Pride Parade

Pride Parade

Desfile del orgullo gay

Teresa Di Tore

“Where is the float?” I ask as I look around the skyscrapers surrounding us.

“It says B-4 and that means…right on the left.” Maria looks at the wrinkled piece of paper with a poorly printed map on it. We turn around the block and see our organization’s float. I had joined the Families and Allies group three years ago, when my son came out as gay. I’ve been marching at the Pride Parade every year since then, but this was the first time a family member came with me.

“It looks beautiful!” says my sister Maria, staring at a plywood structure sitting on a pickup truck. The circle shows the outline of Houston’s landscape against a beaming rainbow. I nod thinking of the many hours we spent decorating the float. So many parents who’d just discovered their kids are gay and don’t know how to handle this new situation are here today to show their love and acceptance. Maria laces her slim, but strong dark arm around mine to show me she’s here for me. Her brown eyes are lively moving from face to face, eager to meet the other parents.

“When do we march?” asks Joe’s son. He’s wearing a black leotard and t-shirt and a brightly colored tutu.

“We’re number 100,” Sophie says rolling her blue eyes and waving a huge rainbow feather fan.

“Aw, you guys, don’t you love hanging out with your parents?” asks Sophie’s mom as she hugs her daughter and laughs. She’s been part of the parade for three years now, the same as I have. But my son is not with me. He told me earlier that he’d be in the crowd watching us march.

“He’ll see me now,” I say to Maria crossing my arms in front of me, “and he’ll believe that after three years of trying to understand him, I’m now showing the whole city that I love and accept him.” Maria gives me a sad smile, looking down. She was with me when family members told me it just wasn’t right to be gay. She heard the reproaches and felt the guilt they tried to land on me because they thought I was indulging my son into being immoral.

People are hanging around the float, some leisurely walking; others sitting and visiting. Bottles of water are being passed around. The afternoon is ending, but the heat is still strong and many have been here for several hours.

“We forgot the signs!” says Joe raising his arms in alarm, “Can somebody run to our office and get them?”

“We can’t leave now. The parade starts soon,” says Linda resting her body against the truck. It is hot and sticky, but the sun is beginning to go down and the promise of shade makes everybody sigh with relief. Joe, Linda, and the other organizers have spent the whole day working to make this happen.

“Besides, who wants to walk by the gay haters by the entrance?” says Linda opening her eyes wide. “Even the most seasoned father can’t stand the verbal assault of those guys.”

Maria finds my arm and squeezes it gently. “Can they hurt us?” she’d asked when we passed the entrance earlier this afternoon. I bite my lower lip. I can’t answer that.

“There’s a piece of black cardboard here!” says Linda. “If I can find a knife, I can cut it into pieces to write our own signs. I have white wax pencils that we used on the float. It should work.”

I look at the blank piece of cardboard. “What should I write?” I ask Maria. I touch the surface of the paper with my long fingers, trying to figure out how to express all my feelings in this sign. I see the lines on my hands, my wedding ring. “I fear,” I say to myself, “that my son will be physically attacked.”  I swallow hard and I write quickly in bold letters, pressing my fingers hard till they hurt. This is the best antidote I can think of. I want my son to see my sign in the crowd. I want him to see my words, to see me, publicly loving him. I exhale my pain and look around me.

I see Peter, his white hair plastered to his head in the June heat, quietly leaning against the truck, hugging himself and watching the others writing their signs. “Do you want to write a sign?” I ask him offering my wax pencil. My hands are slightly trembling. He shakes his head no and looks away without a word. Peter has been coming to our meetings for less than a year now and he’s not ready. I know it because in my first year I felt overwhelmed by the parade, worried about who will see you marching and judge youHow . I see Peter’s wife talking to him. She is carrying a “Proud Parent” sign, but he says no to her and she gently squeezes his shoulder and lets him go. She joins other parents in the group.

“Let’s go, let’s go!” prompts Joe and we all start walking down Houston’s streets. A banner painted with our logo precedes the float and I walk right behind it to the left.  I lift my sign up, right above my eyes so that I can see the crowd. “Love you, mom!”  “Way to go!!! Woo, Woo!!” people in the crowd cry as the pitch keeps going up and up until it dies. More waving of the sign and it all starts again. I try to look and smile at them. They are mostly young adults, kids to me, like my son. He is somewhere in the crowd, watching me and all the other parents with me, telling our kids we love them and in spite of our fears, stand by their side.

I look at the hundreds of young faces in the crowd and I wonder what they see. A middle aged, slightly overweight mother with short highlighted hair and dark framed glasses smiling at them. How good am I to hide my fears, the voices in my dreams?  I still remember my aunt saying, “There are no homosexuals in our family.” “He’s just too young, he’s experimenting,” my cousin said. “You raised him well; he’ll get over it. You’ll see.”

I used to look at the gay people in my Friends and Allies group and think that my son was not like them. We were not like them. This sense of otherness remained with me until I accepted that someone very much like me, as much like me as anybody will ever be, is gay. I know it’s hard to understand, to comprehend that deep differences exist with those we so profoundly love. But the moment my son told me he was gay, I was thrown into this reality. I could not deny, find excuses, and refuse to see for long what life was like for him. I was a part of it because he was a part of me. A parent begins to see. All these kids, all the faces in the crowd are as much my children as their mothers’. We are all the same, equal in our needs, desires and love. Different only in form: all the painted faces, the brightly colored hair, the awkwardly daring poses, the bold costumes, the defying sexual innuendos, are there to tell us, “See Me. I exist and need love”. How can a mother say no? I see the phones aimed at my face and wonder where my picture will show up. I think of my friends. Are they in the crowd? Do they see my sign? These are the fears they can’t see. I blink to clear my eyes, and all I can see now are the kids.

A fence separates the crowd from those marching. A young woman leans against it far out, extending her arms, eyes fixed on my face, offering the nicest bead necklace she has. The one made of big white plastic pearls, with a big silver pendant in the shape of a heart. I break the line and go up to her, lower my sign and let her put her gift over my head. “I love you, mom,” she mouths and I smile as brightly as I can knowing deep inside that there is a mother out there that she is talking to, yearning for, and missing terribly. I let that necklace sit against my chest with its weight of love and go back to my place behind the banner thinking of my son.

I realize I don’t know where he is, what side of the road, if he will see me or not. I did not hear my phone that is safely kept in a bag, hanging from my neck. I missed his text, I think, and start searching in the crowd. And as I do this, I wave my sign and the kids start with renewed vigor to call me mom, their moms, all the moms that we embody in this parade. I smile and the hands go up. They want to slap my hand in a ‘give me five’ salute, to honor me for honoring them with my support. I slap these young hands with all the love I have thinking that in our human experience, we are all one.

I can’t ignore the hundreds of kids standing at my side, waiting to see us all march to celebrate Pride. I think of all the phones and wonder who will see my face. Who will continue being my friend and who will hurt me with their words. My arms are beginning to feel really heavy, but I raise my sign high again, and as the crowd cheers, I see a photographer inside the marching perimeter with a tripod and a serious looking camera. He’s snapping pictures of me and my sign. I try to smile, ignore him, and concentrate on the kids. “Is that one of the local papers?” I murmur to nobody in particular. I start to notice all the cameras that are aimed my way. People in the crowd get excited and out come the phones. Who will see me? I wonder. What if some of my friends see my face? The ones I have not told yet, the ones who don’t know. What will they say? Will they be surprised? Will they talk to me again? Will they invite me to their parties? Will they pity me, pray for me? How will I react to hurtful comments? Gently? Snappy, not giving an inch? Will my face be all over social media? Will people I work with know? And the relatives? Oh, God! The ones I haven’t told because I know they’ll be nasty. And the ones that are nice, but will pity me inside. I feel the sweat going down my back and I remind myself to hold my chin up, to be proud, and to show what’s in my heart no matter what. Don’t drive yourself crazy, I warn myself and smile to the crowd. There, cameraman, take the picture of this smiling mom.

I can’t see my son in the crowd and we’re almost in the last block. I strain my eyes, I want to find him, but my arms are achy and my fingers feel chapped. One more turn and we’ll reach the end. We pick up speed. I raise my head again and rush to make a turn. The crowd gets louder, my hair is dripping and my feet are sore. I wave my sign and the loud cheering begins again.  In the middle of all that indecipherable noise I hear “MOM, MOM, MOM” over and over again. It’s coming from the other side of the road. “What’s going on?” I think. I turn to look holding my sign way up high. It reads: Proud Mom!  And there, among the hundreds of faces I think I see my son. But it’s so dark, I might be wrong. Hands go up waving at me, I see his boyfriend who is taller than him. I look again and then I’m sure. “That’s s my son!” I say to the air.  “Yes, that’s him!” says Maria waving her hands and jumping up and down. And out of me comes a feeling of such profound love that makes me raise a hand and throw an exaggerated kiss to them, hoping they’ll see me. And they do, and send the kiss right back to me.

I keep on marching, knowing that the one who has the best part of my heart saw that part of me written on my sign. I’m bouncing now, happy to be tired and sweaty, so entirely pleased to be here. I look back at the rest of my friends marching with me and I see Peter, next to his wife, holding together their Proud Parent sign. I raise my sign, the crowd keeps cheering till the end of the line. I hug my sister and my friends. My beautiful, wonderful friends who honor their kids and all the gay people in this world. Without them, I would have never gotten to the place of love where I live today. I notice my cell phone hanging on my neck. I put my sign down and scrawl through the messages till I find my son’s. He texted: “Love you, mom.”

*Foto de Mercedes Mehling en Unsplash

Teresa Di Tore is a writer/translator who writes short stories and flash fiction in both, English and Spanish. She holds graduate degrees in Literature in both languages. She also volunteers to help parents of LGBTQ+ youth build relationships of love and acceptance with their children.
An active member of Rose Mary Salum’s Writing Workshop, she is currently working on a collection of short stories.



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