In June of 2001, when I was 16 years old, I went to my very first New York City Pride Parade.
Having just come out less than year earlier, I was equal parts excited and anxious about the spectacle that I was about to be a part of. Excited because this would mark my first foray into one of the most seminal events on the gay calendar, but anxious because I had no idea what it meant to participate in it.
I was so new to the community, and so very, very young that I really did not have any concept of what it meant to be proud. I mean, I had slowly developed a community of friends through this incredible organization called Pride for Youth, which hosted a weekly coffeehouse for LGBT teens every Friday evening, and which I credit sincerely with helping me to develop and cultivate my own identity. Without Pride for Youth, I would not be anywhere near able to have any pride in who I am, let alone be able to write about it in a national blog. So I saw the Parade sort of as an opportunity to show off this new, still very fresh identity, and to share in a day of celebration with other people of that same—or similar—identity.
Truth be told, however, save for getting a bit…closer with a friend of a friend (sorry mom!) I don’t remember much about that parade, except feeling…overwhelmed.
So many scantily clad, unbelievably beautiful bodies gyrating to ever-pulsating music, balloons and rainbows as far as the eye could see, cheering, clapping, and dancing. I certainly felt swept up in the extreme joy that pervaded all of lower Manhattan, but I’m not sure if I felt pride. It all just seemed so…surface, as if the ecstasy of the moment betrayed a sense of apprehension underneath; dancing because as gay individuals, we didn’t have the rights to do much else.
And, in the summer of 2001, we very much did not. There was scant representation of LGBT characters in media, if at all, hate crimes legislation had just stalled in the US Congress, as the specter of Matthew Shepherd’s gruesome death still loomed large, and marriage equality was prohibitively, if not laughably, far into the future. We needed the exuberance of the Pride Parades to remind ourselves just how fabulous we were, since the rest of society didn’t quite get it yet.
13 years later, and our communal status has grown exponentially. Our rights as US citizens are at an all-time high, with 19 states—and the incredible District of Columbia—giving full equality in marriage to LGB citizens, states like Maryland signing unprecedented anti-discrimination legislation into law, and signs that gay is fast becoming “the new normal.” With every passing year, we have more to celebrate, as the rest of society catches up with our own community’s realization of how awesome we are.
Certainly this is reason enough to be proud. To that, I would respond with a very qualified yes. Just as many in society recently—and spectacularly—instructed a certain Princeton undergrad to check his privilege, I urge us all to check our pride. Not because it may lead to arrogance, or haughtiness—we’re not doing quite that well yet—but lest it lead to complacency. Our accomplishments are great, and ever-growing. Gay representatives, judges, senators, and football players are amazing, as are bearded Eurovision winners, and they will help round out models of all shapes, sizes, and genders for LGBT youth. But the recent Supreme Court rulings leave me hesitant at best for the Hobby Lobby case, and what will amount to legally sanctioned LGBT discrimination if the Court rules for Hobby Lobby. Do we run the risk of being too busy celebrating, and not fighting?
With each step forward we take as a community, society seems to mandate that we take about a half step back. This is of course a vast improvement from my first parade in 2001, when any small inch forward resulted in blocks of pushback, but we must forever pepper our pride with action. We need pride, it fuels us forward, ever closer to each other, and to the rest of the world. May our pride remind us that our work is never done.