We were standing outside the rails of the patio at a jam-packed Sunny’s Bar Saturday when we heard the song of the day. It was a special day that needed a significant song and when we heard it, we all knew it was perfect and we broke into a jubilant sing-along. By that time, we’d heard plenty of music at Houston’s LGBT Pride Celebration, something we absolutely expected. What is a celebration without music, after all? So, with the knowledge that we all had added reason to commemorate the day and the life-altering events of the day before, we went out to find the music.
Before we got downtown, there was a long car ride and music inside the car. The music I dialed up was Culture Club. That may seem clichéd, even insulting in some way. Really, straight dude? Boy George on your gay playlist?
But the choice wasn’t as obtuse as it might sound. It was heartfelt and personal because 30 years ago, my brother-in-law won a Boy George lookalike contest at the Pride Parade. He famously (in our family anyhow) thanked Houstonians for knowing a great drag queen when they saw one, on camera for Channel 13's news coverage. After that, it was a few short years later before he succumbed to AIDS-related complications. Between those moments, our family – especially my mother-in-law – became entrenched in what was then a struggle for basic human rights for Houston’s gay community. She sewed quilts for the NAMES Project; back then, it seemed she couldn't sew fast enough. She helped start up the Thomas Street Clinic while my brother-in-law tried to live a dignified life in the face of his illness. And after he was gone, she kept working as an advocate for all the friends we would make over those years, even hosting a civil union for a couple in her home. In their eyes and ours, too, they were a married couple. But that was 1992, and their marriage gave them none of the benefits that last Friday's Supreme Court decision should result in.
So, I dialed up “Karma Chameleon” and sang loudly and as off-key as usual. Even the beauty of the moment couldn’t change that.
Those memories honored, we made our way to Big Freedia, performing on a small stage at the festival. It was 90 degrees outdoors and Houstonians dressed for the weather, wearing next to nothing and giving no damns at all. This proved to be exactly what I expected from anyone in the exuberant audience for the Queen of the Bounce, who had little to say about the big news. No proselytizing here – just beat driven butt-movers with repetitive lyrics all designed for celebrating. The most twerk-tastic of all — “Azz Everywhere” — was the theme music for the liberation everyone was feeling.
All of the music wasn’t so celebratory, though. On the Metro Red Line, a drunk with low-hanging pants stood amid a group of paradegoers and sarcastically serenaded them with “Started From the Bottom,” laughing at what he saw as folly. But at least his ignorance was mostly harmless. On a corner of Main and Prairie, a makeshift preacher laid out signs that proclaimed homosexuality a construct of the “white devil.” He was committed enough to his beliefs to record them on his smartphone attached to a tripod, but not enough to preach too near the parade festivities or allow me a photo of him. Closer to the parade, a group of Christian activists engaged in debate with festivalgoers. The debate wasn’t too confrontational, but no one was breaking into choruses of “Kum Ba Ya,” either.
The parade itself featured some music, most notably the Houston Pride Band, which heard swells of cheers when it passed through. The band is “a non-profit, non-audition LGBT/A community concert and marching band” and has been active since 1978, making it a part of every Houston LGBT milestone that has occurred in five decades. Where we took in the parade events, we were posted next to a bus sponsored by Pearl Bar, which this weekend will host the Grace Note Benefit for Montrose Grace Place. And, of course, music emanated from the passing floats and encouraged bead-catchers and sidewalk-liners to dance along.
But, our favorite music moment of the day came at Sunny’s, the friendly bar on Capitol, which was adorned with rainbow flags and filled with loud, laughing and dancing patrons that reminded us of drinking with the locals in The Castro a few years ago on vacation. Inside the bar, we heard Macklemore and Mary Lambert’s “Same Love” and allowed it to soak in, like the beer we guzzled. But, on its sidewalk patio, we met some very nice people celebrating the day and that’s where we heard the ultimate song.
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The group was being regaled with tales from a bar server, an older fellow with a rainbow bandana tied around his neck who told us all that, in the old days, “we were so deep in the closet, we named the tailors.” We all laughed at this, mostly from relief that the times seem to be changing. Some of us lamented in the parade being moved from Montrose to downtown Houston, though the numbers of people that flooded into the area made it apparent this was probably the right call.
We chatted with Justin, who was met by some friends with gleeful, open-armed hugs and face kisses. His partner, Scott, and he were part of a spirited group knocking back shots and Miller Lites in advance of the parade. Out of nowhere, someone in the group started singing the song of the day.
“Love and marriage! Love and marriage! Go together like a horse and carriage, this I tell you, brother, you can’t have one without the other,….” and then, we were all singing that old standard, ecstatic in the recognition that the changes of the moment are in place now to create a new standard.