When the first Pride festival occurred more than 45 years ago, it was a blatant political statement. It was a warning to the “authorities” that gay men would no longer be harassed, arrested and extorted. The next 10 years or so the parades and festivals grew in size and took place in more and more cities across the country.
The bawdier Pride started in the ’70s, the greater resistance it elicited. Crusaders against LGBT rights came out of the woodwork. The most famous was Anita Bryant; a beauty queen, singer, right-wing Christian activist and Florida orange juice spokeswoman. As her political victories grew, Pride became an act of unity.
Then the AIDS pandemic hit. While Christian religious leaders screamed hatred and pointed to the disease as God’s vengeance against homosexuality (conveniently ignoring the small number of lesbian women infected) Pride became a display of defiance. Seeing hundreds of thousands of angry LGBT people in the streets must have been a frightening realization to bigots from the pulpit to the White House: we were fighting for each other.
We’ve made remarkable advances in equality since that first Pride, and we still have battles to fight – especially when it comes to full rights for Trans* people – but life is better than anyone could have dreamed. The way I see it, the Prides past were about the fight; the Prides today are about the victories.
For me, Pride is a yearly reminder that we’re still here, we’re still moving forward. It’s a time for us as a community to cheer our successes and to stiffen our resolve to continue the fight. Recognizing this progress is important both for our community and the straight community.
The more inroads toward full equality that LGBT people make, the more distance the mistreatment of the past becomes. Just as it is difficult for people of my generation and younger to comprehend the mistreatment of African Americans prior to the Civil Rights Movement, younger gay and lesbian people cannot fully grasp there was once a time they could’ve been arrested just for going to a bar.
You don’t even need to go all the way back to Stonewall to realize the victories we’ve gained. The progress we as a society have made means that many younger LGBT people may not understand how – when I was a young adult –being gay was something to be kept secret. Only I didn’t.
I’d like to think that decision helped advance everyone’s rights. I’d like to think that my marriage, my kids, the life we enjoy today are all possible on some level because I, and millions of other gay people, refused to be ashamed.
Sure there are still risks associated with coming out. But the support systems and the wider-spread acceptance of lesbian women and gay men means more often than not that those who have a problem with LGBT people must explain themselves. Nowadays two guys go to the prom together, or a lesbian introduces her wife at the company holiday party and nobody blinks an eye. But that wasn’t the always the case.
That’s why Pride for me is a celebration. It’s a reminder that as a young man living in a time when it was easier and wiser to be in the closet, I chose to be out.
The other day at the dog park, I saw a young gay couple, barely in their 20s, holding hands while they walked their dog. That wouldn’t have happened when I was their age. So as I passed them I smiled and whispered, “You’re welcome.”