I still remember my first Pride. I was 18 and a freshman in college. It was the fall of that school year and I traveled with my LGBT student group to the NC Pride Festival and Parade in Durham. Rainbows were everywhere and — though I had been involved in LGBT community work since I was 14, attending various community events and functions — it was the first time I was ever able to stand among a sea of thousands of people. All of them just like me — members of the LGBT community — or those who, without reservation, supported people like us.
That day was both empowering and inspiring. In the more than decade since, I’ve been to a Pride event in some place, sometimes more than one, each year — eventually throwing my hat into the ring as an organizer and volunteer with Charlotte Pride in some form since 2008. As the years have gone by my understanding and appreciation of Pride have both grown and changed.
As we approach Charlotte Pride this year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what Pride means to me. Simply, Pride means a lot of different things to me and to others. Here are some of my thoughts…
Pride means empowerment: Like my experience at that first-ever Pride I attended, there are thousands of LGBT people — young and old — who attend their first Pride festival or parade each year. Coming together with throngs of people just like themselves, these first-time Pride-goers, like I did, find themselves among a like-minded community. For most all people living outside the popular gayborhoods of major cities, Pride might just very well be the only time in a person’s year when they are among the majority. Walking hand-in-hand down the street with a loved one or being able to freely express oneself without fear of retribution, harassment or violence can be an awesomely empowering experience, building self-esteem and finally putting to bed any notion that a person is all alone in the world.
Pride means celebration: Yes, Pride can be a party. There’s lots to celebrate! Personal freedom, personal self-awareness, personal self-expression. Lots of people, including myself, have used Pride as a day, unlike most days in the year, where we can just relax, have a few drinks, party with friends. And that’s all okay. We all deserve a chance to party — on our terms, in our community and for our community. But, Pride isn’t just a party; it also means a lot more, like…
Pride means politics: Did you know the first Pride was a riot? Literally. A full-on, violent anti-police riot. Rocks were thrown. Fires started. Arrests were made. On June 27, 1969, transgender people, drag performers, poor street kids, people of color, sex workers and a slew of other marginalized and oppressed LGBT people revolted against the continued legal and police harassment they’d experienced at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The next year, members of the community marched down Christopher St. to commemorate the prior year’s riot. That march in New York City and other early marches — then known as Chistopher Street Liberation Day marches — eventually blossomed into modern-day Pride festivals and parades, making their way to cities and towns large and small across the country. The issues faced then — unequal legal treatment, harassment, violence — are still issues we face today.
Pride means progress: Those early protest marches brought community members together in ways they had never done before. After Stonewall, a large, active, visible and politically-astute LGBT community came together to make change in ways never before seen. In the more than 45 years later, our community has made tremendous progress. LGBT employees are now protected from discriminatory treatment in federal public employment. The military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and an earlier outright ban on homosexuality havw gone to the wayside. Bans on open military service by transgender people are on their way out. Scores of states have adopted LGBT-inclusive employment protections, K-12 anti-bullying/anti-harassment statutes and more. Municipal governments are becoming increasingly more inclusive. And now, just this year, full legal marriage equality is available to every couple, gay or straight. But we still have a lot more to accomplish, because…
Pride still means liberation: By all means, party. Have a few drinks. Hang out with friends. Soak in the acceptance and affirmation. Dance away to the entertainment and cheer as the parade marches by. But while you’re at Pride, use it as an opportunity to learn more, get involved and take action. We’ve still got a long way to go before we can say LGBT people are truly equal. Housing, education, socioeconomic challenges, health care and so much more, including our continued fight against HIV and the continued harassment and violence directed against our transgender siblings. Stop by one of the many advocacy, support or education groups. Sign up for their newsletters or join as a member. Donate to support continued education, advocacy and lobbying efforts. Ask how you can become a volunteer. Get new resources and knowledge to make change in your school, business, neighborhood, church or elsewhere in your community.
Pride obviously can mean a lot. My mind is still racing with all the different ways Pride is so symbolic, so powerful, so important to our community. Like me, I hope you’ll take some time to think about what Pride means to you as you head out to Charlotte Pride or other LGBT festivals and parades left to come across the region this year. Being intentional, mindful and present in our continued fight for LGBT acceptance and equality puts us in a league above those who seek to oppress us. Together — whether among thousands gathered at Pride or in small groups of people committed to change and progress — we can continue to make a difference and ensure the liberationist spirit of those first Stonewall rioters and Christopher St. marchers lives on into the future.
Happy Pride, y’all! : :