On June 29, 1970, when The New York Times covered the city's first Pride celebration, then officially known as "Christopher Street Liberation Day," the headline was "Thousands of Homosexuals Hold a Protest Rally in Central Park." The event, which drew thousands of men and women from across the country, was described by organizers as a "gay-in." Harvey Milk was still alive, the now ubiquitous rainbow flag had yet to be designed, and AIDS didn't exist, nor did marriage equality as we now know it.
Four decades later, Pride celebrations across the country have evolved almost as much as the country itself. Pride has always straddled the lines between community meet-and-greet, activist rally, and out-and-proud celebration. Even the most jaded (or intoxicated) Pride attendee recognizes the power of seeing parents from PFLAG march side by side with their children or gay Marines marching in uniform with spouses cheering them on. The activist spirit, an integral part of Pride since the Stonewall Riots that sparked the celebrations in the first place, is still there but perhaps a little easier to miss among all the extravaganza. And, apparently, all that glitter doesn't come cheap.
NYC Pride's website cheerfully reminds visitors that "the preferred credit card of NYC Pride is MasterCard. Show your PRIDE and use your MasterCard at checkout!" With ticket prices for official Pride events and parties in the city ranging from $25 (Advanced Ticket Price for Rapture on the River) to $3,500 (Ultra-Premium Bottle Service Package for Dance on the Pier), one can only hope Visa and American Express holders will be allowed to show their pride too.
Though New York hosts some of the country's most expensive celebrations, the trend is reflected nationwide. The theme in Chicago, one of the more cost-effective celebrations this year, is "Because Bigger Is Always Better." If "Better" and "VIP" are synonymous, you can get a VIP Weekend Pass to Chi-town's Back Lot Bash for $60.
In San Francisco, which is selling $40 and $124 tickets to a three-hour-long VIP Party, more than a few people have accused SF Pride of selling out altogether after the city's Pride committee selected Bradley Manning, currently on trial for involvement in WikiLeaks, as a grand marshal for this year's ceremony and then, hours later, backed down on the decision. The initial announcement angered LGBT military activists who consider Manning a traitor; the reversal has outraged people like Ben Goldstein, who recently commented on SF Pride's Facebook Page, "SF Pride lost the vision and meaning of Stonewall decades ago; today's Pride is beholden to special moneyed interests and will not rock the boat, in order to continue to exist."
One could argue that an expensive Pride Party ticket isn't all that different than paying $16.50 to see a 3-D movie, but movies have never been exclusively linked to activism; Pride — at least in name — still is.
And anyway, if the most basic function of Pride is to bring an increasingly fractured community together, VIP lounges probably aren't the best way to go. Until New York figures out what to do about the 1,800 LGBT homeless teens in New York looking for space in the only 80 beds available, it's hard not to be embarrassed by ticket packages offering "two bottles of SKYY vodka, mixers, a tented seating area, fresh fruit, gift bags and access to the VIP bathrooms." That's not pride, that's hubris.