by Scott King
I have a scar on my left hand. It runs in a straight line down about an inch below the knuckle of my middle finger. You can barely see it these days, but it’s there. And it reminds me of Pride. Circa 2015 or so.
It was a fabulous, beautiful, temperate, and sunny fall day in Atlanta. Pride weekend. I was walking home for a disco nap after a couple of brunches and taking in a bit of the parade.
I crossed Piedmont and 10th, heading north, which, as we all know, means heading downhill a little bit.
All of a sudden, the ground came up.
I didn’t trip. I didn’t stumble. Gravity just got the best of me. BOOM. Ouchies. I’m sure some kind of lesbian with a clipboard and a headset helped me up. I don’t really remember.
What I do remember though, is the love. And the warmth. And the ooze. No, I don’t mean ooze as in the blood and puss coming from the scrapes on my hand and elbow, although there was plenty of that.
I mean the ooze of the groovy, loving, and healing power of the LGBTQ+ community (and allies) at their best, on their best behavior, out in force and at their most dynamic and resplendent. PRIDE.
It’s a powerful elixir. And an even more seductive intoxicant.
But where does Pride come from? Why does it hurt so much? And why is it so damn beautiful?
If you’ve ever Googled it or seen even half a documentary on Hulu or Amazon, you know that the first Pride was held a year after the Stonewall riots, to commemorate that galvanizing event and to continue the LGBTQ+ civil rights march toward equality.
But do you know more? Do you know about the Mattachine Society and the Gay Liberation Front and other gay-rights organizations that kept the march going through Anita Bryant, the AIDS crisis, the Gay ’90s, and into the new millennium? Do you know what happened at the first Pride celebrations in Atlanta? Many attendees wore paper bags over their heads. They wanted to show their presence, but not their faces.
Do you know about the brave trans pioneers who put their bodies on the line in the streets, marking the boundary between the status quo and progress? Do you know about the boring cisgender white dudes who sat in their New York apartments and used their privilege to advance the case nationally and internationally for gay, lesbian and transgender liberation to move things forward in the legal, intellectual, and academic realms? These pioneers, armed mostly with pens and typewriters, gave queer studies an intellectual heft that street protests, in all their glory, were not equipped to effectuate.
Do you know about the kids in the ’80s and ’90s and even early aughts who grew up in small towns? Places where the words “faggot” and “dyke” were like chocolate milk – they were on everybody’s lips? Those words weren’t just for people who were out or were perceived to be homosexual. They were for anyone who didn’t conform to the hegemonic and literally violent heteronormative culture of much of America in the 20th century. Do you know about those who grew up without the internet or social media to give them a light or hope? Do you know about the kids who read gay magazines and periodicals and desperately searched the television for queer representation, for some smiling face to say implicitly or explicitly that being gay was okay?
Those kids aren’t much older than you. They’re still at the bars. Hit them up for a chat. They’ve got some interesting things to say. Don’t you want to talk about something other than “Drag Race,” TikTok, or the Kardashians?
If you’re under age 25, I don’t know much about your life. I would love to learn, though. I would love to have a chat. Where could we do this? Where is the forum? Where is the space? Well, it’s within us all, and outside us. It’s at the bar. It’s on the street. It’s on the internet. It’s at the LGTQ+ community center. It’s everywhere.
Go to your institutions. Go to your community centers. Use your resources. Learn and appreciate the knowledge that has been handed down to you from generations of queer pioneers and non-pioneer queers. Being a basic bitch is nothing new. These elders have something to teach us as well.
And please, read some books. I swear it’s fun. It’s kind of like a podcast but on paper. Read the Atlanta History Center’s “Gay and Lesbian Atlanta.” For more raucous and subversive tales, check out “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head: Drag, Drugs, Disco, And Atlanta’s Gay Revolution.” And when you’ve worked up to it and are feeling adventurous, read Randy Shilts’ “And The Band Played On.” It’s a more thorough and realistic portrayal of the AIDS epidemic in the United States; more realistic than “Angels in America,” if you can believe it. It shows the institutional structures that were there to do the hard work of healing, struggling, and surviving. And the forces against us. This stuff doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes a village. It takes an infrastructure. It takes institutional knowledge. And it takes heroes, like you.
As you probably already know, this year there aren’t any official Pride events in Atlanta. But that doesn’t mean you can’t participate.
Read books. Reach out to your elders. Rely on institutions. Celebrate Pride.
I want you to have more to remember Pride by than some silly scar.