By Jeff Fuller
To commemorate Pride Month which this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, we asked columnist Jeff Fuller to reflect on how the concept of celebrating Pride has evolved and what it looks like today. *
“Burst down those closet doors once and for all
and stand up and start to fight.”
– Harvey Milk
Pride Is Protest
Pride has its origins in protest, the Stonewall Riots of 1969, a time when gay sex was a criminal act in much of the country and the “out and proud” were few and far between. These brave souls were able to find supportive and accepting communities of kindred spirits in major cities such as New York or San Francisco. Being “out” came with great risk and potential consequences – ridicule, job loss, police harassment, assault, or worse. Raids on gay bars were frequent; however, in June of 1969, the queers of New York’s Stonewall Inn fought back against a police raid. News of the Stonewall Riots galvanized gays across the country and eventually the world, resulting in annual Pride parades in major cities like New York and Atlanta to demand LGBT rights. These protest parades have evolved into the Pride celebrations we know today.
Over the years, Pride has been used to protest Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade, the inadequate government response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, marriage amendments, anti-transgender bathroom bills, and horrific acts of violence against our community. Pride has also been a celebration of our political and legal victories: greater visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ community in the workplace, the elimination of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the landmark Supreme Court decisions of Lawrence v. Texas (decriminalizing gay sex); Windsor v. United States (mandating federal recognition of gay marriage); and Obergefell v. Hodges, (providing for marriage equality nationwide).
Pride Is Personal
For me personally, Atlanta’s Pride Festival was the first time and place in my adult life that I held someone’s hand of the same gender in broad daylight. I remember how powerful it was to observe hundreds of people who were queer like me and queer in other ways, out having fun in the bright sunshine. My coming out process was slow, but events like Pride gave me the courage to accept myself and eventually be open about who I am. Coming out remains an important ritual in our community and Pride often plays a major role in this process by offering a safe and accepting environment.
To those who live in parts of the country where there is no gay community to speak of, Pride festivals are often one of the few chances they have to truly be themselves and connect with others. Pride is especially powerful to youth who may be outcasts in their hometowns but can feel like they belong somewhere when they go to a city to celebrate Pride.
Pride Is a Party
Pride is also a season of rainbow flags, rainbow socks, rainbow cakes, and rainbow jello shots. Glamorous drag queens present dazzling performances. Half-naked men gyrate on parade floats. Pride parties can mean gathering in people’s houses for brunch, dancing to the wee hours of the morning to electronic music, congregating on the lawn in city parks, connecting with old friends and making new ones, or witnessing the beautiful parade put on by our queer community. Pride provides enough events and excitement to keep one entertained all weekend long – or in the case of the World Pride in NYC; weeks of events and entertainment.
Some have argued that the meaning of Pride as a protest has been lost in the party atmosphere; that it is just another excuse for excessive drink and debauchery. Some decry the commercialism resulting from sponsorships from major companies that once wanted absolutely nothing to do with anything gay but now promote an event that is becoming increasingly sanitized and de-radicalized. Others feel left out, that their voices are not being heard and that Pride has more work to do to be more inclusive.
Amid all the sweat and glitter, it can be easy to lose sight of the political and personal functions of Pride that help build us up as a community.
Pride Is a Protest Again
While LGBT rights have advanced considerably since 1969, these times call for continued vigilance against forces that seek to hinder or reverse these gains. The Supreme Court justice who was the deciding vote and the author of the Lawrence, Windsor and Obergefell opinions has retired and has been replaced by an extremely partisan conservative, credibly accused of sexual assault. In Georgia, the outcome of the governor’s race has resulted in new attempts to enact a religious freedom bill that legalizes discrimination. Even in 2019, you can still be fired from your job here in Georgia for being gay. The current administration seeks to ban transgender people from serving in the military, demonstrates indifference to the continuing threat of HIV/AIDS, and fosters an environment hostile to LGBTQ rights. Pride is also an opportunity to keep these issues in focus as well as other causes that our community cares about: police brutality, racial justice, climate change, sexual violence, and international human rights.
So celebrate Pride, but also allow it to energize you to take action, whether that means voting, writing an article, organizing, serving the community, or raising your voice in protest. Enjoy the plethora of Pride parties, but also take time to reflect on how far we have come as a community in this half century since Stonewall as well as the formidable challenges affecting us today. Share your own coming out story and listen to others tell theirs. Make people feel included and encourage them to be who they are. Hold hands. Show your love. Show the world the creativity, diversity, kindness, and love of the LGBTQ community everywhere.
Jeff Fuller is an attorney, writer, travel blogger, historian, and military spouse. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Jeff went to college, graduate school and law school in the Southeast. He has called Atlanta home for the last decade but recently moved to DC to follow his husband on his military career. He occasionally blogs at journeyingjeff.com.
*This article is an edited version of ‘Pride: The Personal, Political Party’, which was first published in Goliath Magazine, October, 2018.