Today, May 17th, is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia—IDAHOT. I wanted to take the occasion to share my thoughts about gay pride and why I believe it still matters.
Pride is a powerful thing. It’s a terribly strong emotion. Honestly, you can be proud about anything—from your nationality to your ethnicity, your gender to your sexuality. You can even be proud about things that you get to decide and control: such as your religion or an adopted home, your coffee snobbery or maybe you simply stan an artist.
Pride can also be dangerous. It’s often blinding and narrows one’s view. But for those people that are open to understanding and appreciating other cultures, pride can be powerful and useful. Personally I’m proud of many things about my life. Sure, there is much to be improved upon, but there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of pride in who you are and what you do. Pride in an over-saturated extreme can be dangerous, but so can most things.
But right now, right at this moment: gay pride is still so very important. As was announced in this week’s Rainbow Index, equality is being threatened around the world. Even with marriage equality available in an increasing amount of countries, some are backtracking (looking at you Bermuda), and others are still refusing to recognize equal rights.
It might be easy to see the increased visibility of queer people in our culture as a sign of progress. And it is, but it’s not enough. There are more and more queer characters on our TV shows and in our movies. LGBTQ movies are finally getting the recognition they deserve—with mainstream media attention and darlings of the award circuit.
But it’s not enough.
There are still gay “purges” in Chechnya. Beirut was just forced to cancel what would be the Arab world’s only LGBT pride. You can still be fired in many USA states and cities simply for being gay or lesbian. And there are hundreds more stories about LGBTQ inequalities around the world.
Why Gay Pride Festivals Still Matter
Pride festivals today serve many different purposes. It’s a chance to celebrate, of course. And while many of our biggest gay prides around the world celebrate our identities (and we’ve got many!), there are still so many reasons why pride matters now just as much as it has in the past.
Because there’s still more work to be done
Gay pride festivals are a reminder of what’s been done, and a push to keep working toward full equality. As mentioned above, there are still so many rights unavailable to LGBTQ people around the world—even in the most progressive countries.
Because visibility is important
Yes, there are more out and proud celebrities today than probably any point in history. We’re living through a modern sexual revolution. Sexual politics is at the forefront of many of our social and cultural policies—and making headlines around the world.
Visibility is so important to those young queer boys and girls—the ones who aren’t sure if they’re alone in the world. To get people talking about a beautiful and vibrant LGBTQ community (however diverse it is) certainly helps. Especially for the many subgroups of the community: transgender men and women, disabled, handicapped, HIV+.
There are so many unique parts of the LGBTQ community and everyone deserves respect and attention for their cause. Full equality isn’t just the right to marry. It must take in all of our unique differences. And visibility is oftentimes the first step for gaining support and recognition.
Because we’re all so unique
The LGBTQ acronym takes in a lot of different identities, genders, and sexualities which makes it nearly impossible to lump all of us together. Pride festivals are the time of year when we all try to come together. It doesn’t always work. In Berlin, there are often competing gay pride festivals on the same weekend—the mainstream one and then an alternative one fighting for more progressive politics.
Many of the most “corporate” pride festivals overlook more marginalized communities. Some advocacy groups have fought to make sure pride festivals stay true to their political objectives, such as the call to have Toronto Pride prevent uniformed police officers from marching.
Because others can’t always celebrate
With calls of travel boycotts and increased news about the rise of fascism and anti-progressive governments, there is much to remember about gay rights around the world. While some countries are marching forward, some are inevitably moving backward.
Most gay pride festivals I’ve been to have been joyous occasions—full of fun and cheer—but many around the world are still very political. There are gay and lesbians fighting for their lives in some places, let alone their equality.
Because queer culture is special
Summertime is the time for festivals: music, food, cultural, camping, movie…if there’s something that can be celebrated, there’s almost always a festival for it in the summer. Gay pride is no different and each gay pride I’ve been to has been a unique and different experience from the next.
Oftentimes, gay pride festivals take place over the course of a week and feature everything from international queer musicians to LGBTQ-themed films. Of course, many of the American and European pride festivals include a lot of big parties and wild nightlife, but many also feature political and cultural events alongside the celebrations.
Because it’s important to have public support
There’s something really special about seeing straight allies and other supporters at a gay pride event. I’ve got plenty of friends who fully support equality, but all year long…it’s a mostly silent support. Then it’s time for a gay pride parade and suddenly they’re the first ones to suggest marching, rallying or otherwise. That means the world to me. And I suspect for others as well.
I know from my own personal experience, seeing prominent and influential out gays and lesbians helped me overcome my own fears. Add during a pride party where there are so many smiling and supportive people, a week of gay-themed events…suddenly a regular festival can mean so much more. Pride matters. Maybe not to everyone. But to some. And that’s all you really need.
• • •
I’ve met plenty of gay men and women who are quick to dismiss gay pride festivals as fueled parties, hyper-sexualized and “bad” for equality. Those people are wrong. It’s important to be proud of who we are, proud of what we’ve done so far, and eager to do more. Yes, there’s a lot of fun to be had—but pride is still important even for those that just want to wear crop-tops and sniff poppers on the street.
Like the famous “we’re here, we’re queer” slogan, we need to respect our differences and push for more recognition. Pride festivals, marches, and events are an important part of the process.
Traveling for pride this year? Join my new Facebook group for LGBTQ Travelers.