With Pride month officially done, I can’t help but think about where Pride has been, where it is now, and where it’s going. There’s no formal date for Pride but many cities typically celebrate during the last few weekends of June to (mostly) coincide with the anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Riots on June 28th. There always seems to be some sort of Pride event in the world during the weekends leading up to July and a few that happen during the first couple weekends of the month as well.
I always feel like a bad queer person because of this but I’ve actually only been to Pride weekend once. It was years ago and even then, I only stayed during the day and I was volunteering the entire time. I think that Pride can be this amazing celebration of the LGBTQ+ community but as an introverted person with anxiety and depression, being in large crowds for any reason and any amount of time is stressful and overwhelming.
Even so, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what Pride is and what it should be. Pride started out as a police riot, as a rebellion against the harassment and discrimination that LGBTQ+ folks face. The Stonewall Inn Riots were several days of demonstrations and in many ways, they were years in the making. Over the decades since, things have changed and depending on where you are, it’s starting to be more socially acceptable for LGBTQ+ people to exist. We have reasons to celebrate and it’s important to find joy and happiness during this time.
- From gay Nazis to “we’re here, we’re queer”: a century of arguing about gay pride – Laurie Marhoefer
But we also have reasons to organize and to mourn as a community. Trans women of color, especially black trans women, have been murdered at alarming rates over the past few years because of their gender identity. The Orlando Pulse shooting in 2016 killed 49 mostly queer, Latinx folks. Legislation in different states have been targeting trans folks as well, making it more and more difficult for trans people to exist in public.
I don’t want to discount the importance of coming together as a community though. In a time of uncertainty and for many, violence, being able to celebrate and cherish your existence as an LGBTQ+ person and celebrating the community at large can be freeing and validating. During these times, finding joy and community is just as necessary as activism and organizing because it’s a reminder that we’re still here and trying to thrive. Existence can so often be an act of resistance in the face of so many trying to stop us from being ourselves.
The LGBTQ+ community is diverse in so many different ways. We come together because of our shared experiences of being an LGBTQ+ person but that doesn’t mean our entire life experiences are synonymous. We’re of different races, ethnicities, classes, backgrounds. We have different political ideologies and ideas of how to move forward and work for justice. We have different ideas of what Pride should be but ultimately, if we’re leaving people of our community behind in the fight for justice and equality, we’re not doing much to make the world a better place.
This community, and Pride celebrations by extension, isn’t exempt from the racism, misogyny, ableism, and more that society also faces. There’s also some transphobia in the community, despite the fact that the community owes a great deal to trans women of color. Like many other communities, we also face a large amount of respectability politics and tone policing from our own and we often face a lot of infighting.
Over the past couple years, there have been parade interruptions in many different cities during Pride to bring attention to a few different issues, especially to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the black LGBTQ+ folks we’ve lost. In reality, we should all be proclaiming that black lives matter at Pride because there are black LGBTQ+ folks who live at the intersection of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation and who are a part of the community.
The folks behind these interruptions have faced an incredible amount of pushback from other LGBTQ+ folks (aka white LGBTQ+ folks) because there’s still this assumption that the LGBTQ+ community belongs to white gay men. So many white folks push out the idea of intersectionality when it comes to this community and honestly, that’s utter bullshit.
- Happening now: trans-led coalition shuts down Chicago Pride parade – Radical Faggot
Pride celebrations shouldn’t be just for some of our community and we need to be talking about issues like racism and misogyny because these issues impact some of those who identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. This community doesn’t exist within a vacuum and we can’t pretend that we aren’t exempt from these issues or aren’t a part of the problem.
In addition to a race and class issue within the community, there is an incredible amount of gatekeeping that seems to go on with folks who might identify as something other than gay. Despite the fact that the ‘B’ of LGBTQ+ stands for bisexual, bisexual folks often feel unwelcome at Pride, especially for those who might appear to be in “straight” relationships. And then there’s the 2015 petition from several anonymous gay men and women that called for the community and for several organizations to drop the ‘T’ of LGBT. Those behind the petition started it because trans people’s ideology was (allegedly) in conflict with gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks and that there was the difference of sexual orientation and gender identity.
And then there are the many who aren’t a part of this community who’ve essentially appropriated space in these areas. Corporations have slapped rainbows on products and put out sponsorships of pride, in part to prove how progressive they might be. But it’s really to get the LGBTQ+ to buy their product – these rainbow productions by corporations are less about acceptance of some of the most marginalized than it is about gaining a new customer base. Additionally, many Pride celebrations in major cities, there’s often a heavy police presence, despite what having one means for LGBTQ+ people of color.
There are also straight, cisgender folks who also come to Pride and other queer/LGBTQ+ spaces. This isn’t about keeping some folks out entirely – I know that many people who aren’t necessarily a part of the community often come with and/or to support a friend or family member who is. I do think that is important – that support can mean the world when you’re young and/or just figuring out your identity. And going to Pride can also mean learning more about the community.
What I’m really referring to is this need to still center straight, cisgender folks, even in spaces that are supposed to be about and for the LGBTQ+ community or when those same folks come for those same spaces as a tourist. It happens when bachelorette parties go to gay bars or when recent posters for London’s Pride center straight folks in the narrative. Susan M. Shaw wrote about when bachelorette parties come to gay bars and drag shows, saying in particular that:
I wondered why all of these straight women saw this as a space that was theirs to inhabit, especially for that most heteronormative of rituals, the bachelorette party. I asked the door manager what he thought of this appropriation of queer culture. “They’re here for the dog and pony show,” he responded. “That’s what we are to them. It’s just a show.”
While that does rely on the notion that all bachelorette parties are for straight, cisgender women (as I’m sure that LGBTQ+ women have also had bachelorette parties), it does explain in part the trend of straight cis folks taking up space in these places. I think another part of it is also the desire for some to be seen as progressive and accepting.
With this year’s Pride celebrations, I’ve also been thinking about how Pride has been celebrated around the world. Istanbul’s Pride was banned for a third year but people came to the city to celebrate anyway. And because of that, they faced rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas. In Chechnya, gay men have been detained and beaten for being gay, with many fleeing the violence. And Frank Mugisha wrote last year about experiencing violence at a Pride event in Uganda. When I see US Pride celebrations, I can’t help but think of those who’ve faced incredible violence both at home and abroad for just being who they are.
More than anything, I think that Krista Burton put it perfectly:
Pride is a big gay holiday with my chosen family, and like every holiday with my family, I have incredibly complicated feelings about it.
I think that Pride can be this incredibly important celebration and validation for many folks but when we’re actively pushing out folks who might not fit into the ‘right’ narrative, it becomes a place built for reinforcing the status quo. When we prioritize banks, corporate sponsors, and police over actual members of our community, it is really a celebration for us all? And when LGBTQ+ spaces become all about straight, cis folks, where do we as LGBTQ+ folks go?