistake, this policy sends the message that the gay community cannot be trusted around youth. By adopting this policy, Pride has essentially sided with the religious right that says we can’t be Boy Scout leaders, teachers, coaches or even parents.
Community outrage over Pride’s new policy motivated signature-gathering efforts that collected more than 600 signatures in protest, and since its announcement, letters to the Gay & Lesbian Times critical of the policy have remained steady.
We contacted L.A. Pride board president Rodney Scott to see how other Pride organizations address this “liability.” Scott said he wouldn’t comment on San Diego Pride’s policy, but said they support its mission and objectives. He did say, however, that L.A. Pride does not have such a policy and is not in a position “to even think to create a similar policy.” L.A. Pride’s approach is to include youth, he said.
“Our Pride structure is about empowering as many people as possible,” Scott said. “We believe we must show our rich, diverse community in all of its grandeur. We’ve been working to strengthen the organization. To strengthen our presence in communities that don’t always feel included.”
To do this, L.A. Pride has devoted space within their festival specifically for youth, including a substance-free zone and a youth-empowerment zone called the Peer Party, providing youth-specific lectures, activities and entertainment. Their approach actually seeks to increase youth’s presence by reaching out to high schools with Gay-Straight Alliances and GLBT-related groups.
L.A. Pride is a ticketed, private event much like San Diego’s and has an adult-only area for content that may be inappropriate for attendees under the age of 18.
The hit Pride took last year shook the organization and the entire community. And everyone – the Gay & Lesbian Times included – wishes only to support and encourage the organization. However, this policy is not the answer. Many GLBT youth struggle with who they are, and therefore can’t or are not ready to go to a parent or guardian. Those who do may not have willing, supportive family members, and in some cases may be even further ostracized.
Scott said something during our conversation that resonated with us: Now, after 25 years of AIDS, with the pandemic still ravaging our community, Pride is an opportunity to connect with youth, provide much-needed education and access to services, and to show those who are struggling that they are not alone.
Pride is more than a parade or a festival. It’s an idea – a movement. It’s about hope and community building, and affirming our right to exist equally and openly in a world not so accepting. For many, Pride is the first time in our lives we truly feel accepted; that moment of realization where we say to ourselves, “I am going to be OK.” Exclusion has never been part of our Pride celebration.
Pride’s heart is in the right place, and we commend the organization for putting the safety of our youth ahead of all other priorities. For that, we should recognize that this is an organization hard at work for the community’s best interests. If this truly is an interim policy, let’s work together to structure the festival in a manner that is inclusive of all but is also safe and secure for all.