PRIDE is not a party. It is a Celebration.
Just as Independence Day in the US is a Celebration of our country gaining freedom from oppression (well, at least the white people – but not to cloud this issue with other egregious issues); just as Memorial Day is a Celebration of those lost in battle while defending our freedoms; and just as Veteran’s Day is a Celebration of the service of every US Veteran…
Pride is a Celebration of the achievement of Rights and Freedoms won through years…decades…of activism and violent struggle. This struggle, this movement, finally hit a flashpoint in 1969 – after literal centuries of persecution, discrimination, hate, violence, hiding and no small amount of fear that pervaded all aspects of our lives and from which none of us were ever truly free…especially in the Western World.
Recently, in situ with a small group of my colleagues (qualification: BIPOC and Gay), the conversation of PRIDE arose as each of us shared the personal, growing unease we each have been experiencing in recent years with respect to the critical value of Pride Celebrations and a perceived, oblique dilution through complacency of the urgency and importance of “Never Forgetting” the Why of PRIDE.
The parades and celebrations may resemble parties to those unfamiliar with the violent, life-destroying realities of being Gay (LGBTQIA) before 1969; but that exuberance is borne on shoulders beaten and bloody, incarcerated and murdered, attacked and disenfranchised millions who have suffered throughout history to get us to PRIDE. Every feather of every boa, every sparkling bit of glitter, every dancing queen in that parade has had a price paid for it by those no longer here…by those who got us here.
The fed-up drag queens and habitué of Stonewall and NYC’s West Village – sick of police raids and being beholden to mob bosses for the existence of gay bars and all the daily indignities and fears of even being a little out – threw their hands in the air (and their stilettos at the cops) and virtually shouted “enough” to the world, starting right there. Many went to jail, that night; dragged as usual out of the bars and into the wagons that would take them to jail.
I remember reading about these “riots” in Manhattan in my little hometown paper. About to enter my Senior Year in High School, I didn’t even have the vocabulary to identify myself to myself. Yet, as I read the oblique, obtuse and euphemism-filled report of these “riots in the West Village,” something in me stirred with identification. I knew, without knowing, that these rioters were important to me.
I grew some. I grew more. I launched a career. I feared for my life and my future that I might be Gay. (Spoiler Alert: I am.) I began to accept in 1976 and by 1979 I gave up a career in conservative politics, moved to SF and came out. Knowing no one in The City, I volunteered as a Monitor for my first-ever Pride Parade. And on that overcast morning, as the Gay Freedom Day Marching Band struck up “If They Could See Me, Now”; the clouds broke, pouring the brightest, sparkling sunshine on the polished brass instruments and, looking miles up Market street at the sidewalks packed with tens of thousands of people awaiting the parade, my heart exploded.
I will never, ever forget that feeling of freedom and exhilaration that burst from within me at that moment.
Then, at the edge of the crowd, a young, heterosexual couple appeared and asked, “Hey, what’s this?” I knew I had to tell him. For the most brief of moments, my breath caught in my throat and I choked out the words, “It’s the Gay Freedom Day Parade.” They looked at each other, and said, “HONEY, Go and get the kids!”
Freedom. Acceptance. Joy. Exhilaration. Vast and deep fear and guilt and care dissolved into the multicolored maelstrom of celebration of a new world for me…a new life that was possible. And, as the Dykes on Bikes roared up the street to lead the parade, the next chapter of my life opened for me; the Authentic one.
I remember this moment with every PRIDE parade or celebration or reception or forum or competition I encounter. I, along with millions of others, began and continued to show up, to spread confidence, to stand up for our rights as equal to all human beings deserve. Community wide, there was a commitment to easing the path for generations to follow. They should not have to hide, they should not have to fear, they should be free to Be Who They Are.
Just a few years later, AIDS began its swift and dark, voracious killing of gay people. Terror returned to the Community, and this time, the enemy could not be seen coming. …and both the Terror and the Hate resurfaced, full force.
Even in our own communities; men could return from receiving the bad news/death sentence at their doctor’s only to find all their belongings already on the sidewalk in front of their homes or buildings. Jobs were lost by the thousands on the mere suspicion of infection. Young men would call home in search of succor, coming out to their families and following that information with the news that they were ill. They might die. Many of these never heard from their families again. (Many also did.)
Jokes about AIDS in the Oval Office and White House Press Room. Heartless discrimination and dismissal everywhere.
Yet…PRIDE continued. In the face of all this, we continued to plant and support and nurture pride and self respect in one another and to remember that “every PRIDE is someone’s First…” and to welcome the new to the growing community.
In the 90’s and the 00’s (pronounced “aughts”), the LGB > LGBT acronym continued to grow as we saw many embrace their authentic selves, claim their identities (and now, pronouns) and embrace the freedoms inherent in the movement to further define it and themselves. In so many ways, this was a manifestation of the freedoms for which we fought.
And, as “gay/queer” became more acceptable, it has been thrilling and fulfilling to see younger people able to see themselves in others and to accept and embrace – to be Proud of – the selves they may realize that they are. Marriage Equality began to happen. RomComs and theatre about couples and love between same sex individuals began to have happier endings. Choices to live out loud became easier to make and embrace.
But the “Never Forget” part has, I am coming to believe, become lost in the process; as Hate has never left the building. Corporations can blithely co-opt PRIDE every June; making money off our PRIDE. The month of June is full of events that look “fun” without the subtextual message of danger.
The Right has been playing the Long Game the entire time. And that Game is Hate.
It seems to have happened so quickly, in the virtual blink of an eye; suddenly rights are being taken away that had not yet been able to gather dust. It feels as though the celebration of freedom has begat a complacency for which the opportunists have been waiting.
Across the country, in small towns and large, PRIDE celebrations are being cancelled, edited, licenses revoked. Drag is illegal. Clarifying pronouns are illegal. Haters are banding together to eliminate rights and eliminate people that “offend” them.
[Let’s take a moment here and discuss “Freedom.” Yes, one’s freedom ends at the tip of another’s nose (or personal space). But “freedom from being offended” is not a freedom guaranteed by the oft-mis-cited Constitution. Offense is, in and of itself, a choice.
If something one does or is is offensive to an Other, that Other is welcome to ignore said offense and get on with their life. Marriage, sexuality, attire, haircut, whatever. If what I wear or am offends you, then close your eyes or look the other way. It is not your concern. Nor is your “being offended” any of mine.]
Just last week, the iconic and revered Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – an order of volunteer nuns organized in the early years of AIDS to rescue, support, succor, heal and nurture people with AIDS were disinvited from the annual PRIDE night at Dodger Stadium…because an out-of-state body of individuals who apparently know little to nothing about this national/international phenomenon cited their offense at the fact of the invitation.
Rather than standing up to the Hate, the LA Dodgers quickly caved to this complaint and disinvited the Sisters.
And this is happening All. Across. The. Country.
I’m saying that it is imperative that we never forget the cost of the Freedoms we seek to enjoy. That we remember how quickly rights and livelihoods can be taken away by craven “leadership” and institutions. We are not at all safe if we are complacent.
So, though we may be seen dancing and shimmering and shining and loving one another; though we may have funny coming out stories or anecdotes of adventures and misadventures we’ve enjoyed at PRIDE, we are beholden to remember centuries of suffering and decades of struggle to be able to dance on this day.
We are bound to keep in mind, and those who see and support us should know and remember, that there is nothing lighthearted about a PRIDE Celebration. Nothing.
Dance the Day and Night away; but never forget WHY you can dance in the Light.
There is nothing lighthearted about a PRIDE celebration.
Finally, the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Meanwhile: Random Posts from Last Week in Hatefulness
Tampa cancels “Pride on the River”: https://www.losangelesblade.com/2023/05/18/tampa-pride-axes-pride-on-the-river-after-desantis-signed-bill/
New York Man Kills and Burns Gay Teen: https://www.metroweekly.com/2023/05/man-arrested-for-allegedly-shooting-gay-teen-and-burning-his-body/
Homeland Security reports anti-LGBTQ threats are rising and intensifying: https://www.washingtonblade.com/2023/05/16/homeland-security-reports-anti-lgbtq-threats-are-rising-intensifying/
L.A. Dodgers remove Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from Pride Event: https://www.advocate.com/drag/dodgers-remove-sisters-perpetual-indulgence
The timing, alone, is overtly hateful; not to mention the simple fact of the book. Kirk Cameron’s Anti-LGBTQ+ Children’s Book to be released on First Day of Pride Month. https://www.advocate.com/books/kirk-cameron-new-book
Tennessee Adds Three More Ant-LGBTQ+ Laws to Its Books: https://www.advocate.com/law/tennessee-anti-lgbtq-bills
Florida Traffic Sign Hacked to Display ‘Kill All Gays” : https://www.advocate.com/crime/florida-kill-gays-sign
‘Drag Race” Queens Have Some Things to Say About Anti-Drag and Anti-Trans Laws: https://www.advocate.com/drag/drag-race-anti-trans-laws
11 Countries Where LGBTQ+ People Still Face Death Penalty: https://www.thepinknews.com/2023/05/17/lgbtq-death-penalty-idahobit/