GRAND PLAINS, NE—A tight-knit rural Midwestern farming community commemorated the demonization of homosexuality Sunday with its annual Gay Shame Parade, a three-decade-old tradition that has become a cornerstone of the town's cultural identity.
"Every year, the whole town turns out to enjoy Nebraska's famous summer sunshine, sample foods, browse the craft bazaar, and shame homosexuals for their repulsive, decadent behavior," said Frank Mitchell, mayor of Grand Plains, NE and parade marshal. "This year was our biggest turnout yet. Everybody had so much fun ostracizing the gays."
The parade featured the usual assemblage of police cruisers, fire trucks, antique cars, and farm equipment, which local residents had draped in red-white-and-blue banners that read "Burn in the Eternal Flames of Hell!" City Councilman Fred Brandeen, this year's "Jesus," entertained children by making mock finger-wagging gestures of admonishment and passing out buttons bearing the parade's traditional slogan: "NO!" Members of the Grand Plains Area Wives Association followed behind with a 15-foot hand-sewn banner, cosponsored by Jerry's Auto Body, which read: "GPAWA and Jerry's Cringe To Think What You're Putting Your Family Through."
Organized every year by the Grand Plains City Council and a coalition of area churches, the Gay Shame Parade has been an annual event here since 1977, the year that citizens first became aware of gay people's existence.
"To see a whole community rally together like this around a good cause—it's really an inspiration," said Ellen Lundblom, a mother of four enjoying the festivities with her youngest son, first-time reveler Timmy, 3. "If I were a lesbian, this would have really made me feel awful about myself."
"My favorite part was the balloons," Timmy Lundblom said. "They had all different colors of angry frowny-faces on them."
The event got off to a rousing start with the Grand Plains High School Cougars marching band playing such classics as "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Onward, Christian Soldiers." The mood grew palpably more sober during the middle portion of the procession, as members of the Grand Plains Baptist Church marched with folded arms in stony, judgmental silence and stared at the spectators lining the streets as if to ask, "Are you gay?"
The spirit of levity returned, however, toward the parade's finish, which featured balloon giveaways, a float contest, and an appearance by 6-year-olds Christopher Weiland and Courtney Wendt, who were crowned "Junior Mister and Miss Heterosexual" on Saturday. The parade concluded with a group reading of Leviticus 20:13.
After the last bit of confetti fell, spectators praised the parade's highlights, including a float, presented by local Little League team the Tigers that depicts a mother, sitting alone with her head down on a kitchen table, crying. The first-place ribbon went to "Sodom and Gomorrah," a miniature version of the two Biblical cities engulfed in flames. The float's designer, McPhee's Department Store window dresser Bruce Carlson, was not able to accept his prize, however, as he was away visiting an aunt in Lawrence, KS for the weekend.
Despite the pageantry, parade organizers stressed that the event has a serious message.
"Everyone loves a parade," PTA chairwoman Agatha Buell said. "But it's about a lot more than the clowns, the decorations, and those Shriner fellows in their tiny cars. It's about making folks feel sickened by the deviant homosexual lifestyle, like God wants us to."
Spectators couldn't help but be delighted by the parade's surprise finale, when, after dutifully leading the marching band for the entire mile-long parade route, local music teacher Colin Atherton was marched past the county line and told never, ever to return.