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Parade Queen

The day my niece marched for gay pride

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Shirley and Cantor David Berger (Andrew Ingall.)

I wanted to march. I wanted Josie and Maxine to make signs: We Love Our Gay Uncles! I knew my kids would love the parade. Like many seven-year-olds, Josie is obsessed with fighting injustice (not only when it applies to getting an infinitesimally smaller piece of cake than her sister, but when it comes to learning about oppressed groups throughout history) and four-year-old Maxine has a deeply advanced appreciation for rainbows, balloons, and glitter.

I knew they’d enjoy their first march with their two-year-old cousin Shirley. It would be my mother’s first march too. My brother Andy, his husband Neal, my husband Jonathan, and I are all parade vets, but we’d never marched as a family. And our inaugural outing would be at the perfect time—the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. We’d be marching with Congregation Beth Simhat Torah (CBST), where Andy and Neal are members.

Then I got word from Camp Ramah, which Josie would be attending for the first time, that orientation for new families would take place the same day as New York’s gay pride parade. This would be our only chance to check out the camp grounds and staff before Josie attended the camp an hour from home the very next day

We chose camp over Pride.

As I ate my Popsicle and checked out the swimming pool, I felt a periodic pang thinking of the parade route not taken. More specifically, I wondered if Shirley was having fun. How did she do with the Moment of Silence, when marchers hold up ribbons with names written on them of loved one who’ve died? Did she enjoy waving at the onlookers? (She’s an expert waver.)

On the way back from camp, we had dinner with Andy, Neal, and Shirley in a Salvadoran dive in their Washington Heights neighborhood. Shirley was exhausted and kept exploding in toddler hysterics. Between bouts of whisking her outside to protect other diners from her deafening shrieks, Andy told me, “It was really nice to have Mom marching with us. I kept looking over at her and thinking ‘Hey! It’s Mom!’”

Shirley had indeed loved waving to spectators—she’s like a little Queen Elizabeth—and seeing everyone wave back. She adored the flags. Someone gave her a beach ball—bliss. She reveled in the cheering that always greets the religious organizations. My family marched behind the Episcopalians and in front of the Armenians, Andy told me. “Mom bonded with one of the Armenian moms. She said afterward, ‘We share a history of genocide and hairy eyebrows!’”

Between bites of pupusa con queso, Neal chimed in that Shirley was thrilled to march with her idol, CBST’s cantor. She carried a sign that read “Civil Rights for All Gods [sic] Children.” Over the course of the day, my mother became increasingly annoyed by that missing apostrophe. Finally she grabbed the sign from Shirley, pulled a black pen from her commodious purse, and corrected it. My mom: loves gays, hates bad punctuation.

Later that night at home, I looked online at Andy’s pictures from the day while chatting on the phone. “It all seemed so apple pie!” my mother said. She was moved by the marchers from Jewish Queer Youth (“a social/support group made up of frum/formerly frum gay, lesbian, bi and trans Jews age 17-30,” according to the group’s website) looking impossibly young, wearing tzitzit and classic Haredi garb—white shirts and black pants. They carried signs that said, ‘We’re in Every Yeshiva.”

CBST’s contingent had featured Mamacita Rita, an 80-something straight woman who is AIDS Walk New York’s single biggest fundraiser. She winters in Florida and sends Shirley postcards. Andy had a picture of her posing with Michael Lucas, a Russian-Jewish gay porn star. (He has never sent Shirley anything. That’s fine. Really.) Worlds collide at Pride.

There clearly isn’t just one LGBT community.

But families headed by LGBT adults are a formidable segment of society and growing, according to the group Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE). Even the 2000 census finally recognized this demographic, asking for the first time questions about gay couples having children. According to that census, 33% of female same-sex couple households and 22% of male same-sex couple households reported at least one child under the age of 18 living at home. Those numbers don’t account for single lesbians and gay men who have children or for LGBT parents who don’t have primary custody.

On a micro-level, you can see the demographic changes at CBST. Who knew, when it was founded in 1973, that the synagogue would wind up having wildly popular Tot Shabbat services? A Sunday School?

In a recent issue of New York magazine, Mark Harris wrote about the generation gap between older and younger gay men, comparing the perspectives of grizzled 50-something activists and 20-something party boys. Entirely absent were stories of gay men with children.

Children can be a uniting force—bridging generational and cultural gaps—as well as a divisive one. I’ve seen older men at CBST roll their eyes at the chaos children bring to the building. But I’ve also seen how children help forge connections among different communities. Andy and Neal’s social circle has broadened as they meet more families, gay and straight, with kids.

I predict that one day Andy and Neal will have to miss the parade because they’ll have to take Shirley to camp. By then, my own children will both be veteran campers. And that year, I hope, we will march in my brother’s family’s stead.

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Parade Queen

The day my niece marched for gay pride

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