On June 5th, the Durham Bulls hosted their first-ever Pride Night.
The promotion was held in partnership with Equality NC, the LGBTQ Center of Durham and the Durham Police Department.
In other words, it looked like to the world that the gay activist community was going to rub it their “rights” in everyone’s face, and the Bulls and Durham Police would be right there to help them do it.
There was an outcry on social media immediately after the promotion’s announcement in May.
“Well, I was gonna go to a Bulls game this season,” said one angry Instagram poster. “Not anymore.”
Other commenters wanted to know when Straight Pride Night. “Do we get a banner saying: “There is no shame in being straight,” asked one.
The Bulls answered each challenge, repeating that they were just hoping to create a safe environment for everyone.
It was clear that the DBAP was going to be a powder keg that night. I went to the game to be there to see all the conflict, the protests, and, of course, the aforementioned in-your-face–rubbing. I headed to the ballpark expecting to see some combination of Mardi Gras, an Elton John show and Caligula.
I came away disappointed. Very disappointed.
I’m not sure exactly what happened. Maybe the sight lines from my seat weren’t the best, or perhaps I was distracted by the video board. But somehow, I missed all the abominations on Pride Night.
There were a few people wearing rainbow–flag capes. I guess I saw more male midriffs than at your average games, but there was no drag queen kiss cam between innings, no loud, wild celebrations of sexuality in the stands. In fact, I saw nothing rubbed in anyone’s faces at all.
Instead, I saw the stands full of people, gays and straights alike, most dressed in shorts and T-shirts. They occasionally got up and wandered off, returning a short time later with nachos, a slice of pizza or that great equalizer of American life, a tall cold beer. (31 of the 33 Pride Night comments on the LGBTQ Center of Durham’s Facebook page were related to what food people planned to get at the game.)
As I watched them eat their food and enjoy the game, it dawned on me that maybe the people in attendance at Pride Night weren’t there to express their pride in anything at all other than the fact that they were fellow North Carolinians who liked baseball. They didn’t have any statements to make or points to demonstrate. They certainly didn’t seem to be looking to do any in-your-face–rubbing.
Part of my confusion stemmed from the tiptoeing Minor League Baseball did while naming this event. (The Bulls were just one of several teams around the country who held Pride Nights.) Pride Night, like a Pride parade, implies to most observers that said pride will be celebrated and demonstrated in some way. That’s not what this was it all.
It was LGBTQ Night.
Minor league teams have always held Italian Night, German Night, and Irish Night, to draw in big groups of people with those ethnicities, who want to sit together and enjoy the game with people they feel are similar to them in some important way. Surely, they all had a great deal of pride in their identity, but that wasn’t the point of the night at the ballpark. And, for the non-Germans, Irish or Italians in the crowd, it was just another game. Other than a pregame clog dancing demonstration on one of the dugouts and loud cheers when the scoreboard listed the groups in attendance, it barely registered on their radar.
June 5th was also IBM Night at the DBAP. I saw people in IBM shirts, and they let out a cheer when IBM showed up on the scoreboard groups listing. No one considered calling it IBM Pride Night, however. It was just IBM Night.
That’s what June 5th was—LGBTQ Night at the DBAP.
The Bulls, and all of Minor League Baseball, bent over backwards to avoid calling it that. Never in all the promotion for the game and responses to social media did anyone from the organization mention who would be feeling Pride on this particular Night.
That made it seem different. It singled the LGBTQ community out, and it set expectations—right or wrong—in peoples’ minds, that they were there to express their pride. And when that didn’t happen, it was anticlimactic.
It almost seemed like they were there, crazy at it may sound, to watch a baseball game. And if they could do it without having to worry about getting side eye from people sitting nearby, all the better.
For all its build-up, Pride Night delivered exactly what the Bulls had promised all along: a safe place to watch great baseball, drink beer and have fun.
And perhaps the rest of us, including me, need something rubbed in our face after all—to wipe off all the egg that is there.