Things We Heard Too Often in 2013 That I Never Want to Hear Again, Ever

stop sign2013 can’t end soon enough. The continuing rise of 24-hour news cycles, government partisanship and ineptitude, celebrity worship, and blind consumerism has run rampant. Just switching on the news most mornings makes me want to go drown myself in the toilet—before I’ve even had coffee. The decline of western civilization continues to accelerate unabated. I’ve come to begrudgingly accept that. Certain stories and phrases quickly went from overexposed, to downright abused ad nauseam.  Below is an incomplete list of stories and phrases that can promptly fuck right off and go burn in Hell (but I know they won’t). I hope we never have to hear about or read them EVER again. Feel free to add YOUR most loathed stories and phrases in the comments below. Please, have a safe and Happy New Year!

fireworks animated gif

debt ceiling
fiscal cliff
transvaginal ultrasound
anti-abortion
legitimate rape
job creators
Super PAC
Tea Party
Rand Paul
Rush Limbaugh
Sara Palin
Michelle Bachman
legitimate rape (again)
Obamacare
Benghazi
Muslim Brotherhood
birther
tax haven
war on Chritianity
war on Christmas
Black Friday
twerk
Kardashian
Duck Dynasty
reboot/remake
Batfleck
Belieber
stand your ground
stop and frisk
affluenza

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PAX Prime 2013 Mayhem!

PAXLogoEvery summer, video game companies and gamers from around the world descend upon Seattle for the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX Prime). PAX Prime is the largest nerdy convention to take place in Seattle. The event not only occupies all the space at the Washington State Convention Center, it also manages to branch out to other local venues like the Paramount Theater and Benaroya Hall. Elaborate industry parties take place every night around town before, during, and after the event. The entire thing is just a massive spectacle that one has to witness firsthand to fully appreciate.

Securing passes to PAX is a clusterfuck of the highest order. In past years ticket servers have crashed leading to mass anger and confusion. Months ago, badges for PAX Prime 2013 went on sale and promptly sold out in an hour flat. As they went on sale during the middle of the day on a weekday, many people (such as myself) who happened to be at work had no chance to buy tickets directly. Scalpers start posting badges for sale on the internet for three to four times their face value almost instantly. This year I was fortunate enough to secure a Friday badge from a friend at face value the morning of the event, won another one on Ebay for face value, and actually scored another day’s badge for $5.08.

On short noticed I arrived at the Washington State Convention Center Friday morning to meet my friend and pick up my badge. My hair was still wet from a hasty shower and my coffee hadn’t kicked in yet. Slightly panicked that it was so loud she couldn’t hear me on the phone, and I in turn couldn’t hear her, we nonetheless finally managed to meet up. She had been waiting in line since an ungodly for the doors to open and be one of the first people in. To complicate matters, no banks were open yet, and I of course didn’t have correct change. She had left her purse back in the queue, so she told me to just follow her back there and we’d sort it all out. This was easier said than done. Convention Center staff would not allow her to go back in, citing new rules this year and instructing her to go to the back of the line. I felt horrible. The entire incident played out like some twisted comedy sketch. Every staff member instructed her to speak with a different staff member three feet away. After speaking to a dozen different people in about two minutes, they started telling her to talk to the original person who had set this whole chain of events in motion. The entire thing had a very “Who’s on first?” vibe to it. Finally a nice gentleman agreed to escort us to her place in line, but warned that if her bag wasn’t there he’d escort us right back out. Thankfully everything worked out in the end.

PAX 2013 statue

With five minutes until the doors opened (and because I’m a horrible person) I just stayed in this prime spot in line. Nervous staff members reminded everyone not to run when we were allowed inside. Camera crews jockeyed for position to capture the mayhem. The “do not cross” tape was lifted and the mad scramble began. The writhing mass of humanity surged forward like a tsunami. I heard screams from behind me and looked back just in time to see multiple people fall and be trampled. “Those poor bastards,” I thought. Nothing could be done to help them at that point. I comforted myself with the thought that they’d surely respawn in a couple of minutes.

So why the insane push and uncivilized behavior? Sure, some people were eager to get their hands on the games. Many others were more interested in making sure they got their “con swag.” Con swag loosely translates to free, first-come-first-served trinkets which are given away by the different companies. There’s usually nothing very special about these trinkets besides the fact they are “PAX Prime exclusives” and you can only get them here. Within hours these items would begin appearing on Ebay. Nearly all of the items are little more than an attempt by developers and publishers to make sure attendees remember their products once they get away from the shock-and-awe of the show floor. Most attendees will not think twice about cutting ANY motherfucker that stands between them and the opportunity to get free stuff. Consider yourself warned and exercise the proper level of caution.

The first half an hour of PAX is the most pleasant time of the entire day. You can actually get your hands on quite a few games without waiting in ridiculous lines. If you want to play any games, the majority of your time at PAX is going to be spent waiting in lines to do so. Expect to wait anywhere from 15 minutes up to 2 hours in exchange for 5 minutes of actual gaming. I’m pretty sure some of the lines even have lines. It can be confusing. I highly recommend asking someone who is working the event which line goes to what, or you could easily end up waiting in the wrong line. At least most of the lines were set up in a manner which doesn’t impede foot traffic (attendees pushing and shoving or staring blankly at their phones took care of that).

I tried to get hands-on time with as many PS4 and  Xbox One games as I could. Obviously, neither system has been released yet, so PAX offered me my very first opportunity to check out the next generation of console gaming. I liked what I saw quite a bit. While higher frame rates and advanced particle physics lays the foundation for what we can expect from next gen consoles, the new games don’t completely blow current games out of the water quite yet. There’s a definite polish to the new graphics, but they aren’t as dramatically superior as one might expect. On the PS4 I played demos of: Killzone Shadow Fall, DriveClub, Blacklight: Retribution, and (I can’t believe I have to type this) Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Xbox One games I played included: Battlefield 4, Ryse: Son of Rome, Killer Instinct, and Forza Motorsport 5.

Some of the other biggest, most highly-anticipated games were also in attendance, but not for hands-on demos. The very first game I rushed to see upon entering the expo was Sucker Punch’s inFamous: Second Son. As a huge fan of this series, I’m elated that the next installment is set in a police state controlled virtual Seattle. About 14 other people and I were ushered into an enclosed booth with a large screen and metal benches. What we saw was about one minute of new footage, followed by a live play-through of the demo which looked identical to footage that came out months ago at E3. It was so close it could have been the exact same footage with someone sitting in the room with a controller pretending to play, and I would have been none the wiser. I couldn’t even inspect the tech at the front-left corner of the room to determine if this demo was actually running on a PS4 or was still running on a PC build equivalent. Nonetheless, I still remain excited to play the game. Con swag was pressed into our hands as the demo came to a close, the door opened, and we returned to the show floor. Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag had similar setups (but with the opportunity to dress up like a pirate for a photo op in the case of the latter).

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag PAX booth

The PAX Prime show floor is truly awe-inspiring. Gaming is the largest entertainment industry in the world, and judging from how elaborate the presentations were, business is booming. Giant screens, massive statues, and concert quality lighting rigs lend the entire scene a surreal Vegas-like atmosphere. Explosions boom out of powerful audio setups from every direction. Even at 10:30 in the morning, the overpowering scent of gin and vodka hangs heavily on a surprising number of attendees. You get the impression that many people won’t get much sleep throughout the entire expo. Ironically, the PlayStation and Xbox areas were set up directly across from each other. I imagined all the fanboy internet flame wars coming to a bloody head right here in one giant Battle Royale. I tried to snap a couple of pictures in the Xbox section and was quickly approached by one of their reps and asked politely not to. I raised an eyebrow, looked over at multiple people with their phones out recording videos of the demos, and responded with, “Sure. No problem.” Bethesda’s set up stretched the entire length of the eastern wall of the expo. Elder Scrolls Online ran on dozens of screens. It looked amazing. Bored looking “booth babes” handed out swag and looked like they’d rather be anywhere else.

PAX 2013 statue

A couple of hours into the convention I had started thinking about all the germ-laden hands touching all those controllers, mice, and keyboards. The thought of all those sweaty heads putting on those headsets made me shudder. Surely it was unavoidable that I was going to contract some nasty form of SARS or ebola. I promptly went out to buy some Purell in a feeble effort to avoid “con crud.” By the first night my throat was already scratchy. By Sunday my voice was little more than a pathetic croak.

It would take me an entire novel to detail all of the awesome things I saw at PAX Prime 2013. This post was just meant to offer a general overview, and hopefully make you smile in a couple of parts. There were droves of journalists in attendance again this year. (And not just lowly people like me sitting at a computer and writing. “Real” journalists, live up on stages, wearing tons of makeup and mugging it up for the cameras). I’m not sure how much actual news is going to come out of this year’s PAX, but it was a fun and exhausting event nonetheless. My friend, Dan Morrill, has posted a bunch of great event and cosplay photos over on his Studio5Graphics site. Be sure to check them out. Got any funny PAX stories or random commentary? Feel free to share them below. As always, thank you for reading and your continued support. I’m off to drink some lemon tea and rest.

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Homeless Outreach With the Rain City Superhero Movement

RCSM logoThis week I had the pleasure of officially meeting and going on a homeless outreach/walk-along patrol with Phoenix Jones and members of the Rain Hero Superhero Movement. For now I wanted to write up an account of the night here on my blog where I have complete editorial control. I have been assured that citizens who make the effort to actually go out, participate, and learn firsthand what the RCSM is all about, will be given priority for such opportunities in the future. With that in mind, I decided to stay attentive and in the moment, not even bothering to take the notepad, camera, or digital recorder out of my bag during the patrol. The patrol was live-streamed on two channels (here and here), so I figured I could always go look them up if I really needed to.

I arrived at the designated meeting place (near one of Seattle’s most iconic landmarks) with a pack full of sandwiches and Star Wars fruit snacks at twenty minutes before midnight. Waiting in the warm night air, I pondered how surreal it was that after all the years of reading comics and writing hundreds of articles about them, I was about to meet and go on patrol with people who had taken inspiration from the concept of superheroes and made it into a reality. At times these people are written off by the press and general public as silly, or worse… Indeed, many hatchet-job articles have been written about Phoenix Jones by writers who clearly knew what kind of piece they were going to write before even meeting him. I’ve met Phoenix and other members of the RCSM on many occasions (even back when he wore a fedora and didn’t have a proper suit), but never for more than just a quick handshake, “hello,” or photo. Being a writer who lives here in Seattle, I’ve also written quite a few news articles about him as well, though I always made an effort to stay fair and objective while doing so.

RCSM members started showing up right on schedule. Midnightjack arrived first and quickly located the other guests who would be coming out on the walk-along. He briefed us on the night’s patrol, answered questions, and proudly showed us various gadgets from his extensive utility belt. Soon Evocatus (“Evo”) in his wicked metal helmet that looks like something out of the Dead Space video game series, and Evasius (“Eva”) arrived. Team medic, Aqua Stone, (who actually works during the day in the medical field) appeared. El Caballero, rocking a wild green and purple getup topped off with an easy smile and a purple helmet, arrived. Before long an impressive contingent had, ahem, “assembled.”

While waiting for Phoenix to arrive, all the guests were patted down to ensure that we weren’t carrying weapons. I admit, this step in the process kind of surprised me. At first it sounds like an unorthodox policy, but if you think about it, it actually makes sense from a safety standpoint. Things could go sideways real fast if some jackass was packing a gun or something. Phoenix arrived just as the last pat-down was completed and grinned, remarking, “Sorry about that, but there’s people who would like to stab me again.” He has a great sense of humor and cracks lots of jokes, but I’m still not positive if he was joking about that or not.

Everyone was introduced and the night’s plan was laid out. We would make our way through downtown Seattle, hitting various places where homeless people camp out, and offering them food and water.

Phoenix addressed us all without wearing his cowl. His secret identity was blown long ago (though honestly, with a little research, it wasn’t impossible to figure out). Maybe that’s one reason why fans and the press really latched onto him in particular. Whatever the reason, he’s a perfect spokesman for the movement. He’s naturally charismatic, genial, and savvy.

Phoenix Jones Ustream art

Even though I often do homeless outreaches on my own, I was a little worried that as a writer, my motivations for coming along on this patrol might be suspect. Like I said before, in the past certain writers have been, shall we say, “less than kind,” when it comes to covering Phoenix and the RCSM. Any doubts I had were quickly discarded, as every person on patrol that night proved to be quite genuine and outgoing. Nearly everyone made an effort throughout the night to talk with me individually and make me feel welcomed. There was a definite spirit of comradery within the group which was quite infections. Stories were exchanged and jokes were cracked, but all the while everyone focused on staying safe and the tasks at hand. These were sincere, kind people, out feeding the homeless—and inviting other people to come along. That level of charity and transparency is a far cry from how real life superheroes are often portrayed in the media.

While Phoenix is the spokesman for the RCSM (and clearly the most well-known member), the overall team dynamic is important and often overlooked. Even I have been guilty of this in past articles, mentioning the other members and the RCSM as a whole, but usually in passing. When writing for a national or international audience, many readers might not be familiar with all the RCSM members—but chances are they have probably heard of Phoenix. Throughout the night, I really came to understand just how important the team dynamic really is. Each member has individual assignments and a role to play to ensure that everyone stays safe. Without a team, there’s no possible way we could have packed along as much food and water as we did—thus feeding that many more homeless people.

After a successful stop in nearby a park to distribute supplies to those who wanted them, we headed south towards Pioneer Square. Along the way the crew playfully gave Midnightjack a hard time about his belt full of gadgets (“How many hands do you think you have? Have you ever even used that baton?”), while reflecting on the past. There isn’t really a handbook for what these people do, and you can tell their experiences have taught them a lot throughout the years. Phoenix told me a story about the first time he found a dead body. Surprised, he started preforming chest compressions on this corpse (already stiff with rigor mortis). Legal precedent mandated that once he had started performing chest compressions on someone (whom he quickly realized was well beyond saving), he was obliged to keep it up until paramedics finally arrived.

I asked Phoenix about he and his wife’s (Purple Reign) recent trip to the UK. “Did you feel safer patrolling over there due to the tighter restrictions on firearms?”

“Not really,” he answered, “Lots of people over there carry knives.” He admitted they really didn’t get to see much crime during the trip (not even the UK’s infamous soccer hooligans), then went on to tell a funny anecdote about a visiting British constable turned real life superhero.

Many of the stories told were similarly humble. People have accused the RCSM, and Phoenix in particular, of only pursuing this path for attention. That accusation just doesn’t jive from what I observed. If anything, being a member of the RCSM requires quite a personal investment of time, training, and resources for equipment. If these people were only in it for some personal gain, why not sign on for the rumored reality TV show offers? Why debate and decide against company logos on their suits to help cover the costs? Why would they remain so dedicated to helping others after all this time if their hearts weren’t in the right place?

Further evidence that the RCSM has sincere motivations can be found in their sharp knowledge of the city. The patrol took us through neighborhoods that I have been walking through for over a decade, and I was really impressed by their knowledge of individual homeless people, local street dealers and shady characters, business owners, residents, and the police officers who work these beats. The only way to know such things is to spend MANY hours out there pounding the pavement—which the RCSM clearly has.

After hitting a nightly homeless encampment on the outskirts of Pioneer Square (where a former collar leered uncomfortably at Phoenix), we made our way to a park on the waterfront where many homeless people camp out. Again, this shows an intimate knowledge of the city and its homeless residents. A few months ago only a few people could usually be found camping in this park. With the influx of homeless people which happens here every summer, the park is now a hotspot. The beautiful scene of lights reflecting off the obsidian waters of the Puget Sound, with majestic multi-million dollar skyscrapers rising up to the east, stood in stark contrast to the number of people calling this place “home” for the night. Everyone was warned that this park could be rough (indeed, a man who had previously attempted to stab Phoenix was camped out here) and instructed to partner up and stay safe.

Phoenix told me how he had once come across a man openly shooting up here during another homeless outreach mission. What he said next surprised me a little. He talked about how he originally had a zero tolerance policy towards street addicts, but had quickly come to see how that ideology didn’t work in practice. The police couldn’t do much, and jail wouldn’t really help these people either. He now embraces a more progressive harm-reduction stance, offering people information about how they can get help. Apparently a few people have even taken him up on it. I find it encouraging that a person who is actually out on the streets seeing these circumstances firsthand can make that leap in logic so quickly. I wish America’s ineffectual war on drugs could catch up as fast.

Finally out of food, the homeless outreach portion of the night was drawing to a close. We regrouped and plans were discussed about how to help homeless people more in the future. The weather will change here in Seattle before too long, with blankets, sleeping bags, socks, and warm clothing becoming vital to people living out in the elements. The RCSM was already planning ahead on how to meet this future need. A call was put out through the live-streams, and plans were made for a supply drive through social networks. Plans were also discussed for the next week’s outreach effort.

Evocatus

Evocatus photo by: David Carnahan.

Next we were offered the rare opportunity to come along on an actual crime patrol as the clubs and bars closed in Pioneer Square, which I happily agreed to tag along on. Since this piece is already getting fairly long for the average internet attention span (“Squirrel?!”), we’ll break this account up into two parts. Next time we’ll talk about the actual crime patrol, as well as learn more from RCSM members: Midnightjack, Evocatus, and Evasius. Thanks for reading. Please be sure to follow the various RCSM members on social networks to stay up to date with their efforts.

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Filed under comics, Editorials and Rants, Seattle

The Cat Who Walked Through Death

HD Spirit Cat [Edit] by Zerkiee on deviantART

“For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see.”

                                                                                                                     - H.P. Lovecraft

I’ve always liked the above quote from Lovecraft. As is true with almost all of the authors I enjoy, many interesting quotes about cats can be attributed to him. I have never seen any convincing proof of the supernatural during my lifetime, but I try to keep an open mind. As a firm believer in scientific methodology, faith has never really been my strong suit. However, it’s always inspired my imagination to believe that cats are somehow able to peek through the veil between our perception of reality and the ineffable unknown–and maybe walk through it as well.

This story is about my cat, Vera. She was a feisty, yet sweet, tabby cat who came to live with us as soon as she was weaned as a kitten. We thought she would provide good company for our majestic older black cat, Luna. Though at first it didn’t quite work out as we had hoped (Luna was less than impressed), in a short time they came to an understanding and Vera became an integral part of our family. Vera was always purring like a maniac and the first one to come up and headbutt visitors’ hands, demanding attention. As is tradition in my home, before much time had passed she had a list of nicknames longer than your arm: The Tiny Tabby Tiger Terror, Stripe Power, De Beers, Wooly Bully, The De Beer-a-tar, Thunder Paw, The Dawn of De Beers… And too many others to list. For reasons which I never understood, she loved sleeping in our armpits with her leg cocked up over an arm and a stripey tail whipping a face. Like all cats I have lived with, she enjoyed playing “fetch.” While she wasn’t the sharpest cat by any means (she enjoyed clawing my door jamb, chewing on plastic, and was deathly afraid of any stray sock which might be on the floor), her loving nature more than made up for it.

As a writer, I spend far too many hours isolated in a room working. I don’t have any real friends to speak of. My cats are, honestly, just about my best friends. Vera was the cat who would come in and sit on my lap when I’d been working too long without a break. If that failed, she would climb up my arm, perch on my shoulder like an impossibly chubby parrot, then purr into my face until I started laughing and was forced to come back and check in on the real world for a while. If you have cats, you know the dozens of little things they do which make the world easier to endure.

You might have noticed that I keep referring to Vera in the past tense. A few months back she started acting sluggish and sick. Being poor, we took her to a sliding-scale veterinarian who diagnosed her with pneumonia, prescribed antibiotics, and assured us that she would probably be okay. I hated having to shove those pills down her throat; but when you take on the responsibility of being a pet guardian you don’t have a choice. For her part, she seemed to understand that we were doing all of this to help her. After a couple of weeks she started to show signs of getting better. We breathed a collective sigh of relief. Sadly, her recovery was short-lived. She soon started to decline again, and scraping together all the money we could possibly manage, we made an appointment with another vet. The diagnosis wasn’t good.

I had to work during the time of the appointment, and received the dreaded call from my girlfriend. Vera had stomach cancer. Even if we had been rich, there was absolutely nothing we could do. She asked if the inevitable should be held off until I could be there.

“Is she in pain?” I asked. She was. Doing my best to keep my voice from cracking, I put on my big boy pants and tried my best to put up a strong front by calmly saying, “Well then, making her wait for me wouldn’t really be very fair to her. She shouldn’t suffer any more. Go ahead and let her go.” In truth, that was a big part of my decision—but the other part was that I’m a coward and didn’t want my last memory of Vera to be there, scared, and slipping away into the “big sleep” in vet’s office. I’ve already lost far too many things that I loved which still haunt me. I hung up the phone as tears started streaming down my face right there at work. I tried to hide my distress and stifle my sobs as I quickly made my way to the alley out back. My grief poured out in burning hot torrents as the knife twisted in my heart. Anyone who has ever loved and lost a pet knows these feelings all too well.

Where this story takes a twist began shortly thereafter. Strange things started to happen in our apartment. We both noticed them independently, yet tried to rationalize it all away. Even Luna, our remaining cat, seemed to notice. Eventually it wasn’t so easy to dismiss. We had started to hear familiar noises—the distinct sound of cat food crunching out by the cat bowls—even though Luna was sitting right there next to us. Scratches in the litter box—again, with Luna sitting right next to us. Luna snapped to attention, hearing the noises and staring out where they had originated from, but very uncharacteristically—showing no desire to go investigate. Luna is slightly aloof—as many cats tend to be—yet she started spending all her time near us. Maybe she was just grieving? Maybe, in our grief, we were just imagining things? It seemed like the rational answer. Then things started getting knocked over. We started to feel brushes up against our legs, only to look over and find Luna on the bed far away, but staring intently. She was always staring intently now, but at what we couldn’t determine. These occurrences sound creepy, and they were a little, but more than anything they just felt strange and impossible to explain.

Even as the waves of crushing grief started to subside and I went back to writing diligently, the sounds, brushes against my arms and legs, or the sensation of a cat jumping up onto the bed persisted. Lots of times these things would happen while I was completely engaged in an activity like writing or playing a video game–my mind occupied and temporarily distracted from the grief. To have my attention interrupted by these little occurrences while I was so focused made them even more surprising and harder to dismiss. I just tried to believe my subconscious mind was playing tricks on me, but to be honest, I wasn’t so sure anymore.

One day on a whim, I started to look for accounts of these phenomena on the internet. Sure enough, I found that lots of people claimed to have similar experiences. Where I would have completely discounted these people as kooks or frauds just a few days before, now I read their stories with reserved interest. As I read, I heard the familiar sound of scratching on the door jamb of my room. I looked over to scold Luna, but of course, she was nowhere to be found. Stray particles of paint and wood from a claw mark slowly floated down and settled on the floor.

Finally, we got a call from the vet that Vera’s effects were available for pickup. We made the trip out to pick up her collar, a plaster cast of her footprint, and a small urn. Upon returning home with these items, all of the strange events stopped just as suddenly as they started. I still can’t really explain any of it to this day. I also don’t care if other people believe me or simply write this off as fiction. I sincerely hope (and believe) that Vera found peace. She will certainly always live on in my heart and memories. The beauties, tragedies, and mysteries of the world are always there to inspire us—if only we take the time to observe them with catlike interest.

Dedicated to Vera, a couple of friends on social networks who have recently lost their furry little friends too, and anyone else who knows how that feels.

The opening quote is from The Cats of Ulthar by H.P. Lovecraft (whom, despite some of his antiquated views on certain topics, continues to be a never-ending source of inspiration for contemporary writers).

And yes, the title of this story is indeed a hat tip to Robert A. Heinlein (a writer who has long been another huge inspiration to me).

The image is from Zerkiee on deviantART.

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Filed under My writing, Uncategorized

Thoughts on Pride and ‘What’s next?’

PrideIn the wake of the landmark decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, this past week was a monumental one for the LGBTQ equality movement. With various Pride events taking place around the country just days after the big news, the timing couldn’t have been any better. As I have nearly every year for the past two decades, I attended the Pride celebration here in Seattle. The atmosphere was jubilant and festive. It was almost like a huge weight had been lifted from everyone’s shoulders. The yoke of discrimination and oppression is finally starting to be cast off in very measurable ways. It is, indeed, an amazing period of history to witness firsthand.

With the joy of the occasion in mind, I was somewhat surprised that there seemed to be a lack of powerful speeches to take stock of all that has been accomplished, and remind us of all the work still left to do. Pride in Seattle is a massive event. Perhaps I just missed these speeches. But it seems like I should have at least caught a few given the many hours I attended throughout the weekend.  Overall, it was an incredible celebration. Even some of the corporate businesses transparently taking part in the parade for free advertising didn’t particularly bother me. (Seeing Microsoft’s Warthog from the Halo video games in the parade was awesome!) Corporations have been co-opting and selling gay culture back to the community (and everyone else) for a long time now. That’s just a side effect of any movement which manages to receive mainstream support. I’ve come to accept it. This year’s Pride celebration really inspired me to think back and reflect on how much has changed in such a short period of time, and about what will come next.

IMG_5619

Photo by: Conor N. Wilson. Embedded from his photostream on Flickr.

I attended my first Pride celebration completely by chance in 1992 or 1993. A couple of friends and I had made the trek down to Seattle to buy piercing needles and hang out. Our mission brought us to a little store called “The Cramp” on Broadway. The neighborhood seemed particularly excited and busy. A group of drag queens in the store quickly made last minute makeup adjustments while exchanging hilarious stories. Piercing needles and some bright green hair dye purchased, I asked, “What’s going on up here today?”

The answer was, of course, “Today is the Pride parade, sweetie!”

The Seattle Pride celebration was much different back then. It was held on Broadway in the heart of Seattle’s LGBT community. Many people cried foul when the parade was moved downtown , but I actually think the change made Seattle Pride events much more visible as a whole. The parades and events were smaller back then, but still great fun. I don’t remember many corporate sponsors back in those days. Nor do I remember every bar having rainbow emblazoned banners from liquor companies either. I do, however, remember the overwhelming sense of community which the events still have to this day. I recall seeing many business owners and employees coming out of their own stores to take part in the parade. I remember a seemingly endless procession of “dykes on bikes,” leather daddies, dancers, activists, dogs in costumes… You name it and it was probably there–smaller in scale, but not drastically different than it is today. It was beautiful. I also remember overhearing a few nervous discussions about whether or not the police were going to be a problem and shut it all down. I don’t think anyone back then could have possibly imagined how far we would come over the next two decades.

That first Pride parade really moved me. Living in a small suburb and attending a rural school, I’d already seen quite a bit of hate and bigotry—especially towards gay people. Back then Seattle seemed like such a beacon of reason and compassion compared to where I lived at the time. Even though my love of learning runs deep, I hated school. I am still sickened by the memories of how an openly gay student was treated there. He was the constant target of hate and violence. Eventually it got so bad he moved on to another school. At an assembly about HIV awareness, someone yelled out “faggot” at a gay guest speaker. The student who yelled the slur was not disciplined at all. Another gay student was also viciously harassed, eventually getting jumped and beaten by a group of asshole rednecks one Halloween night. You didn’t even have to be gay to become a target of this behavior. As an eclectic kid with colored hair who never completely fit in anywhere, I think I was called a “fucking faggot” nearly every day of my life for an entire decade. At one point, I too was physically attacked as bigoted slurs rained down on me along with the blows. For better or worse, it’s no wonder so many of us move the hell away from these areas as soon as we get the chance. Though I still think those people are horrible human beings, I do thank them for showing me the true face of hatred and ignorance at such a young age. Seeing that kind of bigotry firsthand helped to shape many of the moral and political views which I still hold today. Nothing makes my blood boil more than people being systematically oppressed–regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, or socioeconomic status.

Equality Flag on the Space Needle

So looking at that torrent of faces which lined the streets of the city, eventually pouring into the Seattle Center to dance and celebrate, I couldn’t help but be in awe of just how far we have come. Police on bikes were very polite, smiled at people, and genuinely seemed to enjoy the parade. (SPD Officer, Bob Peth, and his husband actually took part in the parade, driving a police car with the words “Just Married” written on the rear window.) I was pleased to see that so many open-minded parents had brought their kids out. An equality flag adorned the top of the Space Needle. Rainbow flags swayed gently in the breeze at our sports stadiums. Maybe it was okay to just take a few days and revel in how much has already been accomplished.

But I also think it is important to ask, “What’s next for the LGBTQ equality movement?” While the Supreme Court’s decisions helped clear the way for marriage equality, it also sends the fight to individual states. 29 states with 70% of the U.S. population still have bans on same-sex marriage. DOMA is not dead by any means, some parts of it were just found to be unconstitutional. It’s still up to our broken congress to repeal or rectify the situation—so don’t count on that happening any time soon. We still lack federal anti-discrimination legislation to protect our LGBTQ citizens. People still lose their jobs based on their sexual preference. More court battles are on the way. The religious right is whipping themselves and their followers into a frenzy over these developments. Since Pride always manages to fuse together entertainment and activism, these are issues I expected to hear more about, and was kind of disappointed that I didn’t. Now is not the time for us to become complacent. LGBTQ advocates have some of the strongest grassroots organizations in the country–and that’s good because we’re going to need them. While it’s great to look back and see how far we’ve come, where we’re headed is even more crucial. Keep fighting the good fight.

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