proud in Omaha

I do return to Omaha to join in their pride celebration. My shyness wasovercome by my desire for new experiences, so on Saturday morning I turn myvan westwards again to Omaha.

The parade is happening in Old Town, a neighborhood of old brick buildingsnear the Missouri River. One block of 15th Avenue was blocked off, andthere are booths, a stage, and a beer garden. All of the bars are open, andfolks wander from place to place, hugging old friends and making new ones.

A few hundred folks wander between the booths checking out the rainbow flagstickers, community groups, and t-shirts. This is one of the most exoticcollections of folks I’d seen in the Midwest. There is a couple herdingtheir two children amongst the booths. Under that tree are a bunch of clubkids, looking too fashionable to be out in daylight. One of them winks atme, making me blush. Over there, and there, and there are big ol’ dragqueens. The one over to the left must be 300 pounds and has a beard. Shedefinitely catches your eye in a bright red sequin dress and white ‘pancake’face makeup.

The parade is supposed to start at 1, so of course it starts at 1:30. Imove up and down the parade line, taking pictures. The parade winds throughthe touristy Old Town streets, and most of the tourists stop to watch.After all, you won’t see this in What Cheer or Surprise or Friend. Youwon’t even see it in Lincoln, which doesn’t have a gay parade.

The parade is headed by three women on horseback, carrying the U.S.,Nebraska, and gay pride flags. There aren’t many fancy floats… mostgroups walk or have a pickup truck draped with signs. (There aren’t anyprotesters, either, which are a part of every San Francisco parade. MaybeOmaha is too below-the-radar.)

Next comes Mr. and Miss H.G.R.A. 2002 standing in the bed of a green pickup.I’m guessing that this stands for Heartland Gay Rodeo Association. He’swearing jeans, a white shirt, and a white cowboy hat, while she’s wearing atight black and red dress. (She is a boy, incidentally.)

Then comes a line of young black girls, high-stepping down the street inbright orange, blue, and white costumes and dancing to the beat of a halfdozen drummers.

There is a huge contingent of gay Christians (the Metropolitan CommunityChurch). Folks on the sidewalk applaud and cheer as they pass. (This is,of course, bible country.) They carry banners proclaiming JOY, LOVE, andHOPE.

There is a PFLAG contingent. (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.)They’re driving a minivan decorated with pictures of their gay kids takenwhen they were young. Here (like everywhere) the PFLAG folks get hugeapplause as they pass.

A Green Party member approaches me asking for donations for his candidate.I tell him that I used to be a member of the party, until Republicanshijacked the party and used it to get George Bush elected. He says “Oh,please!” and walks away.

Two dykes on bikes drive on Goldwings, revving their engines and waving.They spot a woman on the sidewalk, straddling a moped and waving. “Joinus!” they yell, and she does, putting alongside the big bikes as the crowdcheers.

At the rally, I catch the eye of a very cute guy passing by and we starttalking. He’s William Lewis from Lincoln, and he’s in town for the parade.We start talking, and I like him right away. We hang out together for therest of the day.

For a while we stand under a tree and watch the post-parade rally. One ofthe highlights is when about a dozen teenagers get up on stage. They’recute kids, girls and boys somewhere between 13 and 18. They come from smalltowns in Nebraska and Iowa, and we’re told they’ve all formed gay/straightalliances at their schools. The crowd applauds them wildly. They smileshyly and look down at their feet, but they’re heroes to us.

It’s hard to be a kid in high school, and incredibly hard to be a gay kid.I vividly remember when Aaron Fricke took another guy to his senior prom inthe next town over from mine. Everyone was talking about it, and most feltthat he shouldn’t be allowed to go. Imagine being 15, and thinking you’rethe only one who feels the way you do. It’s not surprising that gay kidsare at a much higher risk for suicide than straight kids.

Later, William and I check out some of the bars, and they’re incredibly fun.In fact, they’re much better than the bars in San Francisco. There is agreat country western bar, DC’s Saloon, where guys two-step while otherslean against the fence around the dance floor. There is Max, a modern danceclub with multiple rooms and moods, and Gilligan’s Pub, where you can drinkor eat. I’m not quite sure why, but Omaha’s bars are much more fun thanthose in San Francisco.


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