Last month, a number of cities around the country and around the world held Pride celebrations. There was one held in Salt Lake City at the beginning of June. I did not attend it this year, though I have attended it the past two years. My experiences at Pride have left me with mixed feelings. There are definitely positive things that I saw about Pride, although there were also negative things. In this post, I will discuss both.
As I mentioned, many Gay Pride festivals, parades and marches took place last month. The reason that so many take place in June is because the first Gay Pride March took place on the anniversary of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn and the ensuing Stonewall Riots that occurred on June 28, 1969. The Stonewall Riots marked the birth of the modern Gay Rights Movement. The first Gay Pride marches took place on June 28, 1970 in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In 1971, seven more cities held marches, and by 1972, the number of cities holding marches had increased to 17, and every major city in the United States had gay rights groups.
Pride does a lot of good for the queer community. It provides an opportunity to gather together. It provides visibility. It brings awareness of discrimination, bigotry and violence that still does take place against LGBT people. And it helps bring in others to support the group. It also provides awareness about the risk for AIDS and other STDs. It provides awareness and support for those at risk for suicide. And it provides countless other resources for those in the queer community.
I would argue, however, that Pride celebrations do just about as much harm as good. I'll illustrate what I personally noticed with the first time I attended a Pride celebration two years ago. I ran in a 5K hosted by the local Pride Center, watched the parade and attended the festival. This was all here in Utah, so my observations may or may not apply to Pride celebrations in other cities.
At the time I was working to balance my sexuality and spirituality, both of which were important to me. At all of the events that I went to, I noticed a general anti-religious tone and a specific anti-Mormon tone. This not only made me feel uncomfortable attending, but also made me feel feel less than completely welcome. Because I was religious and I was Mormon, I did not fit the mold of what someone in the queer community should be (at least according to the opinions I heard). I found some bitter irony that a group that so strongly fights bigotry and discrimination in one area was so willing to take part in it in another area.
The other aspect that flavored my first experience with Pride was the overt display of sexuality. I remember one man in particular in the parade that was wearing so little, that what little was covered left almost nothing to the imagination. And though he was the most extreme example, he was far from the only one. I remember joking with a friend afterward that if I wanted to look at porn, I could have stayed at home. Quite frankly, I did not find either the parade or the festival to be family friendly. There is no way I would consider taking one of my younger nieces or nephews to a Pride event. They do not need that kind of exposure to sexuality.
I think both of these aspects of Pride that I observed do a great disservice to the queer community. Rather than creating understanding for those that struggle the most to see the queer community as anything other than sexual deviants who despise religion, it reinforces those stereotypes. It ignores the opportunity to gain allies and create bridges of understanding, and instead widens the gap of separation, resentment and misunderstanding that already exist.
I am not opposed to Pride celebrations, as I do believe that they do a lot of good. But if they are to be successful in their goals of reducing or eliminating discrimination, bigotry and misunderstanding, some things are going to need to change. Instead of being little short of a gay Mardi Gras, Pride celebrations could take a lesson from the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s that did so much more to create the needed changes in society.
As always, your comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated.