The Front Runners organized the first Pride Race in 1982, and this year marks the 36th running of this special race! Beyond the exuberant cheerleading squads and the post-race rainbow popsicles, this race showcases the open hearts and tenacity of all who run. We asked some Dashing Whippets team members to reflect on what the race means to them. Read on to hear their thoughts, from David Valentino’s powerful comparison between the rise of running and the mainstreaming of the gay community, Garrett Burger’s poignant reflection on his first Pride Race, to Tom’s reminder of the discrimination that LGBTQ community still faces, even in New York.
“From oddball outliers to celebrated citizens.” The same statement applies to both the running and LGBTQ community. Gangly gangs of milers who ran the decimated streets of the Bronx and competed with cars in Central Park long before the first marathon in 1970; men and women quietly meeting in West Village bars and clubs away from the harsh judgement of mid-century morality, yearning to find a place they didn’t have to wear a mask. Strict social mores kept both groups underground, but the tenacity and perseverance of the people in both communities eventually allowed them to emerge from the darkness and flourish.
It would be a mistake to equate the complex and intense struggles of both communities to one another, but the parallels between the rise of running and the mainstream embrace of the LGBTQ community are both linked to a common denominator: their members. People who push themselves, people who are relentless, people with vision, a dream. These two groups merge once a year at the Pride Run, a celebration and a reminder of the determination that runs deep in the veins of each competitor that toes the line: gay, straight, or anywhere else in the spectrum, we are reminded that perseverance, dedication, and vision are all that are needed to achieve the wildest goals.
I remember these truths each time I run Pride. Last year felt like a celebration of this dedication. Finally, it seemed like there was a tangible ‘end goal’ in sight after decades of advancement: marriage equality, anti-discrimination laws, open adoption. A corner had been turned for LGBTQ rights in the US, and Pride Run, bursting with color and energy, was a celebration of those achievements and the decades of struggle it took to win them. This year, however, our turbulent political climate overshadows those achievements, threatening to strip back and dismantle the products of hard-won battles.
So this year, Pride Run means more to me than just a celebration of the tenacity of those who came before, it’s a reminder that the each one of us has to continue to persevere, carrying the torch forward to achieve our personal, team, and community goals.
From the time I started running in middle school – which, as for many gay kids, was not the easiest time for me – I’ve always found runners to be a generally friendly, accepting group of people. I think this may be because all runners are freaks and weirdos. I mean, what kind of person chooses to spend their leisure time running, when they could be going to happy hour, sleeping, or playing a sport that calls their competitions “games?” I won’t take the time to explain this much further here, but if you don’t think being a runner makes you inherently weird, then you are as deep in denial as I was for the first twenty-one years of my life. The point is, I have found the running community to be an accepting one. New York being the liberal, gay capital it is, this is especially true of the running community here.
My first Pride Run was my first official runaway bride training run. It was July 27, 2015, the very day after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States of America. Love had finally won, and as President Obama stated, our Union had become a little more perfect that day. So, when I woke up on race day morning, I hopped out of my bed with the same joy and anticipation that I felt as a kid on Christmas. I popped on my Whippets singlet and a rainbow headband, and practically skipped off to Central Park to run the race. Sometimes getting up at the crack of dawn to run a race can be a struggle, but not that morning. That morning I was going to celebrate the triumph of love by doing something I love with a group of people I have always felt welcomed and supported by.
The longevity and success of both the Pride Race and the Front Runners running club that organizes it speak to this support. Front Runners New York was founded way back in 1979, and they organized the first Pride Run in 1982. I’m not sure how the running community treated both the team and the race in their early years, but the mere fact of their existence in less LGBT-friendly times is impressive and the growth they have experienced as acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people has continued to increase is to be celebrated. And with the decision on marriage equality on the eve of the 2015 race, celebrate we did. I don’t remember anything about how I ran that day. All I remember is the joy and the smiles – with lips stained from the post-race popsicles – because we all were running on a day the Union was a little more perfect, a little more gay.
My first NYRR pride run was in June of 2009, the same year I joined NYRR. I hadn’t really made any running friends by that time and didn’t belong to any running team. As I made my way into the corrals I had my usually pre-race jitters, nervously checking the time and helplessly watching my heart rate go up. One of the announcers said something like, “Let’s get a show of hands, who here running is part of the LGBT community?”. While it wasn’t too shocking to see a decent number of hands raised, two things stuck out to me in particular. Number 1: most people who raised their hands showed no hesitation in doing so. Number 2: (which was more surprising to me) those who didn’t raise their hand didn’t seem to care about who did or who didn’t. Yes, it was the pride race and this should be the case, but growing up in an area where being gay, or even mentioning it was unthinkable, seeing so many people acting as if it was nothing out of the ordinary was a surprise to me.
I always reflect on the support of straight LGBT allies at this race every year. There’re always be an opposition. Even as recent as last Thursday, walking home from the track, I had someone mutter something towards me that I don’t even want to mention here. In those instances it feels like that one person represents so much more of the NYC population than they actually do. But thinking back to the sheer number of people who show up at the pride race each year, it makes me realize that most people in the area don’t share those opinions.
The pride race has coincided with some landmark decisions for gay rights. In 2011, the announcement of the NY Marriage Equality Act was followed by the Pride race. The announcement of the supreme court decision to legalize gay marriage the day after its passing in 2015 drew such a loud, positive reaction from the crowd and struck me so much that I almost forgot I was there to run a race both of those years.
I’ve run the race 7 out of the past 8 years. Unfortunately, I forgot to sign up for it this year before it sold out. Now, however, I have the unique opportunity to give back and cheer on everyone running the race, supporting those who have supported me and everyone else who are under represented and can’t earn our right to not be discriminated against without help.
(Editor’s note: You can read more about the history of the race on the Front Runners website here).