Let’s Talk About … IT

Starting somewhere around 2006 an active member of the community named Mario Cisneros started a gay pride parade event that would begin at the foot of the man and wind into the city. It was usually a well turned out event because politically there was a lot still going on in the United States and in some other parts of the world where LGBT and other sexual self identifying people were struggling for rights and not to forget Mario’s flare for getting people together.

Burning Man Gay Pride
Mario: Left Side of Screen

Mario was part of Moonbow camp. It was, at least for a period of time, usually found near 3:00 and C in Black Rock City and was where the original Official Queer Burner Meet & Greet was before it moved over to the Down Low Club. All of this was done, at least through 2016, in Mario’s memory thanks to several members of the community struggling to keep it alive.

Mario Cisneros
Mario Cisneros

In 2014 the popularity and attendance started to wain and the organizer tried to update the concept to make it more interesting to the community at large but it never really caught fire. Mario passed in 2012 so from 2012 to 2015 Toaster from the Sun Guardians Village tried mastering it with a more pub crawl / parade vibe. Justin from Camp Proper took over in 2016 and had about the same, perhaps slightly better success than what Toaster finished with.

What Happen to LGBT Pride at Burning Man?

When talking about LGBT Pride in Black Rock City there was a dichotomy that was grossly apparent even in a part of the city that has been traditionally called the Gayborhood (to Rainbow Road for inclusivity). On one hand there was a thought that ALL burners were playing on the same field and there was no more us versus them. In fact, the powers that be at Burning Man Headquarters have stated they want to see queer camps dispersed through the city.

On the other hand, there are a lot of Queer Burners who have asked the Burning Man Organization to keep the queer neighborhood in tact for reasons of safety and security which has already been discussed in previous posts on this site. There was a theory that LGBTQAI feel threatened physically and emotionally on various levels; specifically female and non-conforming gender identities based on a recent survey (May 2016 by the Queer Burner Leadership Network); that the close quarters of Queer Camps help created a layer of safety and refuge for vulnerable queers and women.

The various positions on Pride at Burning Man made even a seasoned queer pause and doubt the importance of celebrating ones social/sexual self as opposed to others. The drive behind pride, at least within the fence around Black Rock City, became lost in the dust at some point.

Why Pride?

Why to Burning Man of all places? Most people think of Burning Man as the adult playground of love and harmony. EVERYONE loves each other and free hugs abound. This is the story that touches every soul who is compelled back annually and let nothing get in their way. All of that is absolutely true.

The dark underbelly of that has been physical and sexual assault that has resulted in a powerful and present campaign by great organizations like BED (Bureau of Erotic Discourse) and Safe Place.

But back to pride… there are a lot of old queerdos that go to Burning Man who are 80 years old and there are a lot of young people who never saw those battles in the streets for equality. To some Stonewall was an honorable mention in a history book (maybe) or something written on a rainbow flag they saw in June (gay pride month).

  • In our lifetime, even today, a person can be killed – loose their job – be thrown out of their home – all just for being LGBT. It does not matter what your age is. This happens today.
  • In our lives we queers are often forced by survival to choose our own faemily (spelling intentional) because the ones we were raised with cannot relate.
  • Queer teens are, as long as records have been kept, have the highest rates of suicide.

Pride, even if YOU as an individual don’t need it in the moment, that you know you have a softer place to go to if your other system fails. It is a light, rainbow colored, that will embrace.

Pride has FAILED some people who feel shamed or ostracized by their contemporaries or elders. As much as we try and sweep up the wreckage and want to heal that soul sometimes we cannot.

Pride and self worth is something we as a community embrace on our own terms, but as a community stand together to be that soft cushion for those in need where we can. The key word: Community. No matter how many people who cannot understand that history and vulnerability that are out there, the rest of us have to stand strong and bright so darkness does not win.

LGBT Pride and Burning Man

It has always seemed clear that the 10 Principles written by Larry Harvey for Burning Man were things that would resonate with LGBT people, specifically because it already represents what we have been trying to do our whole lives. It would seem the white-hetero-heavy board of directors for Burning Man were looking for the same exact thing as Queer Burners and people residing in the Rainbow Road section of the city.

According to the 2015 census 1/3rd of the citizens of Black Rock City are LGBT self identified. In 2016 the questions on the survey changed somewhat thanks to input from members of the Gender Blender camp to the powers that be that included more definitive terms people can self identify in the 2016 census. Look up #demographics on this site to see past census data.

The 10 Principles draw some parallel lines to basic needs from Burning Man participants to Queer Burners as a substructure of that community as a whole.

Out of the 70,000 people of Black Rock City only a small percentage actively engage in the Rainbow Road sector comparatively. However, the energy generated by queer camps has attracted mixed and mostly straight camps to the same sector for the same benefits queer camps have asked for. Camps like Orphan Endorphine identify as queer friendly and have been great community partners who want to be near us.

2017 Pride

There is yet new blood working on a 2017 event at Burning Man with new management. It is with great hope and anticipation we will see more of the community drawing together under the 2017 pride banner. We have a responsibility to represent the best qualities of ourselves and our community.

There have been some true champions in this story over the years. Many are shown in the #Queer Burners People hashtag who have contributed to this effort over time. Collectively Gender Blender, Beaverton and Glamcocks have made great strides in building bridges in and out of the queer neighborhood.

There is a vital need for LGBT Pride! Our fight is not over. All the rights bestowed upon us in the USA could vanish in a month, a week, or any amount of time. Even at Burning Man, there is still a chance that Placement will dismantle the queer camps in spite of our arguments to the contrary. The truth is there are more arguments against it out there than for it. We need to keep pride, community, and being present for those that need a hand always in mind.

If you are the one who needs that hand then talk to people… but a hand is different than a handout and radical self reliance is a scary road.

And finally: Placement has not taken a position to dismantle the queer neighborhood completely but it is a reality we might soon need to face. There was talk about breaking it in half at a 2016 meeting attended by your community leaders. Use your voice for good and together we will be a stronger community. Be engaged and help us promote a better united and supportive hug to embrace those when they need it.

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