The reason for the parade, ultimately, is to declare our existence–our survival in a society that is less than welcoming. We’re here. We’re your daughters, your neighbors, your sons, your co-workers, your friends, your siblings, or your parents. We’re not mysterious creatures lurking in seedy clubs–we’re the guy sitting across from you on the bus reading a book, or the two gals sitting in that next pew at church, or the pair of guys in the grocery store discussing how many hot dogs to buy for the cookout, or the grey-haired guy trying to read a label on a bottle of cold tablets in the pharmacy, or that kid on the skateboard going past your bus stop, or that guy sipping a coffee at Starbucks, or that gal a couple table over at the same coffee shop laughing at something on her computer.
We’re real, we’re everywhere, and we have hopes and dreams and worries just like you. We’re not asking for special rights, we’re asking for the same rights you take for granted. We’re asking to live our lives as openly as you live yours.
I enjoy watching the parade to acknowledge that survival. I cheer while watching the parade to express my admiration, support, and love for all of these survivors.
I cheer for people who are being brave and marching in their first parade; we see you and welcome you to the tribe.
I cheer and applaud so that those whose families rejected them and told them never to come back will know they have another family, and we’re clapping for them right now.
I cheer so that group of teen-agers (half of them straight and there to support their bi, gay, lesbian, and trans friends) will get the recognition they deserve.
I cheer the older couples walking together holding hands; we see your love and we celebrate how long you and your love had endured.
I cheer the younger couples walking hand in hand; I wish I had felt free to do that at their age, but I hope they have a bright future.I applaud and cheer so that the trans* gals and trans* men know they are seen for who they are and we think they’re beautiful, wonderful, and I am proud to call them brothers and sisters.
I cry when I see those who are carrying a photo or wearing the name of a deceased loved one; we see your loved one and share your grief.
I cheer for PFLAG so that straight parents who have spent countless hours explaining to friends and relatives that their queer kids have nothing to be ashamed of, and yes they are very happy, and no those things you’ve heard or read about their health and lifespan are all myths will know their efforts are appreciated by the whole community.
I clap and cheer and laugh and cry as the parade goes on and on showing how big and wonderful and diverse and amazing our community is.The very first Liberation Day Parade in New York City, was a protest march on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (the first Pride was a riot). People were afraid of what would happen at the first march. Only a couple dozen people showed up at the starting point, with their protest signs. But they marched. And all along the announced route of the march, the sidewalks were lined with people. Street queens, and trans people, and gay men and lesbians and queers of many other stripes. And then completely unplanned thing happened. As the small group of marchers went be, queer people and supporters started stepping off the curb and joining. By the time the marchers reached the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, the crowd numbered in the thousands.
It has been a tradition of Pride Parades ever since, that spectators step off the curb and join the march.
So when I march, there comes a point where I do that. I have cheered and applauded and made sure that others were seen. I have witnessed their love and courage and unique style. Until it is my turn to join the march. To be visible. To declare by my presence in that throng that I am queer. I’m here. And I will never go back into the closet.
There were a lot of pink triangles. There were also rainbows, some lambdas, and some labryses. A lot of people had pink or purple hair. Most of the groups had at least some members who had their children marching along beside them.
There were people dressed very scantily. There were banners and floats that had some sort of sexual innuendo as part of the theme. There wasn’t any actual nudity, but there were a few costumes that were very close to it. But the thing is, not quite a year before my first Pride Parade, I had attend my first Seattle Torchlight Family Seafair Parade with a bunch of co-workers. And at that parade—an official city parade with the word “family” in its title—I had seen a whole lot more near nudity, many more sexual innuendos as themes for floats, and a whole lot of drunken participants in the parade.
I should mention that there didn’t seem to be many queers in the pride parade who were under the influence. Certainly nowhere near as many as I saw at the Seafair Parade.
The difference was, that all of the sexual content and near nudity in the Seafair Parade was clearly aimed at the heterosexual male gaze. Just as I see a lot more sex in the typical set of Super Bowl commercials that I have ever seen at a Pride Parade. And that’s the thing: straight people are so used to straight male sexual desire used to sell everything from cupcakes to beer to automobiles, that they don’t even notice it any more.
Heck, in Seattle we have another annual parade called the Fremont Solstice Parade, and it is famous for have scores of nude bicyclists in it every year. Under Washington state law, if you have body paint on, it counts as not being nude. And it was a community parade put on by mostly straight people who was doing it for years before the queers in Seattle started doing it in our Pride Parade.So if you’re one of those people who objects to Pride Parades because you think they’re too wild or sexy or whatever, I am just going to laugh at your cluelessness. I’ve written a few times about the people from within the community who hate it, and I have yet to meet one whose arguments didn’t boil down to being equivalent of the bigots. So if you’re one of those people you don’t get my laughter, you get my pity and a hope that someday you will stop being a self-loathing hater.
If you’re one of those people who think Pride isn’t needed because bigotry is somehow far behind us, please take this does of reality:
- Religious leaders want to devalue and outlaw our families
- The attorney general thinks it’s fine that queers are being murdered in other countries
- 40% of homeless teens are on the streets because their parents threw them out for being gay or they suspected they might be gay
- People want to ban trans young people for school activities
- People still insist, despite overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary, that we’re sick and dangerous
- A small mob can beat and taser gay men on a train and witnesses will stand by in silence
- Gay men are assaulted on the streets of the so-called capitol of the free world
- Police routinely treat missing persons and violent crimes cases where the victims are queer as low priority
- Trans people continue to be murdered just because of who they are
- Queer children continue to be bullied and driven to suicide in shameful numbers
- Government officials and private citizens are actively fighting to take away what rights we have
Finally, if you’re one of those people who asks, “If you’re born this way, what’s to be proud of?” First, look up at that list. Remember that that is barely scratching the surface of the hate, bullying, and oppression that every queer person has survived. So, what do we have to be proud of? Some people want us dead, but we’ve survived. Some people wish we were invisible, and we have stepped out into the light and shared our beautiful glittery freaky selves. We have been told we aren’t worthy of love, but we have found loving friends and chosen families and yes, even someone to call husband or wife. People have tried to bury us in hate, and we have shown the world our love. They have knocked us down again and again, and we have gotten back up, fiercer than ever. They have tried to force us into the shadows, and we have shown the world our light.
I’ve quoted before the old Jewish joke that the meaning of all Jewish holidays is, “They tried to kill us. We’re still alive. Let’s eat.” In the spirit of that sentiment:
They wish we were dead or invisible. We refuse to hide.
So it wasn’t just anxiety. It wasn’t all in my head. The danger was real.And because I’d been raised Southern Baptist, and I was the kind of nerdy kid who read the Bible all the way through on my own at least twice, I spent many, many hours begging god to take these feelings away from me. I spent a lot of time studying the guys that never got called out like I did, trying to figure out how to act more like them.
And while for many queer kids the world is a more tolerant place than it was for me in the 60s and 70s, thousands of teens in the U.S. are still thrown out on the streets every year by parents whose religion teaches it is better to drive the kid out than to “encourage their lifestyle.” Hundreds of children and teens still commit suicide every year because of bullying by people who suspect they are queer.
All the bullying, anxiety about being rejected, and so forth affects us. Studies show that most adult queers bear at least some of the neurological markers of PTSD—just like domestic abuse survivors. Coming out and finding communities that accept us doesn’t make that go away. We are always on the lookout for the next potential threat.There were always moments when I would get angry because of the way I was treated. But particularly when I was a young kid, anger was never useful. I was physically unable to stand up to the bullies (for instance, the middle school bully who was enough bigger than me that he held me upside down for many minutes while his buddies kicked and spit on me).
Over the course of several years anger began replacing fear. There are many moments I can point to, but one that sticks out came in my early 20s. I was sitting in a church pew in a church where the musical ensemble I was directed had performed several songs for to support a revival meeting. The visiting preacher had delivered an unusual message for a revival: he had talked about unity and finding common ground among fellow Christians who didn’t always agree with us on every detail. It was conciliatory, rather than a fiery call to fight evil, which was a much more typical revival tone.And then one of the pastors from the local church gave the closing prayer. That how I found myself with head bowed and eyes closed and suddenly shaking in fear as the pastor thank god for sending the scourge of AIDS to wipe out the evil homosexuals from the face of the earth. Oh, he went on and on about it. And because as far as I knew I was the only homo (very closeted) in that room, I half expected people to pull me aside for an intervention afterward. Or maybe that I would be jumped and beaten to within an inch of my life somewhere.
I realized some time later that the pastor wasn’t targeting he was arguing with the visiting pastor, using the passive-aggressive platform of a public prayer. But over the following days and weeks, as I realized that no one was targetting me, I began to get angry. And the more I thought about how that pastor had used a prayer to spew such hate, the more angry I became at the entire system.
That may have been the final nail in the coffin of my membership in the Baptist denomination—if not all of Christianity together.There are many people who will tell you not to become an angry, militant advocate for anything. They will urge you to try to find middle ground, to compromise, to make peace with those you disagree with you. The problem is that there isn’t an acceptable middle ground between the propositions: “I want to live” and “you deserve death.” And the people who thank god for AIDS, who tell parents to kick their queer children out on the street, who argue that transitioning treatments are not medically necessary, and who argue we shouldn’t have marriage rights (which legally include the right to make medical decisions for one another and so forth)—they are all implying, if not outright saying, that queers deserve death.
Seriously, the only middle ground is that some queers deserve death. How is that a morally acceptable position for anyone?So, yes, I am frequently an angry, militant queer. But all of the people on the other side are arguing in favor of murdering at least some queer people (or, I suppose you could argue that they are simply willing to allow some or most of us to die). That means that what I feel is righteous indignation. And if you don’t feel it at least a little bit on behalf of those kids bullied to death, the murdered trans people, and so on, well, I’m sorry to say, that means you’re on the side of the hateful murderers. I’m sure you have some rationalizations for why your position isn’t that, but you’re wrong. If you don’t believe our outrage is justified, then you’re not one of the good guys.
If that realization makes you unhappy, well, you have the power to fix it. Come over to the Light Side. Join the fight for justice, love, and life.
A person crossed my social media this week (I presume because I reblogged a bunch of pride comments and memes on my tumblr) to admonish me for provoking normal people by celebrating the freaks of the queer community. They claim that they aren’t at all homophobic, yet they use the same tactics and the same language as the rabid bigots. Just like the bigots, they say that being visible is flaunting our sex lives. They say we are freaks. As a certain famous man from Galilee once warned us to beware of people who claimed to be our friends: “by their fruits shall you know them.”
Since I promised that this would be an adventure in dictionaries, let’s look at that word, freak. I call your attention to the following excerpt from the Shorter Oxford Dictionary’s definition:
4 Something fanciful or extravagant; (more fully freak of nature) an abnormal or irregular occurrence, an abnormally developed person or thing, a monstrosity.
b A person regarded as strange because of their unusual appearance or behaviour.
This so-called ally is hardly the first person to call me a freak. One of my uncles used to refer to me as an over-educated freak as early as age 9, for instance. It was one of the mildest insults my eighth grade Reading and Literature teacher called me. Other teachers and school administrators told my parents that the bullying I experienced was impossible to stop as long as I failed to act like a normal boy.
What was the behavior they were referring to? Was I showing up at school wearing bondage gear or dressed as a drag queen? No, of course not. The sorts of behavior that was called out were things like:
- I would rather read a book by myself than play sports
- In elementary school when most boys hated the girls in class, I got along great with them
- I knew more about cooking than I did about horsepower and gear ratios
- My favorite TV shows were things like The Carol Burnett Show or The Partridge Family or The Mary Tyler Moore Show instead of Gunsmoke or The Streets of San Francisco
- My favorite books were mostly science fiction
- In middle school I treated girls I talked with as friends, rather than as objects of desire (and didn’t understand for a long time what the difference was between the way I interacted with girls and the way most of the other boys did)
- I liked to draw and write fiction
- I laughed at the wrong things
- I liked to wear clothes that were interesting colors
Some of that list will not strike many people as gender nonconforming, particularly the science fiction bullet. But you need to understand that before 1977 and the advent of the original Star Wars movie (when I was a junior in High School), normal boys did not like sci fi.
The first Freedom Day Marches didn’t happen until I was in fourth grade, and they were not being covered on news stations and the like until several years later. All the bullying and teasing I got for being a sissy or a freak or “not a normal boy” was deeply rooted in homophobia that was hateful and destructive long, long before the first Pride. So don’t tell me that Pride causes homophobia. Anti-gay hatred was around for centuries before Pride.
And kids like me—kids who could never figure out why the way we talked or the way we walked or the things we found interesting were wrong—were subjected to that hatred and bigotry without appearing in public in fishnet stockings or elaborate make-up. We were bullied and mocked and scorned and ridiculed because our behavior wasn’t the usual expected of our gender. I was bullied because I didn’t understand why it was unusual for a boy to think that a pair of burgundy pants was cooler to wear than plain blue jeans. I was bullied because I thought a girl’s ideas were more interesting than what was hidden by her clothes. I was bullied because I would rather sing along (and dance or pretend to be a member of the band) to the radio than play cops and robbers.
Not all queer kids are gender nonconforming (but studies show that at least 75 percent of boys who were consistently identified as “sissies” during childhood will come out as gay as adults), just as not all queer male adults are into show tunes. But the scant number of queer athletes who have come out of the closet, as well as the large numbers of “straight acting” and “non-scene” gays, have been free to do so because the nonconforming or freakish queers decided not to take the hate and loathing lying down. The freaks decided to stop being ashamed of who they were and who they loved. The freaks decided to stop pretending to be non-freaks.
If those freaks hadn’t stood up, none of the assimilationist queers, none of the suit-and-tie or “masc for masc” gays would have the right to be out—they would all still be hiding in the closet and secretly having sex on the sly deeply steeped in self-loathing and guilt. And those folks who say that the freaks should stop flaunting who they are are no different and no less deplorable that the folks who fire gay bashing victims for talking about their assault or stab men for holding hands in public or murder trans people just for being who they are.
I’m not a drag queen and I don’t wear fetish gear to Pride. I wear my purple hats and various rainbow or unicorn-adorned t-shirts year round. I’m unashamed of my fabulous rainbow parasol and my purple earrings. But I cheer and clap for the people who do dress in drag or other outrageous clothes at Pride. I support their right to be there and be out and dress however they want without being harassed. Just as a woman wearing certain clothes in public doesn’t make it all right for someone to harass or sexually assault her, neither do queer and trans people wearing whatever they’re comfortable in make it right to exclude or denigrate them.
If my love of bright colors, glittery earrings, and silly t-shirts makes me a freak, I’m proud to join that fanciful and extravagant legion of the out and proud. If you’re going to call me a freak, fine, but that’s Doctor Freak to you, and don’t you forget it!
We’ve got a super full schedule this weekend and I’m already running behind, so please have a Happy Pride Weekend!
Anyway, my confusion lasted only milliseconds, because I hadn’t even finished reading the headline before I understood that for this flag, the new stripes represented Queer People of Color. Which made perfect sense. But, as an article that I included in the most recent Friday Links noted, the new flag wasn’t greeted enthusiastically by everyone: The Surprising Controversy Surrounding A More Inclusive Pride Flag.
I’ve seen some of the negative reactions on my own social media, and one thing I couldn’t help noticing was that every person I saw objecting, if you checked out their profile, they were white and male (Full Disclosure: I’m white and male, myself). And their objections are, to a one, ludicrous. I especially liked the guy who said something along the lines of “if you don’t see yourself included in the universal symbol of the rainbow, you need to do some soul searching.” Because first of all, it isn’t a universal symbol, is it? As just one example, we have all the whacko Christian fundamentalists who get all angry and in our face claiming that we’ve stolen the rainbow from god. When the flag was first created (and hand sewn) under the direction of artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, some people in the queer community didn’t like it for a variety of reasons.And it isn’t as if the flag has remained completely unchanged since its original creation. In the fall over 1978, after the assassination of Harvey Milk, there was a sudden demand in the San Francisco area for more of the rainbow flags. To meet the sudden demand, Baker and a flag company decided to use existing stock rainbow fabric (red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet), so they lost the hot pink and changed the indigo to a lighter blue. And a year later the official banners for the San Francisco Pride events switched to a six-color version ( red, orange, yellow, green, royal blue, and violet). There are two different explanations given for that change: some say it was because when the seven-color versions were hung vertically from street lamp poles the middle stripe wasn’t always visible, others say that there was difficulty getting both the turquoise and indigo fabric. The point is, the rainbow flag changed several times, with the original artist’s blessing, in the first few years of its existence. I mentioned above that not everyone was happy with it. Some weren’t happy because they thought the rainbow was two generic. Others because there were already symbols being used by lots of queer people (for example: a pink triangle or a labrys on a black triangle), and they thought we should stick to those symbols for various reasons. Other folks have made other variations. And a lot of people in the community didn’t think that the rainbow (or the Pride marches themselves) should include anyone other than exclusively gay men and lesbian women. I remember public arguments about whether the words bisexual or transgender should be added to the official name of the Pride Parade in Seattle during the 90s, for instance. There many other arguments still raging about who should be included. I wasn’t around the community for the arguments about the rainbow flag when it was first introduced, but in the late 80s and early 90s, when I was just coming out, the arguments about why the rainbow wasn’t a good symbol for LGBTQ+ people were still raging. I knew more than one person who was adamant that the Pink Triangle was a better symbol because it represented a time gay men were targeted for extermination in Nazi Germany, and we had taken the symbol back. Of course, there were plenty of people who didn’t like the Pink Triangle, either (some because it was considered to represent only men; others because of its origin as a symbol of our oppression). Or only liked it if it were used along with other symbols commonly associated with lesbians.
So claiming the current six-color rainbow flag is universally recognized as including everyone even within the community simply isn’t true.
There’s another big hint that something like the More Colors Flag is needed: white queers wouldn’t be offended (and the folks objecting are definitely offended) at the flag if the problems it addresses weren’t real. Not only that, all of the arguments I’ve seen used to explain why the More Colors Flag is unnecessary sound exactly like the homophobic arguments given for why queers don’t need representation in movies, books, TV and such or why laws against queer discrimination aren’t needed. And they also are exact parallels to racist arguments used to argue we don’t need laws about racial discrimination (among other things). As they say, if it looks like a racist argument and sounds like a racist objection…
None of this will sound unfamiliar to anyone familiar with discussions about intersectionality. In case you don’t know what intersectionality is, let’s start with the definition (I warned you in the title we would get to dictionary topics in this post!):
intersectionality noun the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
So another reason that you can’t claim that the rainbow is a universal symbol that applies to all queer people is because the experience of being queer isn’t the same for all categories of queer people. It’s kind of like the people who make that argument that you shouldn’t let a black actor portray James Bond or a woman portray Doctor Who because that would make the shows political. Insisting that the hero must be a white male is just as much a political statement as asking why the hero can’t be something else. Similarly, suggesting we should do something to make people of color feel more welcome is not racializing the Pride flag any more than resisting that inclusion is.
I’m a cisgender white man. I also happen to be queer. I have faced discrimination (and worse) because I’m a gay man. But I also know that I have been shielded from certain types of discrimination because I’m a guy and because I’m white. I don’t know all of the times that this happened, but I understand how systemically racism and sexism are baked into our culture, and therefore there are times when I experience no obstacles, where a person of color or a woman would find things less welcoming. The types of discrimination I experience and the ways I encounter discrimination as a gay man are often very different from the types and ways experienced by queers of color. The same kind of discrimination that I might be able to somewhat sidestep because of a bit of white male privilege I don’t even notice at the time can be a much more devastating experience to someone who does not have those two advantages.Recognizing this isn’t about trying to decide who is more oppressed. This isn’t the Oppression Olympics. The truth is, that a lot of white queer people are unaware of their own racism. Most insist that they aren’t at all, which is literally impossible. You can’t grow up in a racist society without being conditioned to the assumptions of racism. Asserting that the rainbow already includes everyone ignores the fact that there is a lot of racism within the queer community, some of it really subtle because it is just a manifestation of the systemic racism of the whole society, and others of it quite blatant. It’s blatant while also being rationalized away. The photo here of the sign that was seen at the Equality March earlier this month talks about one of those examples. Please note that this sign was at an Equality March, not a Pride March. But it underscores a real truth: a lot of queers, particularly certain white gay men, have these racist attitudes. And yes, it absolutely is racist to say in your dating profile “no blacks” or “no asians” or “no latinos.” The usual counter argument is that they’re just talking about a preference.
I have a preference for redheads. Yet I have never refused to date a non-redhead. And a good thing, too, since neither my late partner, Ray, nor my husband Michael are redheads. I lusted after and occasionally dated redheads, but I wound up falling in love with two different men for reasons other than their hair color. That’s because while I have an attraction toward redheads, I recognize that’s all it is, and that there are other reasons to like or dislike a person than their hair color. The same holds true for race. If you completely exclude someone from consideration because of their race, there is no word other than racism to describe it. And while we’re on the subject: fat-shaming and fem-rejection aren’t any better, and if you’re doing that you’re just being a different kind of bigot, but no less of a bigot than the racist, so don’t do it.Nobody’s free until everyone is. And one of the steps to setting everyone free is recognizing that not everyone is as free as everyone else. We have to find a way to actually be inclusive, not to simply say that being inclusive is a good thing. And being inclusive requires us to recognize intersectionality. To understand that there are different degrees of discrimination. Society imposes different types of disadvantage on people based on categories of race, gender, sexuality, economic class, and other things. Those differences are real. The pain and suffering they cause is real. And the benefits that other categories of people receive at the expense of that pain and suffering is also real. Fighting for equality means not just giving lip service to inclusivity and intersectionality, it means taking steps to do something about those problems. You have to look for the people who are having trouble getting into the freedom tent and work to help them inside and to feel welcome. That requires first listening, really listening to try to understand–not pretending to listen while we’re really just waiting for our turn to talk.
If my queer kindred of color tell me that they don’t feel welcome in many queer spaces, then I have to take that seriously and ask what I can do to help. And then I have to actually help. Which is why I say that intersectionality isn’t just a noun. Because those of us who have some privilege, however little it may be, have to stick our necks out and use that privilege to help those who don’t.
Pride should be for all of us.
By “we” I don’t mean to imply that I was actually at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night, or for several nights after where the street queens and homeless gay teens and butch lesbians and angry sissies kept coming back out on the streets and demanded their right to exist. I was 8 years old living in a small town in Colorado (and if I recall correctly crushing hard on Robert Conrad as Secret Service agent James West). I wouldn’t even hear about the events of the summer until more than ten years later. But that summer the people who were standing up to the police and demanding the simple right to be out in public without being harassed, weren’t the quiet ones. That wasn’t entirely their choosing. Heroes of the time such as Marsha P Johnson or Silvia Rivera were exactly the sort of gender non-conforming queer who had spent their entire lives being literally unable to hide. When the police raided that night, they took their usual tack of grabbing the people who looked least “normal” to single out for a beating and arrest.Their only crime was being at a bar and being obviously queer-looking and/or queer-acting. Just for some context: it wouldn’t be until 1973 that a court would rule as unconstitutional laws banning people from wearing clothing “typical of the opposite sex” (which included women wearing pants). The police had a lot of leeway in deciding what constituted not dressing in clothes appropriate to one’s gender. And that’s how these raids would go. Cops would surround the bar, then come in, turn on the lights, order everyone to line up and produce their identification. Anyone who was “cross dressing” would be arrested (and usually get roughed up on the way). It was not uncommon for male cops to grope the butchest lesbians while making lewd remarks to try to get them to react, so they could be arrested for resisting.
Ultimately, the cops and other authorities were targeting people who were different.
There had been raids before, but almost never before had the crowd turned on the police. Normally everyone who could run away did, and those who couldn’t tried not to be the few who would get beaten. But that night, the patrons decided not to cooperate, and things went downhill rather fast.
Again, no one, including many of the people who actually were there, knows why the crowd reacted differently that night. Just as no one knows for certain why the police were raiding the Stonewall Inn that night. The leading theory is that the mafia-connected owners of the Inn were suspected of making more money than they admitted to from blackmailing well-to-do customers, and were therefore not bribing the cops and liquor inspectors as much as they should have been. But because all of that was highly illegal, we’ll never know. The riots went on for several nights. Then, in the weeks afterward, several of the people that had been there formed politcal groups to fight for queer rights: The Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaires and the Gay Liberation Front.
Let’s pause here to talk a bit about terminology. Transgender, transvestite, and cross-dressing were terms that at that time were used inter-changeably by people within the community, even though today it’s considered offensive to act as if those terms refer to the same thing. There is still some controversy about which of the street queens should be considered transgender, for instance. It’s an argument I don’t want to get into right now.
And it’s really beside the point. The people who were at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots, and who organized the first new gay rights afterwards were mostly trans (or otherwise genderfluid/non-conforming) people of color. It was the most marginalized who led the way.I’m not trans, myself, but from a very early age I was called “sissy,” “pussy,” “faggot” and worse (by members of my own family and teachers, no less). I was four years old the first time that my dad angrily beat me while calling me, among other words that I didn’t know the meaning of, “cocksucker.” And at four I didn’t know what a drag queen was, let alone a gay or lesbian person. I wasn’t intentionally acting whatever way it was that made that the go-to insult to throw at me. I didn’t mean to be the kind of boy that caused teachers to tell my parents later, after one of the most severe bullying incidents at school, “As long as he walks like that and talks like that, how else do you expect the other boys to react?”
Whichever of my mannerisms trigger people’s gaydar, they’re not under my control. I tried so hard to act like the other boys and not get noticed. Yet, again and again I failed. So it’s both ignorant and unfair to say that the people who got targeted by cops in those raids could have prevented it if they just stopped flaunting things. Long before Marsha P Johnson wore her first outrageous flowered hat out in public, as a little boy growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she had been beaten and bullied. There came a point when she decided to stop hiding who and what she was and embrace it.
Similarly, it’s both ignorant and unfair to say that people shouldn’t dress outrageously or otherwise let their freak flag fly at Pride. The only reason that so-called “straight-acting” gays have found it safe to come out at all (whether it be former NFL players or rugby players or button-down executives) is because the “queens and trannies and freaks” of previous generations decided to stand up and fight back. I’m not saying it is easy for anyone to come out, but many of the community didn’t have a choice about whether people knew—the only choice they had was whether to let themselves be beat down, or to fight back and be proud of who they were.So embrace the fairies, the leather daddies, the cycle mamas, the butches, the fems, the sissies, the nellies, the drag kings, the street queens, the gym bunnies, the queer nerds, the bis, the pans, the aces—every gender, every race, every freaky and fabulous corner of the big wild Queer Community. The old Isaac Newton quote is that he could only see further than others because he stood on the shoulders of giants. We’re only able to be here and see a bright future because we’re standing on the shoulders of those fabulous freaks. And as someone else once observed, if you think someone is normal, you just don’t know them well enough.
We’re all queer! We all belong here! Let’s march into a brighter future together!
And some people seem to be most hung up about the fact that we have parades and festivals. Especially the parade seems to bug them. They are always quick to say that they don’t have a problem with gay people, but the truth is that what bothers them is us being visible. When they ask us why we have to flaunt who we are, what they are really saying is why can’t he be quiet and stay hidden and not remind them that anyone who is different than they exist.
And you know how you can prove this? Ask them if they have ever raised the same objections to St. Patrick’s Day parades. The earliest St. Patrick’s Day parades in colonial times were about Irish Nationalism, since all of Ireland was under British rule at the time. By the mid- and late 1800s the St. Patrick’s Day parades were about Irish equality in the U.S., since anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment was quite high, and yes often encoded in laws and government policy. While the anti-discrimination purpose of the parades has faded away, the parade is still about taking pride in one’s Irish heritage. If a person doesn’t object to Irish pride parades (which is exactly what St. Patrick’s Day parades are), but they do object to LGBTQ+ Pride parades, the only logical reason can be that they object to the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans, and all other Queers in particular, and not the idea of a parade celebrating identities in general.
I can pretend that the question isn’t a passive-aggressive exercise of bigotry and give you some simple answers. Why do we need Pride?
- We need Pride because people are still trying to kill us.
- We need Pride because religious leaders are still cheering on the people who kill us.
- We need Pride because people show up at memorials for murdered LGBT people with signs saying they deserved to die.
- We need Pride because people still target gender non-conforming children in schools, and now adults aren’t just making excuses for the bullying and discrimination, they are writing it into law!
- We need Pride because it’s still legal to fire us just for being gay in 29 states.
- We need Pride because some lawmakers and governors hate queer people so much, that they don’t just pass laws to hurt us, but spend huge amounts of taxpayer money to defend that discrimination in court.
- We need Pride because people are more offended at the idea of selling us a wedding cake than they are about queers being murdered.
- We need Pride because people get angry when other people acknowledge our existence.
- We need Pride because U.S. religious leaders demand that we be prosecuted simply for asking for equal rights.
- We need Pride because people get offended if we mention the gender of our significant other in casual conversation.
- We need Pride because religious parents still kick their queer children out onto the streets just for being gay, and it isn’t considered child neglect or abuse to do so.
- We need Pride because people will go to great lengths to take away any rights we managed to get.
- We need Pride because queer kids are born everywhere, not just into families and communities that love and accept them, but often into families where they are bullied (sometimes bullied until they kill themselves) and they need to know that they aren’t alone.
- We need Pride because the world tries to make us hate ourselves, tries to make us be ashamed to love, and most importantly tries to convince us we are utterly alone.
None of those reasons apply to straight people. No one bullies straight children just because they are straight or gender conforming. No parents kick their straight children out on the street because they are straight. No one is targeting sports bars to kill straights because they saw a man kiss a woman somewhere. No preachers are going on the air to say that straight people deserve death. No one is passing laws saying gender conforming children aren’t allowed in public school bathrooms. No one is passing laws trying to ban straight people from adopting children or getting medical benefits for their partners. Straight people and straight people’s sexuality (ever seen a romantic comedy?) is the subject of at least 99% of all movies, television shows, et cetera. So straight people don’t need pride. But if you really think you do, no one is stopping you from organizing your own parades (though I’ve argued before that you already have those, too).
The reason queers like me have been able to stand up and be ourselves is because other queers before us were brave enough to be out and brave enough to protest when necessary. Be it staging sip-ins to protest laws that made it illegal for a bartender to knowingly allow two homosexuals be served in the bar, or fighting back when police raided a gay club, or picketing in front of federal buildings, or boycotting industries whose spokespeople lobbied for laws to take away our rights, or protesting laws making it a crime for us to be intimate with the person of our choosing, or marching in the first ever Pride event in June 1970. Those of us who can stand up for ourselves now owe a debt to those earlier generations of queers. We can’t pay them back directly, so we have to pay it forward. We do that by standing up and being counted and being visible for all of the people (especially kids) who can’t safely be out themselves, yet.
We need Pride not because we’ve come so far, but because there is still a long, long way to go.