With June declared as Pride Month by President Obama and the kickoff of Pride Weekend here in Philadelphia, I thought I’d prepare myself for the glitter filled celebrations by digging in a bit to what Gay Pride means to me. And, for me, the weekend meant block parties, parades, festivals, friends, family and an all around celebration. But it also meant a lot more to me. Something that I’m proud to tell you about. But first, I feel obligated to tell you something else. I didn’t always feel proud to celebrate Pride. (HINT: TO AVOID ALL OF MY RAMBLING SKIP TO THE LAST PARAGRAPH TO READ MY ANSWER).
To be honest, just two years ago this whole Gay Pride thing didn’t mean much to me. It meant nothing at all really considering I didn’t even know it existed. Now, that’s not the same thing as saying I didn’t know gay people existed. I knew they did. I was one of them. It’s also not saying that I didn’t know that gay people who were proud existed. I knew they did too. I just wasn’t one of them then. I had heard tale of the mythological men and women out there excepting of their sexuality, free and careless to conquer the world with their same sex escapades. I knew that that was real. But what I wasn’t privy to was this Pride thing. This glorious emotion that transformed into a physical act for a day.
Pride Day was something that became tangible and alive on the streets and moving and sweating in the sweltering June heat. It was flaunting rainbow flags and glitter and paint and laughing and dancing and crying. It was celebrating with friends, making new friends, drinking a little too much and losing friends and your phone and somehow your shoes. It was a whole bunch of other things too. Bust most importantly it was a day where the LGBT community was celebrated. In public. By LGBT members and allies alike. That? That wasn’t real life. Two years ago I had trouble believing that. I mean, I could be gay, just not proud. No one wanted to see that. The fight for marriage equality wasn’t even a “thing” yet. DOMA was. And gays having rights was a nonessential notion. But I found out that that was wrong. And I found that out while texting on the job during a particularly lazy Saturday at work in 2012.
New Message From Your Only Other Gay Friend
SMR: “Hey gurlll, what are you up to tomorrow?”
SMR: “I’m doing Pride at Penn’s Landing. Wanna go?”
SMR: “There’s a parade and party. Should be fun. Plus guys lol.”
And just like that I had signed myself up. I would be partaking in this Pride thing. But what did that mean? Embarrassingly enough, two years ago it meant only one thing to me: I had to find “gay clothes.” I had one day to dress gay and I was going to do that right. What were those gay clothes you ask? A tank top and my shortest pair of cargo shorts.
I can laugh at it now, and I hope you as the reader can too. But in all actuality, that’s what the whole Pride thing meant for me in that moment. I had just recently come out two months prior to my closest friends and family, so even the small act of dressing a little flamboyant in public was a big step for me. This was my way of declaring Pride then. I would march into the Pride parade baring enough arm and leg to make the nuns at my Catholic grade school blush. And I did. The next day I counted down the hours at work. When it was time to clock out I grabbed my things and ducked into the nearest Starbucks’ bathroom to change out of my work uniform because I was too embarrassed to let coworkers see me in my Pride attire. I suited up and set out. Still to this day, I don’t think I’ve matched the level of excitement I felt then and there, short of every time I hear Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” playing at Woody’s.
I can describe the day’s events in one word: fabulous. Sure enough, I met friends, made friends and lost friends. I got glitter-bombed and rainbow-painted. I danced in the streets and watching drag queens perform on stage. Everyone was out. Literally. And everyone was celebrating. The pride that was circulating throughout Philadelphia grabbed me, took me with it, and made me one of it’s own. Two months after first coming out, I was finally “out.” And I didn’t care who in the world saw me. That’s when I realized the whole Pride thing was a little bit more than the tank and shorts I was wearing.
The following year I made the pilgrimage to New York City to celebrate Pride with the same friend that convinced me to celebrate my first. This was the birthplace of the Pride Parade dating back to 1970 when a group of LGBT activists marched for the first time to commemorate the Stone Wall riots that occurred the year prior. Then, it was illegal to be gay in public and it was against the law for bars like the Stone Wall Inn to serve an openly gay man. So, when the NYPD raided it on that June night in 1969 to round up the homos for being homos, they were shocked to be met with opposition. For one of the first times, the L, G, B and T banded together to fight the police off. The community was no longer willing to be arrested simply for being who they were. The movement had started. (Although as a Philadelphian I’m obligated to note that this actually happened here in Philadelphia first in 1964 when LGBT activists protested outside of Independence Hall for equal recognition as US citizens… but that’s just semantics).
That was the Pride that I was dipping into when I walked the streets of NYC with my rainbow flag flying high. And even more fabulous, this was the same month that DOMA had just been struck down. Same Sex Marriage was no longer illegal on a federal level. The gay rights movement had come a long way since 1969. And I was lucky enough to see it happen. And even luckier to celebrate it. People were finally getting behind this whole Pride thing. And this whole Pride thing was beginning to change things.
Now, 2 years after first coming out and first going out to my first Pride event, I’m back in Philadelphia celebrating what is now Pride Month. A month following the ruling making Pennsylvania the 19 state to pass marriage equality. A month that I can now say I’m proud to celebrate surrounded by close friends and family, gay and straight alike. As Pride Weekend here in Philadelphia, there were events celebrating the LGBT community all over the city. Friday night a block party swept through the Gayborhood. A second did the same again on Saturday. Sunday marked the Pride Parade that ran straight through the heart of Philadelphia. The Pride Festival at Penn’s Landing, the Big Gay Boat Party at the Moshulu and the countless of after parties throughout the Gayborhood brought it all home to close out the celebrations. In short, this weekend was super gay. And there’s still a half of month left of it. And I’m proud of that. It means a lot. Which brings me back to my original reason for writing this blog: What does this whole Gay Pride thing mean to me anyway
Like I said before the ramble of this blog began, Pride means a lot to me. It means I no longer have to hide. It means that I no longer have to feel embarrassed or worried or guilty. It means that I can forget about the teachings in school that told me who I was was wrong. I can forget about the people that called me a faggot. It means that along with the 100 lbs I shed after accepting who I was, I can also shed the shame that caused them. I can ignore the people today that accuse Pride of shoving Gay in their faces. It’s accepting that for 21 years of my life I was forced to accept that straight was the normal, that heterosexual love was the only love and that gay was synonymous with different and weird and gross. It’s looking back on all of those things and realizing that they’re changing. It’s realizing that celebrating who I am shouldn’t be offensive to anyone. It’s seeing state after state pass marriage equality. It’s hoping that I will soon live in a state where I can no longer be fired for being gay alone. It’s seeing gay have a presence in pop culture for the first time ever in music, movies and TV. It’s celebrating how you want. And it’s loving who you want. But most importantly, it’s understanding that although not everyone will understand what Pride means to me, the only people that I need in my life are the ones that do.
Have a fabulous Pride Month, interwebbers. May it be filled with rainbows, glitter and love.