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Proud to be out in force, in step

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Proud to be out in force, in step

25 TH ANNUAL STONEWALL COLUMBUS’ GAY-PRIDE PARADE

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Misti Crane, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

So this is it. His first Pride Parade. He’s 18 and wants to look cute today. He does, adorable in aviator shades and close-cropped blond hair, towering above most of his friends at 6-foot-3. As he waits to march, Michael Eblin remembers being in town for a youth leadership conference when he saw the parade from his window at the Hyatt Regency.

His heart was on High Street.

He grew up in Johnstown, northeast of Columbus in Licking County, and graduated from a class of 102. He shook up things there by starting a gay-straight alliance, a club to foster understanding and acceptance.

But he’s never seen anything like this, never been a part of something he says is so nurturing, empowering and fun. In front of the group he’s marching with, Kaleidoscope Youth Center, a transvestite in a beaded white gown is perched atop a black Hummer pulling a float of men. "The Closet" says a sign in her hands. There are the usuals: a handful of topless gals, some cowboy hats, a good amount of leather. Rainbows, of course, on everything from umbrellas to dogs. Blaring dance music. Eblin and his friends give in to the rhythm. Old guys with beer guts stretching down over thongs. Young guys with abs to kill for. A gay couple in matching black cowboy hats and hemp necklaces. One wears a hearing aide. A boy in blue tie-dye holding a sign: "2 Moms. 2 Dads. Too Cool." There’s all of this, but there’s more. There’s an intangible thing bigger than a rainbow stretching from the 25 th Stonewall Columbus parade’s start at Goodale Park to its end at Bicentennial Park.

Eblin feels it.

"For the first time, I’m going to be part of a majority," he says just before the parade takes off. Between the marchers and the watchers, there were thousands. Organizers had expected more than 80,000.

"It’s so cool. It’s just cool."

As he marches, Eblin passes out Kaleidoscope magnets, promoting the group that serves as safe haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people.

They cruise along the north edge of Goodale Park, past the growing, cheering flock of Comfesters. Then to High Street. The crowd, in some places seven rows deep, returns his smile, and takes stack after stack of magnets. It hoots and hollers and whistles. He passes a pug in a pink tutu, countless cameras and amateur videographers. Lesbian bikers roar past on Hondas and hogs. He passes a woman trying to remember her first Pride Parade. "It’s hard to even absorb that or put that in words," she tells her friend. Eblin is sweating. The sun is starting to show on his forehead and arms. Along High Street are signs that in their enormity and directness are hard to miss: "Homo sex is sin." "God abhors you." He notices, but doesn’t focus.

"I hear stuff like that at school all the time. It makes me smile. I don’t want to say ‘stupid,’ but they’re ignorant."

Nobody tried to beat him up, but they went after his former boyfriend during gym class.

And they started a rumor that Eblin had AIDS.

He feels like he’s known it forever, that he’s gay. He told his best friend in the seventh grade. She had "this huge crush" on him. He needed a confidante, and they remain close. She now has a girlfriend.

He told his mom last year.

She said the perfect thing: "There’s nothing you could say that would make me stop loving you."

He wept then and fights tears today a couple of times along the way.

It’s overwhelming, he says, walking down High Street, surrounded by support.

©2006, The Columbus Dispatch

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