Commentary: Finding a Car Community During LGBT Pride – and a Pandemic

For someone who also works in the LGBT press, this should be my month, right?

Normally, LGBT Pride month will be full of celebrations on the streets and parks around the world, with rainbows and other color combinations flying their flag of identity. The larger events, usually held at the end of this month, attract 500,000 to a million folks together at a major city with temperatures in the 80s, plenty of alcohol flowing and God knows what else.

It was also a time to run into the bad ex's, terrible one-timers, assorted tweakers and homophobes. You get to see the same folks year after year. It does not matter how many people attend your Pride event, you are not immune from the local drama.

Obviously, things have changed this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of Pride celebrations plans. Many of the traditional June celebrations have been cancelled for this year. Others went in various creative way, such as having a parade of vehicles visiting decorated homes as a way to celebrate.

Plus, the events stemming from George Floyd's death at the hands of four Minneapolis Police Department officers also changed the temper of this LGBT Pride month. Not just to make a statement on racial justice and equity on a national basis, but also within the LGBT community itself.

When I started coming out in 1989, I observed how diverse the LGBT community truly was. This community was a microcosm of American society. Everyone was represented. It felt almost harmonious.

Then, I saw how fractionalized it was.

For years, I witnessed how many different camps existed in LGBT society. While there were intergenerational couples, there were places where ageism exist. There were interracial couples, but there was indeed a lot of unresolved and systematic racism within the LGBT community.

There were spaces that excluded the other gender and transgender people. There were exclusions on the basis of economic status, whether you're into some fetish or nor, and for those who have larger bodies than other.

After I graduated from California State University East Bay in Hayward, I went into a world where these observations posed many questions. You would think the solution were simple. Not only were solutions not readily found, but things began to decline amongst the larger community. This decline spoke in the face of advances the community were achieving legally.

In the past 19 years as a member of the media within there LGBT community, I had to navigate through these divisions driven by some shade, reads, and other behaviors that lead to exclusion. Granted, some of these exclusions were self-inflicted by behaviors that were unacceptable to the larger community. Others were just because that person was different without given a chance to prove themselves as worth of participating in a community.

I found this to be true in the LGBT automotive circles I navigate through. I have experienced various groups that are all-LGBT or have LGBT members in. Each group varies in terms of human make-up, vehicle lineup, and the camaraderie that bonds all parties involved.

There were moments when I found some comfort and solace amongst my people – LGBT automotive enthusiasts. To be able to help out with a regional chapter of a national LGBT car club on their social media to individuals that share the same passion and work that I do, these are the people I celebrate Pride with.

Yet, I have found some static within my people. Arrogance, classism, sizes, ageism, shade, cattiness, and so forth – traits that I do not feel comfortable being around. Sometimes I resign myself to walk away and stick to what I know and is passionate about. I wish that wouldn't be this way, but it is part and parcel of the community and the culture I am supposedly a part of.

Along the way, there were times when I had my faith in humanity restored amongst my LGBT people. Eight years ago, I went up to the Minnesota town of Pine City to over their Pride celebration for a local outlet. What I saw was a community trying to define themselves and a small community thriving with these LGBT folks celebrating at the local park.

However, my attention was drawn elsewhere.

Earlier that day, the CBS station in Minneapolis-St. Paul interviewed a local veteran of the military incursions in Iraq who is going through gender transition to become a woman. I accidentally ran into her when I spotted a "Corvair" tattoo on her back. I earlier noticed a blue 1964 Monza convertible across the street from the Pride venue with some pink and white coloring. I became brave enough to ask her about the car.

My personal history included a Corvair – my mom's. My parents bought one in the first model year in a drab olive green color. My brother contends it is a two-door, but I find myself debating whether it was or not. It would make sense since most of the cars in our earlier years only had two doors.

Obviously, my interest piqued to find out more about the convertible Monza in the context of her transition. She gave me an overview of the car – which I was very interested in. I recognized a lot from the Corvair Monza. The engine cover was missing, but she indicated that it is going to be replaced. The air-cooled flat six was in great shape. The roof was replaced with a white canvas and the seats were also reupholstered to match the original vinyl trim pattern in the same color. I was shocked at the attention to detail in both elements.

Though the body was mainly blue, she explained the reason for the pink trim down the body and on the wheels. It is about gender roles and colors. The blue pertains to the male that she was with the pink indicating the female she is transitioning into.

To no surprise, she knew her Corvairs inside and out. We even talked about resto-mods, especially audio systems and other modern touches to be made into the original car's era.

Then, her parents came by – in another Corvair. This time, they had a 1960 four-door in the same drab olive green color as my parent’s old one. My brain simply exploded. My camera began snapping like crazy between her 1964 and her parent's 1960.

Though I still had an assignment to fulfill at Voyageur Park, talking to Ashley Ackley and seeing her 1964 Corvair – still a work in progress – made my journey an hour north of The Cities worth it.

Which leads me to another story on a similar vein. Unbeknownst to me, some I knew from the local choral community – in particular the one I was involved during my graduate school internship – is now a classic car enthusiast. Scratch that – he has a pony car. A huge difference, as I will point shortly…

I reconnected with Earl Moore, who has launched a business giving ride alongs in his resto'd 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS. Let me tell you, this car is super sick!

What makes this special is not the renovations made to it – the stroker 383 cubic inch V8 engine, the Tremec 5-speed manual, the new front frame, suspension, Wilwood four-wheel disc brakes, thorough body work, new JVC audio system, and so forth. It is that is owned by a member of the community.

As gay men, we are pegged into enthusiast boxes – longtime scions of the Lambda Car Club who rather base membership on a certain era and class of vehicle, brand snobs, purveyors of Malaise Era vehicles – am, on g a few camps. Moore had a a car that is seen as a rare commodity among LGBT enthusiasts, while trying to tread water in the heteronormative and hyper-masculine world of muscle/pony cars.

As Moore showed me the work done by him and his collaborators in the resto job on his 1969 Camaro SS, we talked about appearing in last year's Twin Cities Pride Ashley Rukes Parade with the local region of the Lambda Car Club. The car turned heads – even in that parade. Then, he mention that he had plans for the Camaro SS to drive in this year's pride celebrations along with his restoration collaborators. Unfortunately, Twin Cities Pride was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moore is not alone in being an LGBT steward of a music or pony car. I know a few others, stretching from owning Tri-Five Chevys to modern muscle superheroes. I think we often stick to our camps not to notice that our vehicle ownership and interest are as equal as we are as a community.

The point about these two stories is not to incur the wrath of political debate. It is also not to incite homophobia and transphobia even within my own community. Rather, it is to simply validate what I do on V&R and in my other outlets I write for. It is the notion of connecting community to the car community. Simply, this is a matter of bridging cultures together.

Even greater is the necessity to bridge the idea of a car community and common ground with you to build a more robust universe without segmentation, division, chauvinism…even exclusion. Especially at a time when the LGBT community are re-examining themselves to see if they truly represent everyone,. even in the face of important gains on human and civil rights.

To be frank, to exclude anyone from society – rather, the car community – is a downright shame in this day and age.

Perhaps the notion to "love everyone" within the greater car community is the driver for us to come together as one. The lesson I learned a year or so ago is the love for the automobile, the knowledge of the inner workings of the vehicle and the industry and an open mind to everyone and everything in and around it will set aside any prejudice or hate one has for another.

That, to me, is the essence of a car community.

All photos by Randy Stern

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