When Pride rolls around every year, it is not just the celebration of who we and what we do. It is about remembering Pride celebrations past.
In terms of automobiles, they have been a huge part of the celebration. Whether it is a sponsoring dealer with a small display at the festival grounds or one of various rides that either tow or carry the party down the parade route. Everything from city cars to medium-duty trucks have paraded alongside politicians, community leaders, scantily clad people of all stripes, celebrities, or wannabe celebrities.
We have seen it all, haven’t we?
In my lifetime, I have to admit that the iconic image of the late Harvey Milk riding down Market Street in San Francisco on top of a Volvo 242 was my first marking of Pride and the automobile. Milk did not ride in a convertible, nor did he want to. He was a humble progressive who wanted to change the world, even from his office inside San Francisco City Hall.
It was a Volvo that Milk rode on, waving, shaking hands, welcoming those who have come out because of him (or wondering when they can come out).
That was in 1978. We have come a long way to be there. No one knew how far we would go to get where we stand today.
When I marched in my first Pride parade in 1993 at the San Francisco Freedom Day Parade, I saw a community still fighting for national attention, while fighting a few fires right within the 49 square miles that became the beacon for an entire culture and community. We proclaimed our “queerness” loud and proud, despite every other Pride parade showing our universality instead.
I came to the Bay Area from the San Fernando Valley in 1987 because I knew I could not be both a lover of the automobile and an out gay person at the same time. That iconic image of Milk sitting on top of that Volvo two-door was an invitation to become free away from the bonds of my family. The AIDS virus that wrecked the vibrancy of the Castro, SoMa, and Polk Street neighborhoods kept me away through a chunk of the 1980s.
As we waited our turn to march up Market Street from City Hall (we being a coalition of California State Universities and Colleges of which I became one of the alumni a couple of weeks prior), I noticed how mature our community became. Classic convertibles carried notable personalities from our region: then-State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, San Francisco school board president Tom Ammiano, and other people who had carried us through the pall of the virus and brightened up the beacon of light to those of us in the suburbs.
If we matured as a community, then why were we mad? I knew the answers, but I was some college grad from Marin County, what the heck should I care about what happened on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge? All our contingent cared about was making the hundreds of thousands of people along Market Street in San Francisco know that “we’re here, we’re queer, and we paid too much tuition!”
That became true a week before. I stayed at a collaborator’s place in Sebastopol, west of Santa Rosa. We decided to attend that city’s Pride celebration as a “warm up” to the big one down in The City. At that time, I owned a 1991 Acura Integra RS coupe. It was bought brand new from the local dealer in Corte Madera. I figured it would be the right ride for me at the time, for a student finishing his undergraduate studies.
Like many people back in the early 1990s, I applied a Pride flag sticker on the back bumper of my Integra. This was a way to tell other motorists that we were indeed “here” and “queer,” as we may be. If I did that a few years back, my prized Acura would have been a victim of vandalism somewhere in the Bay Area. Luckily, no one has ever touched my car. Perhaps it was a psychotic alarm that I got installed in it after I bought it.
I told my friend that I will go ahead into Santa Rosa and we’ll meet up somewhere along the parade route. He agreed and I went on my merry way. As I was going eastbound on California Highway 12 from Sebatstopol, I was passed by a raised Jeep CJ-7. It had the same hue of blue as my little coupe, with tires that were as tall as the Integra. The roof was wide open and folded down out of the way. All I saw was a roll bar, a woman’s figure, and a raised fist.
Then, I saw the Pride flag on the back of her speeding Jeep. I think we both knew where we were headed. I knew I lost her well before reaching US-101 and downtown Santa Rosa.
These days, moments like these no longer exist for me. Perhaps I have settled into a life where the automotive world has been an integral part of my gay life. The last five years were certainly illuminating, between meeting fellow enthusiasts, media comrades, employees of the OEMs, people inside the retail side of the business, and other suppliers and goods and services supporting the industry. Each has a story to tell, and there were plenty of stories we shared. These shared experiences are why we are indeed a community.
It is highly doubtful that I will have a repeat of those moments from the past. Not on the scale of that image of Milk riding on top of a Volvo at the biggest celebration of the GLBT community. Nor will I get a big powerful salute from a person in an open-top Jeep, showing solidarity of culture and society. Nor will I be able to march down the street, chanting angrily about paying too much tuition while embracing our collective queerness.
Maybe you will.
When you celebrate Pride, celebrate it the best way you can. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of the kind of vehicle you own, if you own a car, truck, van, or crossover/SUV.
Just be proud.