By Steve Charing
As we approach the annual Pride festivities and all the color and hoopla that goes along, one can easily to lose sight of the meaning of Pride. The younger generation may not fully appreciate the significance of Pride celebrations. Lucky for them, they didn’t have to endure the threats of bar raids, arrests and other oppressive tactics that permeated the gay scene prior to Stonewall in 1969. But they should try to understand the tough journey that brought us here today.
On a sultry June weekend that year, a coterie of gays, lesbians and drag queens revolted against police harassment stemming from yet another raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. For once, gays fought back. To many, that historic event triggered the launch of the modern gay-rights movement and planted the seeds for Pride parades and celebrations all over the world each year during the month of June.
Many see Pride as a big party, and that’s fine. Older lgbt citizens, I believe, have a keener awareness of the history and symbolism and can better assess the progress the lgbt community has made in the 36 years since the Stonewall uprising.
The parade up Charles Street sets the tone with the wide variety of lgbt and allied organizations and businesses marching and riding amidst shouts, cheers and waves from the festive crowd on the sidelines. The block party, as always, is a social carnival and a reunion of old friends and a chance to, um, bump into new ones. Entertainment on the sound stage plus the dancing in the street provides a fitting backdrop. The aroma that blends smoke, food, cologne, sweat and alcohol makes for a distinctive odoriferous cocktail. At certain points in time, moving around does not appear to be an option.
The Sunday-in-the-park event affords the opportunity for folks to trot out their dogs and for couples to stroll about the tree-shaded paths hand-in-hand. Music fans are entertained by the eclectic performers; the colorful crowd will indulge the numerous food vendors and get acquainted with the myriad lgbt organizations that are trying to make life better for all of us.
Some question the purpose of "Gay Pride." What’s to be proud about? Being gay isn’t an accomplishment like performing a heroic act or succeeding at your job. True enough. It isn’t about accomplishment so much as a self-recognition that this is who I am and that I refuse to pretend I’m somebody else. Nonetheless, there are as many ways to interpret the meaning of Pride as there are people doing it.
While the lgbt community has had to endure political setbacks and destructive divisions within the community itself during the post-Stonewall era, there were many victories, too. Through the years, our goals have evolved from tolerance to acceptance, and now our fight is for full equality in society. Pride should be about pointing to the positives. I, for one, use this occasion to reflect upon our history and the reasons to be proud:
I am proud that the climate is such that so many more people are coming out of the closet, especially at an earlier age. This helps them discover their true selves and allows the heterosexual population to get to know lgbt individuals as human beings—not some abstract stereotype.
I am proud that more and more lgbt politicians are out as well, thus giving us a voice, albeit a small one, in government at all levels. And it is heartening to see a growing number of government officials not shying away from taking a pro-gay stance on issues. However, there is much work to be done in the political arena.
I am proud of such organizations as PFLAG, Equality Maryland, GLSEN, the ALCU and other effective groups for fighting the fight for all of us. They are on the front lines and in the trenches in an effort to gain equality for the lgbt community. We should salute these groups and support them mightily in every way possible.
I am proud of the way the lesbian community rallied to help gay men in need during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. This was inspirational in light of the fact that many gay men and lesbians had experienced an uneasy relationship up to that point.
I am proud of all those organizations who have given comfort to HIV/AIDS patients, those who keep trying to educate the public about the disease and those individuals conducting research to find a cure.
I am proud that lgbt businesses, newspapers, websites, resorts and other establishments have proliferated over time, which helps to weave us into the fabric of society. And it brings us an enormous amount of economic clout, as lgbt individuals typically have a higher percentage of disposable income.
I am proud that so many schools have a Gay-Straight Alliance, which presents a safe haven for lgbt youth to meet and discuss their lives without fear of intimidation. Moreover, many PFLAG chapters and community centers offer lgbt youth support groups at a time in their lives when it is critical to realize that they are not alone and it is OK to be gay.
I am proud that even the subject of same-sex marriage had entered into the dialogue, which would have been inconceivable just 5 years ago. I am also proud of the over 6,100 gay and lesbian couples who have married in Massachusetts so far—also a remarkable feat.
I am proud of our diverse community and hope that some day we will realize that we are all stronger for it.
Finally, I am proud that we have come such a long way that I’m able to openly dance with my partner at a straight wedding.
We all view Pride through the prism of one’s experiences. I see Pride as a celebration of life, of what we accomplished as a community, and how we will succeed in the coming years. Here’s to rainbows, balloons and triangles. Here’s to us all.