Last month we celebrated pride. In recent years, Pride has become an excuse for corporate-sponsored parades, pool parties, and extra festive nights at bars and clubs. This year, in light of increasing cases of COVID-19 and protests for racial justice, we've been given an opportunity to stop and think about this moment in the life of our community. What does it mean to celebrate Pride? Is “celebrate” even the right word? What do typical Pride activities have to do with the start of this tradition? And what do we do with the spirit of Pride once June is over? Looking back to the early days of Pride is a good way to start answering these questions.
Photo: NBC News
The 1900’s were not a safe time for the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality
was defined by the illegal act of sodomy and gay men were viewed as pedophiles and degenerates. Hate crimes were routine—often at the hands of police during raids of places where queer people gathered. Employers discriminated against individuals based on their sexuality. Amongst all of this, bars as safe havens for queer people were few and far between. Though queer people could express themselves freely in this space, they were anything but safe.
In 1969, police targeted the Stonewall Inn, a mafia-run gay bar, with the intention of shutting it down. Courageous patrons pushed back against the police, leading to a riot in the streets. Some say Marsha P. Johnson, an African American, transgender woman and LGBTQ activist, threw the first shot glass. Others say it was Sylvia Rivera, a Latina American, transgender activist, who threw a Molotov cocktail. In later interviews, both activists have stated that they weren’t the ones who made the first move. Although details vary from story to story, an idea was set in motion. A movement had begun. One year later, three Pride marches (New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco) were held in memory of the events of Stonewall.
Photo: Kera News
We certainly have come a long way since 1969. Today, Pride is more a celebration of some successes than it is a movement for justice. Gay marriage is legal in all states and recently the Supreme Court agreed upon anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community in the workplace. Marches have become parades, which are funded by major corporations and well-attended by queer and non-queer people alike. Though there is much to celebrate, many people in our community face injustice daily. The global coronavirus pandemic forced us to rethink how we celebrate without large groups, and the movement for Black lives has forced us to ask how we connect Pride to other movements for justice. Perhaps it’s time to rethink what Pride could be.
While there were online Pride events to take part in, rethinking and re-imaging Pride during a pandemic and time of social injustice is necessary. We have grown fond of the festivities attached to Pride, but isn’t there more? Here’s what a few members of our community had to say.
Nick believes we’ve disconnected from the rich history of Pride. “The Pride of yesterday was a Pride of police brutality and [today] it is police with rainbow cars. [Police] are still brutalizing members of our community.” Nick believes that history should inspire people to live authentically and confidently as an example for others.
For Skip, being gay means being free—being fully himself after decades of hiding the truth about who he is. He loves Pride for the community aspect, and the opportunity it provides him to be with a large group of people who accept him just as he is.
Tim has never felt connected to the way Pride is typically celebrated. “I’ve never really identified with the flashy, boozy celebration one weekend a year.” To him, being queer means living a life challenging the status quo and fighting for equal rights for people who looked down on by society. “That’s a daily commitment and it’s not always a party—though passion and joy can be a part of the struggle.” He hopes that in the future we don’t “go back to normal” but find a way to celebrate Pride that centers the fight for justice for all members of our community.
I believe we have forgotten to experience Pride through the experience of those who have come before us. By losing touch with those radical roots, we run the risk of forgetting to ask questions of the world around us. We choose to take speedo selfies captioned “#pride” on social media. We choose to make out with strangers on Fire Island during a global pandemic over marching in solidarity with Black people fighting for their lives. We often either exclude or neglect the important realities of our time.
What if we acknowledged that Pride exists inside each and every one of us? What if we found ways to stand together in solidarity with other communities seeking justice? What if we took the time to reflect on the injustices the LGBTQ has faced in the past and continue to face now? What if we devote ourselves to helping others as much as to dancing in the clubs?
What does this look like? The march that took place in Dallas is a good start. It could be a donation to an organization that supports Black trans women, educating yourself on the history of those who came before us, or volunteering at The Resource Center.
Figure out what your part in this movement is and live it. If not for your sake, then do it for the sake of the next generation of members in our community. Celebrate Pride the way you see fit—but don’t forget there is still work to be done.