Why Pride

Greetings, all.

It’s been a tragic and rough 2 weeks for us all. Many of us are still reeling from what happened in Orlando. Others of us are trying to make sense of that and I know our friends in the UK and the EU are right now wondering WTF just happened in the wake of a historic vote and what does this brave new world mean. I have no advice for you beyond just grab on to whatever railing you can and hang on, I guess.

In the wake of all of this, I decided I actually did want to talk about Pride this year. In spite of the wrenching horror of Orlando, I think it’s important to talk about Pride.

The first Pride parade I participated in was around 1990 (shut up! #oldbag). It was in Denver, and I was really nervous because I wasn’t really that publicly out. I mean, my family knew and my friends and a few of my grad school colleagues did, too, but for the most part, I didn’t talk about being a lesbian. It was dangerous to do that, just as it still is for so many of us. (If you’re interested, this is a great piece on the history of Pride in CO. 1990 it was renamed PrideFest and the GLBT Community Center of Denver took over its management.)

I went to Pride that June, and holy crap, there were HUNDREDS of people there. HUNDREDS marching down Colfax Avenue, past the Capitol building (for those of you from Denver, you know whereof I speak). I walked IN the parade, and the street was lined with cheering LGBTQ people and no doubt allies and I was lost in this crowd, someone who didn’t stand out for coming out and it was the coolest feeling, because I could let my guard down and just BE, and know that I was in a crowd of people who had my back on that day.

source
source

Two years later, with the Amendment 2 battle in full-swing in Colorado (see this for the history of that shittiness and Oregonians were facing an even worse heinous-ness in Ballot Measure 9), I was in London (yes, THAT London), and was able to participate in the very first Europride, which was THOUSANDS of people. THOUSANDS of LGBT people from all over the world, marching in a vast sea of humanity that stretched for MILES. I’m not making that up. At one point, the people I was with stopped at a pub for a pee break (and a pint) and we were in there for a good 45 minutes and when we left, the march was STILL GOING ON. So many people, so many different people, from all kinds of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. . .it was gorgeous.

That was the first time I really understood that there is a global community of LGBTQ people and allies, that we really ARE everywhere. I can’t tell you the comfort that gave me, and how profound it was to hook into that sense of an overarching global LGBTQ community. It changed my perspective and down the line, I would realize that it changed my life.

Good thing, too, because the fall of 1992 brought the passage of the anti-LGBTQ Amendment 2 in Colorado (which was later overturned by the Supreme Court). In the wake of that — in which 53% of my fellow Coloradans voted to ensure that I as someone who fell under the LGBTQ rubric would not have any legal recourse should I be discriminated against because of being LGBTQ — I tried to hold onto that sense of community I’d experienced at Europride and the Pride festivals before that.

No on 2 rally sponsored by National Organization for Women, CO 1992 WikiWand
No on 2 rally sponsored by National Organization for Women, CO 1992 WikiWand

And I clung to the other community centers where I could go and just BE.

The clubs and bars, friends. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but hell yes I loved to dance. Denver had quite a few LGBTQ bars in the 1990s, and I spent a lot of time at them. They weren’t just bars or clubs. They were also places to organize political and social events (the Interwebz hadn’t started filling these roles yet) and — at least when I was coming of age — places to provide education about HIV/AIDS. I remember walking into LGBTQ bars in the early 1990s and there would usually be a basket filled with condoms near the doorway, along with safe sex pamphlets.

The bars and clubs were judgment-free zones, and the community organized to deal with taking care of our own as AIDS devastated an entire generation of gay men. I was involved peripherally with Queer Nation during those days, and followed politics closely because often, one state’s shitty ballot measure regarding LGBTQ people could cause other states to follow suit.

For all of these reasons, this is why Pride is important to LGBTQ people. And this is also why LGBTQ bars and clubs are so important. Many heterosexual people do not understand the role LGBTQ bars have played in the lives and loves of those of us who have been marginalized most of our lives, whether by friends, blood family, institutions — whatever it is. Because they don’t understand that unlike a heterosexually-oriented bar, an LGBTQ bar has served as a community center and safe space for decades — they don’t truly understand the impact Orlando had on us. Every single LGBTQ person on this planet knows exactly what anti-gay marginalization, violence, and threat of violence feels like, and we don’t have to know each other personally to relate.

I don’t need to personally know the gay guy in Tacoma, Washington who is chased down the street by guys yelling “faggot” to relate to him. I know him because he shares a marginalized identity with me. I’ve been threatened, too. I don’t need to personally know the trans woman in Chicago who is shoved into a wall simply because she IS. I know her because she, too, shares a marginalized identity with me. And God help her, she’s one of the most marginalized and most victimized. Nor do I need to personally know the bi woman with a female partner in Nashville who is denied a job because the manager of the company attends a church that tells her that LGBTQ people are sinful or an abomination. I know her because she shares a marginalized identity with me. I’ve been denied jobs, too, because I’m not heterosexual.

All of these people are family and community. We are tied together in our shared marginalization, and further bound by the intricacies of race, sex, class, gender, and whatever other marginalizations we deal with.

LGBTQ bars have thus historically served as the hearts and souls of LGBTQ communities. They’re not just watering holes. They’re where we go to build families that don’t reject us, where we go to build networks of survival, and they often serve as a nexus for political and social change. Because of these things, they’ve also been the sites of horrific violence, directed specifically at those of us who are LGBTQ, for the sole purpose of terrorizing us and making us pay for daring to live publicly, even if it’s in the dark, comfortable confines of a bar.

This is why Orlando affected us so deeply. I didn’t personally know any of the 49 who died. But I did know the safety they sought in the confines of an LGBTQ club, where for a little while, they could be who they are, beyond the recrimination of everyday anti-gay microaggressions, and for many of them, the daily recriminations of microaggressions based on race.

They were all part of my LGBTQ family, and as I’ve been sifting through the grief of that horrible day, I’ve been heartened by the overwhelming response and support from LGBTQ people and allies around the world. Vigils in countries outside our borders. Memorials. Statements from political leaders around the world.

Back in 1992, I didn’t imagine that globally, we were on the cusp of truly engaging in and building a world community of queer family and allies, or that people would be trying to be supportive of us as we deal with the effects of a terrible backlash for gains we’ve made. I could feel something shifting that day in London in 1992, but I couldn’t quite visualize where things would go.

Seeing it now — I’m heartened on some levels. But there’s a lot of work yet to do, my friends. We must not forget that.

That’s why Pride is important. It helps us remember where this family and this community came from, and what it’s done over the years to get to this place. We have proven for decades — centuries — that we are survivors, and we’ve turned that grit and determination into fabulous organizing and community-building skills. Tap into those. Take comfort in them, and in the knowledge that we are everywhere, and we can continue to build and support each other and expand our umbrellas to reach out to others in other marginalized communities and create even more networks and infrastructures.

Yes, we’ve lost many along this road. So goddamn many. Let us honor our grief, honor their memories, and continue the work.

This is what I intend to do, and this is why I will be attending a Pride event this weekend.

Love to you all, and happy Pride.

And if you’re so inclined, share your first Pride experiences in the comments. Or first bar experiences. Share some stories, friends!

Some links:
History of Pride, American Experience
Before Stonewall (film)
Stonewall Uprising (film)
Last Call at Maud’s (film; lesbian bar documentary)
Small Town Gay Bar (documentary about the role LGBTQ bars have played in the deep South)
Paris is Burning (documentary, ball culture in NYC and the Black, Latino, and transgender people involved in it)

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9 thoughts on “Why Pride

  1. My first Pride experience was right after my divorce. I was out and free to be. My partner at the time was not out and she refused to go to the parade or the festival afterwards. She was afraid to be seen. We went to a private brunch at a friends house and then, when they all left for the parade, we went back to my house.

    The wonderful woman who is now my wife introduced my to my first real pride celebration. We went to the parade in Columbus, Ohio that grows by leaps and bounds every year. (This June they’re estimated attendance was over 500,000) AND we went to the festival. We’ve tried to make it an annual tradition but last year, Pride was a washout due to heavy rains. The Pride committee held the parade but called the festival. This year, we had other commitments when it was held last week so we missed it but we’ve been up to Toledo Pride before which is held in August and enjoyed it’s smaller, more intimate setting so much (20,000 people) that we’ve made plans to go back to that this year. Summer just wasn’t summer last year without Pride and, in the wake of Orlando, it really is important that we show up and show solidarity with all of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

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  2. Hey! Another great article! My first Pride event was in (gasp) Colorado Springs, birthplace of Amendment 2 in 1992. I didn’t go to the parade, but did walk around Acacia Park where all the information booths and vendor booths had set up. I went by myself and was so paranoid that someone would recognize me- -I was still teaching elementary school and feared for my job. I was just so angry that Amendment 2 passed that I had to do something- -so off to Pride I went. I was so happy to be with people just like me. I bought a really cool gold ring from a local lesbian goldsmith. I still wear it as a reminder of that day when I screwed up my courage, went to my first Pride event, and said F-you to the people in Colorado Springs who wrote Amendment 2. For a brief time I was out and proud and loved it!

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  3. I walked in a Pride parade in Colorado Springs in …1994, I believe it was. There was a group of protestors — one in particular — that was yelling and screaming that we were going to go to hell. The one (an older man at the time — probably in his 50s) who was the most aggressive put himself in the path of the parade and waved his sign and shouted at us. As I passed him, he screamed again, “you’re going to hell” and he looked right at me and I just smiled back at him and waved and yelled back, “See you there!”

    And the expression on his face was priceless. He had no response. He deflated. I’m sure he started yelling it again, but by that time, I was past him.

    And I’m glad you went to Pride that day you did.

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  4. First bar experience. Back in the day in Colorado, we had “3.2 laws.” Pronounced three two. Basically, beer that was 3.2 percent alcohol could be sold to people 18-20. Grocery stores carried 3.2 beer, and there were a very few clubs that catered to 3.2 crowds on certain nights. There was a 3.2 LGBTQ club on 17th Street in Denver. It’s no longer there, obviously, and later became a punk bar. Now I think it’s office space. ANYWAY, that was the first LGBTQ bar I went to. I had just turned 19.

    So I went in and there were all kinds of people there. I went out onto the tiny dance floor with my friends and we were dancing around and this guy older than I was — probably in his mid-30s — groped my ass. For realz, yo. I turned around, all, “WTF”? And when he realized I was not a cute young male-type and instead was of the lesbian variety, he was absolutely mortified. I told him he shouldn’t be grabbing people ANYWAY without permission. He apologized, but he kept sneaking looks at me the rest of the night. I think he might’ve been wishing I had a twin brother or something. LOLOL

    So yeah. I got felt up in an LGBTQ bar. By a gay dude. #lesbianfail

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  5. Well-written article Andi, you should be a writer 🙂 I shared another article on FB from a gay man (re: Orlando and it’s impact on us all) . I would love to share this one on as well because it encourages, remembers “Pride”. But, I’m not too computer savvy. Thanks for another good article.

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  6. Howdy–scroll up to right above the comments. See the “reblog” button? Click that. It should walk you through a relatively simple process on getting the post to show up elsewhere. 😀

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  7. Oh and I came out in October of 1991, I was living in the Sacramento-area at the time. I don’t remember if I went to their Pride. I do remember going to a Coming Out group through their Pride Center and going to my first Lesbian dance. Heaven. I moved to Los Angeles in ’92, so the first Pride I really remember is that one … again so great, so many lovely people, a long time watching couples Western dance in the Dance Pavilion or one of their dance pavilions (is that spelling right?). Anyway, forgot to post when I read the article …

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