My last two posts have been Pride related and focused on the joy of having gay pride, and what I believe gay pride is. Those posts have been the catalyst of some really interesting conversations with friends and family who read along. These conversations have been in good faith and with a curiosity that has yielded some great questions in order to gain a better understanding of the gay experience. They have made me think and have challenged me on so many levels that I thought doing a post on potential reasons why gay pride is so important would be interesting.
So while I am going to explore some ideas and potential answers that have come up, I do want to make the, hopefully obvious, caveat that these answers are very much a function of my specific experience and worldview. They have evolved over the years and will most likely continue to do so, and each member of the LGBTQ+ community would have their own take on them. My hope is that these thoughts on the ‘why’ of Pride will encourage others to share their answers as well with the folks in their lives.
Like I said in my last post, we seem to be in a very unique time in Pride history due to the fact that general awareness of Pride and June being the official Pride month has seemed to hit a peak relatively quickly. What folks are finding is that while a lot of people might know about Pride thanks to almost every consumer item with packaging being rainbow themed in the month of June, they aren’t super familiar with the concept.
We also had the interesting notion of straight pride come up this year which was a new concept for me and many other folks, and I actually think that unpacking why straight pride doesn’t make sense will be a good way to discuss why Pride is so important.
For starters, wanting to be included is a pretty universal aspect of the human experience. This can come up positively and can be represented by sentiments like “me too,” or “I want to join in with you.” It can also be presented negatively which is where those feelings of “what about me?” come in to play. We have all been that child on an unfamiliar playground trying to either find a group to play with, or find the space to play all by ourselves while being a safe distance from others (I didn’t forget about my introverts out there! And yes, I believe that being in the presence of others while not interacting can still be very communal).
While Maslow might disagree, I feel like this desire for community and acceptance is just as important, or even tied directly, to our need for safety. I make that connection just to display how strong this desire of being included in each of us is whether we acknowledge it or not, and while many folks recognize the need for safety and shelter, this one isn’t always top of mind which is why it can make things get a little crazy when not properly tended to.
Applying that understanding of our desire to be included and accepted to the concept of Pride helps me better understand where the idea of straight pride comes from: wanting to be included. This not only helps us empathize with folks that might not understand why ‘straight pride’ is problematic, but also gives a pretty good example of how to answer the Why of gay pride.
Gay Pride is important because it helps us move closer to a world where LGBTQ+ folks are accepted and fully included in our culture. In order to discuss this, we’ll need to briefly touch on the concept of privilege which I am by no means an expert on, but I will share a metaphor I once heard that has helped to illustrate this concept in conversations with friends and family:
Imagine you’re a student in a classroom full of classmates. Each classmate is seated at a desk preparing to take an exam. Once all the tests have been handed out, the teacher surprises everyone in the room by telling you to crumple the exams into balls and saying that grades will be determined by one’s ability to make a basket into the trash can sitting at the front of the room without leaving their seat. A fellow classmate points out that the rules aren’t fair for the students on the back rows - especially in the far corners - but the teacher doesn’t respond and only sits back to see who can make a basket.
It might be pretty obvious that we are all the students in this metaphor and the “test” of making the basket is a simple example of ‘success’ in our lives whatever that might look like. Folks closer to the trash can at the front of the room represent those of us with more privilege based on our race, sexual orientation, or gender and those in the far back of the room are those with much less, or often times no, privilege. Two more important aspects of this metaphor is to understand that the students had no control of where they sat in the room and didn’t know the rules of the exam prior to starting. This illustrates why it is really no one's 'fault' of the amount of privilege as well which is so important for folks to realize so shame doesn't get thrown around needlessly.
I’ve heard a couple of outcomes of the metaphor, but my favorite is one where the students realize that there were no rules against passing the crumpled exams to each other and the class creates a passing system so that each exam could be tossed in to the trash can by the folks on the front row.
In the case of the LGBTQ+ community our lack of certain privilege varies immensely - for example, as a white cis male I have more inherent privilege than a female of color even though we are both gay, but we all do share the queer experience. Unfortunately the queer experience, can come with various traumas due to living in a heteronormative world. That trauma can stem from many things and cause both physical and emotional injuries.
Pride month is important because it creates space for LGBTQ+ people to be their authentic selves without masking or hiding certain aspects of who they are. Yes - Pride Parades can sometimes be over the top with rainbows on rainbows and half naked (or fully naked) folks prancing around, but that sheer force of human spirit is to bring someone out of the closet even just a little more than they were before. The colors, sequence, glitter and fierceness serve as a huge gay megaphone that sends the message that you are accepted and loved in all aspects just the way you are to each and every LGBTQ+ person who might not be there yet. It also serves as a platform to display to the world that we are here, we matter, and we’ll continue until LGBTQ+ individuals are afforded the same civil liberties of everyone else.
So in that way, I think that Pride and Pride parades are important because of the message that we send to the rest of the world, and the message that we send to each other. That is also why I don’t think that they will ever stop and will hopefully continue to grow overtime. I’d love to think that full equality of rights would happen within my lifetime (might be overly optimistic, but that is what I do!), but even if that happens I don’t think Pride will stop. The LGBTQ+ community will always need to hear that second message - the one of love, acceptance and belonging as we continue to discover and bravely love the new aspects of who we are.
Come to think of it, I believe that’s a pretty universal message that we can all benefit from.