Rose Parade in 2014 Isn't Exactly 'Traditional'
The 125th annual Rose Parade went off with little issue yesterday in Pasadena, California, despite the arrests of dozens protesting controversial floats -- including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's, on which Danny LeClair and Aubrey Loots exchanged vows. It was the third wedding and first same-sex ceremony in the parade's history. The sponsoring group's stance is "Love Is the Best Protection," advocating marriage and monogamy to reduce the spread of HIV.
The float got some backlash from defenders of "traditional" marriage, who resented being confronted with societal progress on a day that's just supposed to be about football and hangovers. This afternoon the "Boycott the 2014 Rose Parade" Facebook page had more than 8,700 likes and 2,000 comments, most on the theme that a family event shouldn't be used further a political agenda at odds with the parade's history and original intent.
Although it's true that the Tournament of Roses and its accompanying parade were established as a lighthearted celebration for Pasadena's community, it might be helpful to take a look at a few things other than gay marriage seemingly out of step with the 125-year tradition of the New Year's Day affair:
The 99 Percent
Sure, the parade today seems like a fairly democratic event, but that wasn't always the case. The Rose Parade was founded in 1890 by the Valley Hunt Club, an exclusive social group whose members were mostly East Coast aristocracy, not the middle-class Midwesterners who predominated in Pasadena. The parade was meant to promote the glorious California weather and lifestyle to the club's elite friends back East. The parade has become more inclusive, but the Valley Hunt Club still sponsors an entry each year in the parade's equestrian segment.
Yesterday's parade was also a milestone for another group: Alaskans. The Colony High School's band was the first Alaskan musical group to march in the parade. Although other residents have participated in the event in some capacity dating back to at least 1989, that's still a long wait for Alaska, which has been a territory for more than a century and was admitted to the union in 1959.
The Voice of God was finally named grand marshal for this year's parade. It's a shame it took this long, both because Scully has been in Southern California since 1958 and because he was beaten to the punch by Paula Deen a few years ago.
Women of Color
The Rose Parade wasn't just traditionally wealthy -- it was also traditionally white. Since 1905, the parade has featured a queen of the Tournament of Roses, a position that excluded minority women for decades. (For good measure, the parade welcomed a float by the Ku Klux Klan in 1914.) The color barrier stood until 1981, when Japanese-American Leslie Kawai became the first nonwhite Rose Queen. Four years later, Kristina Kaye Smith became the first black Rose Queen to march, following decades of racism allegations against the organizers in Pasadena, whose population at the time was more than a fifth black. This year's queen, Ana Maria Costa, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, said she's "very proud to represent the Hispanic and Latino community, especially in Pasadena."
I hate to break it to all those defenders of the parade's tradition and integrity, but the most prominent aspect of the Tournament of Roses now -- the college football game -- was also notably absent for years. In fact, the sports traditionally associated with the event were hunting and ostrich racing. A game of football wasn't played as part of the festivities until 1902 -- 12 years after the parade's inception -- and it would take 14 more years to permanently add America's game to the tournament. We've come a long way, baby.
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)