SAN FRANCISCO – Paul Ellis has seen a lot of Gay Pride parades. He marched in Pittsburgh’s first one in 1973 with just 40 other people, flanked by angry residents holding glass bottles and rocks with only two unhappy police officers for protection.
Ellis, manager at Cliff’s Variety Store in the historic Castro district, is part of the generation of LGBTQ activists who fought for basic rights, to get jobs and to avoid arrest. When he most recently attended the San Francisco Pride Parade with his partner, he was shocked by what he saw.
“I stopped and said (to my partner), ‘Do you see any gay people around us?’ And it was like, ‘Oh my God, no,’ ” he said.
They had run into a cultural shift breathtaking in its speed and still something of a disconnect to many in the gay community. In many large cities, Gay Pride marches have become the new St. Patrick’s Day, only with rainbow tutus instead of shamrocks.
The parades in honor of Ireland’s patron saint began as religious celebrations and in the USA date back to the 1700s. They morphed into statements of Irish pride and solidarity, then became an excuse for many to wear green and drink Guinness stout.
When it comes to LGBTQ Pride marches, that same shift has happened in less than 50 years. The streets along parade routes are thronged with groups of people in their teens and 20s, dancing and partying while sporting rainbow-colored wigs, sunglasses and feather boas, along with the ever-present tutus.