Catherine Sullivan (she/her)
A year ago this month, three of my friends and I went out to escape the casual queerphobia of our moderate conservative suburb and head to Motor City Pride. Back at home, we all had our struggles. Two of us were closeted, and they knew they would not be accepted if they came out. I had certainly experienced enough transphobia to need an escape for a day. I didn’t realize until I got there quite how much I needed it.
Pride offers members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to celebrate our history and imagine a future free from discrimination and persecution. It is a place to move beyond mere "tolerance" of queer and trans identities, and move towards love and celebration of our existence instead. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.
At home, queerness was something to be tolerated, at best. Straight people could talk about their romantic life all they wanted. However, when a lesbian mentioned a girl she was into, she was branded an attention-seeker who made her queerness her whole personality. People certainly felt entitled to share their opinions on my transness, but I was expected to keep quiet about it, because “at least they didn’t assault me”.
Walking into Pride, that culture faded away. At Pride, being openly queer was a good thing. It meant you were stepping away from the mold cast for us and learning to embrace yourself. Back home, being a non-passing trans woman (one you can tell is trans) was a shameful thing and something to seek to change, but here it was fully accepted, and it could even be attractive.
Pride also offered an alternative to the Brokeback Mountain-esque future of quiet suffering I always pictured for people in my community. Here, you didn’t have to choose between a queer life and a happy life. Seeing the dancing teens and the partying adults and the sweet old couples, I started to believe that my happiness was something worth pursuing.
That day was a turning point in my self-confidence. I no longer felt like I just needed to keep my head down until I passed well enough to assimilate. I knew that I had a community where I was encouraged to be me, even if I only had in-person access to it once a year.
Beyond personal reasons, there are also plenty of political justifications for Pride. Most clearly, it brings visibility to the community. The rallying cry, “We’re here, we’re queer, get over it!” has been shouted by our movement for decades. The message is clear: there are queer people living in your community. Pretending they don’t exist isn’t going to work anymore. They’ll keep being queer no matter what you say and it’s on you to get used to that.
It’s important to remember that the first Pride was a riot. In 1969, the Stonewall riots against police discrimination and brutality became a major turning in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Today, Pride is often toned down to be more palatable to politicians and corporate marketing teams, but for much of its history it was a deeply radical event, and it can still be a powerful political statement today.
While there isn’t the same radical message to your everyday Pride, it still sparks opposition, ranging from the incredulous, “I just don’t get why it has to be a big deal,” to right-wing extremism. Last year, the National Socialist Movement raised the Nazi flag over Motor City Pride. Armed and escorted by police, they shouted homophobic, racist, and ethno-nationalist slogans and defaced rainbow and Israeli flags. Later in the year, a Straight Pride Parade was put on in Boston. The demonstrators, promoting anything from typical conservative values to overt white supremacy, were vastly outnumbered by counterprotestors. If our community being ourselves makes the Nazis feel threatened, Pride surely must still have some political power.
Pride is a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s a place to see the community in its fullest. To celebrate who we are, asterisk removed. To support local artists or to buy tacky rainbow gear. To stand against a culture that wants us to just stop being. To garner support for serious political change. And if any of that makes the world a little more friendly towards queer people, I think it’s safe to say that Pride matters.