The long march to LGBT equality includes a few steps down South Broad Street

     A member of the Miss Fancy Brigade performs in front of the Union League on South Broad Street. (Jonathan Wilson/for NewsWorks)

    A member of the Miss Fancy Brigade performs in front of the Union League on South Broad Street. (Jonathan Wilson/for NewsWorks)

    A few isolated incidents at the Mummers Parade do not represent an existential crisis to the LGBT community. How we handle these unfortunate incidents will determine how quickly society evolves beyond these sorry gestures.

    This year’s Mummers Parade marked the 116th anniversary of a venerable New Year’s tradition that gloriously showcases all that is Philadelphia: the good, the bad, and the ugly. This year’s spectacle was no exception.

    First of all, if you’re unfamiliar with the whole Mummer concept, welcome to Philadelphia. Here’s the kindest definition I found online:

    “What’s a Mummer? They’re like glittery human party favors — banjo-strumming, sax-honking, glockenspiel-tinkling — who parade through the streets of Philadelphia every New Year’s Day. That day it doesn’t matter how cold or miserable the weather is — the Mummers are out in force, 15,000 of them, strutting with abandon.”

    The good

    2016 was the year the Mummers Parade made inclusion a top priority. The idea was the parade should better reflect the city of Philadelphia by including blacks, Latinos, and gays in the first Philadelphia Division. It marked a welcome, if overdue, evolution for America’s oldest folk festival. And let’s not forget that women weren’t invited to participate until 1983, so if the Mummers have a somewhat retrograde reputation, it didn’t emerge from thin air. All the more ironic considering the parade is mostly (straight) men in dresses.

    The Philadelphia Division joined the Miss Fancy Brigade, a troupe of (real) drag queens, a dozen strong, at the head of the parade this year. It was a remarkable moment for Philly’s LGBT community to watch the queens in their third year leading off the show. From the Stonewall Riots that kicked off modern gay liberation in the late ’60s, through the AIDS crisis, and still today, drag queens often lead the way when it comes to LGBT history-making.

    The bad

    Ugliness was on display as well. There were Mummers in blackface reacting to the Black Lives Matter movement. An entire comic brigade paraded through town dressed as tacos wearing sombreros. Because, lord knows, you can’t properly make fun of Latinos without donning a sombrero. Yet another comic brigade was devoted entirely to mocking Caitlyn Jenner, whose much-ballyhooed coming-out as a transgender woman was a huge media sensation in 2015. Again it was cheap, throwaway humor that fell flat.

    “Look, this is 2016, it’s not 1960 anymore. Why mock an Olympic hero who was brave enough to share her story?” said Ian Morrison, founder and co-chair of the Miss Fancy Brigade, who performs by the name Brittany Lynn. “Sadly, some marchers forgot they’re representing our great city in a televised parade.”

    Oh, but aren’t we bowing at the altar of political correctness? What about the parody/satire argument? Shouldn’t the LGBT community just “get a sense of humor” about being mocked?

    Therein lies the rub said Morrison, “It’s just not funny. Parody and satire should involve wit and intelligence.”

    Mocking transgender women is not funny. Dressing up as a taco isn’t funny. And blackface?! It’s like the most unoriginal form of racism there is! It’s a lazy mean-spiritedness. The LGBT community is good humored, but if you’re going to roast us or make fun of us, at least be hilarious about it!

    … and the ugly

    Especially outrageous was the news that a gay man named John Holtz was gay-bashed by a gang of “very intoxicated” mummer-clad revelers just a few blocks from the parade route while he was walking his parents’ dog. The attack happened in the Gayborhood, so in a way we’re quite right be feel collectively violated.

    Reaction from the Mummers Association came swiftly:

    “We, the Presidents of the 5 traditional Mummers Divisions, categorically reject expressions of hate and bigotry. That negative behavior and expression has no place in a parade that celebrates family, working people and the hopes for the New Year, and in a parade that has come to represent the City of Philadelphia.”

    Afterwards Morrison, a.k.a. Brittany Lynn, reacted to his fans on Facebook:

    (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = “//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.3”; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));

    Thank you to my friends at the Mummers Association for taking this stance. THIS IS WHY I MARCH-they stand behind us and I'm honored to represent and lead this with my girls!

    Posted by Ian Morrison on Sunday, January 3, 2016

    There’s nothing good about gratuitous racism or homophobia. But a few isolated incidents do not represent an existential crisis to the LGBT community (contrary to many protestations of the LGBT victimhood industrial complex.) How we handle these unfortunate incidents will in large part determine how quickly society evolves beyond these sorry gestures. That said, it never ceases to amaze me how gays can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This should be a teachable moment. But nobody wants to do any teaching. We just want to be outraged. At home. Online.

    John Holtz was an actual victim. Someone who didn’t watch the parade, just sitting at home retweeting breathless outrage? Not so much.

    Besides, “the Gayborhood was empty this year; the streets are usually packed. Where were the gays supporting us?” Morrison mused, somewhat incredulously before answering his own question. “Everyone was home willing to comment on social media, but no one was wanted to cheers us on at the parade.”

    And that’s sad.

    There were calls all over social media, many from the LGBT community, to cancel the parade on account of this year’s ample tomfoolery. That’s not going to happen, and I’m glad. But it’s sad that a few Mummer boneheads keep such discussions going with their behavior.

    My unwillingness to throw the baby out with the bathwater doesn’t mean I’m defending a gay-basher. Or a racist in blackface.  Or a homophobe. I’m just sticking up for Brittany Lynn and the Miss Fancy Brigade who made Mummer history by leading this year’s parade.

    “We have a long journey ahead of us,” said Landon Blake, another of the parade’s drag performers. “This is an effort that 12 drag queens can’t do alone. We need to work together as a community to change the world”

    So now what?

    “I love the Mummers Parade,” said Robert Drake, local radio personality and self-proclaimed No. 1 fan of all things Philly. “The issue has been and continues to be the lack of guidelines and oversight over the Comics Division, and it tarnishes the hard work that thousands of fellow citizens invest annually to participate in what is a true Philly institution. From string bands to fancy brigades, and even to the majority of the comics who didn’t offend anyone.”

    Parade organizers promise that next year’s acts will be vetted to ensure no repeat of this year’s nincompoopery.  

    My message for naughty mummers: This isn’t about who is/is not PC. When you strip wit and intelligence from satire, it’s called stupidity. And if that’s your move, stand by to go unflatteringly viral.

    My message for members of the LGBT community: Outrage without action is outrageous. So how do we create a climate where society rejects the mean-spirited, racist, anti-LGBT gestures we saw at this year’s parade?

    When Jesus tells us to “turn the other cheek” he’s not inviting us to play lapdog to violence or abuse. Turning the other cheek isn’t about victimhood. It’s merely a constructive reaction to a conflict that doesn’t escalate violence. And that’s what I’m pushing rather than some swift demand to take our ball and go home.

    I’m an atheist, but I think Jesus was a smart guy whose advice on this one is worth talking. In the spirit of Epiphany, let’s turn the other cheek if we’re able. It’s a posture of strength, not of weakness. Likewise it would reflect well on the resilience and maturity of the Delaware Valley’s large and diverse LGBT community.

    We survived the AIDS crisis. We’ll survive a few nasty slights at a parade as well.

    Jay Lassiter is a big-mouthed iconoclast from Cherry Hill where he’s currently pushing his left-wing agenda. He’s often in Trenton or Harrisburg agitating for things we’ll all embrace in a decade.

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