Stone Wall Riots, Pulse Massacre - Focus on Pride and Love
2019 marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots which is recognized as the beginning of the LGBTQ movement. It is a critical and historical event, and the amount of progress that has been achieved in 50 years is both substantial and sad at the same time.
June is known around the world as LGBTQ Pride Month. Across the world, and the country, there are festivals and parades, celebrations and speeches, all in the name of Pride. There are also those who; in and outside the community; do not understand the full meaning of Pride Festivals. Nor even why they serve such an essential role in the lives of the LGBT community as well as those struggling with acceptance of their sexuality, those whose lives have been suppressed by fear, my inner struggles, and battles with depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction.
Pride events bring together the entirety of the community from the mild-mannered to the extreme extroverts. Within the festival, everyone is welcome, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, from masculine to feminine, one hundred percent gay, one hundred percent straight or somewhere in between. Be you a trans female or a trans male, or gender fluid, within the security of a pride festival you can find your tribe. Allies are accepted, allies are encouraged, and allies are invited to share in this liberating moment of visibility in a way that none of our ordinary, mundane lives could ever allow us to be.
I grew up in the south, then moved to Guatemala for ten years. I can honestly say that while I knew I was not the only gay man in the world, I still felt our numbers were limited, and our lives were destined to be hard, lonely and always at risk. I grew up an era of AIDs fear. Moving into puberty and sexual awareness during a time when gay men were vilified, treated with little to no dignity as they died in numbers still hard to imagine. All gay men were lumped together with one defining identifier – they were incapable of love and were promiscuous.
Our movies and literature of the 1980’s acts as a window of who we were as a nation, one only needs to watch a few to realize that it was not just the gay men and woman who were promiscuous. One-night stands were a staple of the cinematic world, often without even know the name of the partners. I think it is safe to say that the ’80s and ’90s were sexually charged time for all. Even our sitcoms, though they did not show the acts, made numerous reference’s to and innuendo about promiscuity. Watch any episode of Three’s Company or Gold Girls; it was part of our culture.
My first Pride festival was a magical experience for me. The parade, while entertaining, and yes even embarrassing, was not what I remember most. It was the walk from the parade route to the festival itself. The year was 1998, and the location was San Diego. The numbers in attendance blew my mind, so tremendous was the crowd that I wondered if every gay man and woman in the world had descended on San Diego at one time.
As we walked to the festival, as far as the eye could see, a sea of men and woman walked, the sidewalks were packed, as was the street between the sidewalks. You could only walk in one direction, as an attempt to turn back, you would hit a wall of people making it impossible. The energy was electric, the joy and laughter were more of a roar, and the air filled with the sound of thousands of feet moving together, moving to the festival grounds where we could all be ourselves.
The Pride Celebrations offer our community a chance to simply be. An opportunity to share a day or a weekend with people who fully understand us and embrace who we are for what we are. Yes, it is a party, it is a celebration of life and a reason to let go for even a moment of our fears and insecurities. I time to embrace our more authentic selves without having to edit our actions to fit into a world that while more accepting in some circles, continues to be a battleground of what is and is not acceptable.
I often hear people ask if Gay Pride is so important, why is there no Straight Pride. The most straightforward answer is, every event you go to is Straight Pride. Every concert, every parade, every activity you undertake is a form of straight pride. Straight public displays of affection are acceptable behaviors, holding hands, hugging, kissing, embracing, you name it, these are acceptable in general society, albeit with certain limitations of course.
For the LGBT community, public displays of affections, regardless of how tame they may be, are offensive, or part of an agenda to protest and force acceptance on people. I have been with my husband since 1997; we married legally in 2015. To this day, neither of us are comfortable with public displays of affection even as enlighten as some believe Southern California to be. When I travel, my husband takes me to the airport, a heterosexual couple thinks nothing of hugging and kissing their spouse upon their departure or arrival, yet we, look around to see if anyone can see us, and more often than not, do neither.
We choose not to make others uncomfortable. We choose to blend as much as possible. This is our choice. While we have gotten the looks, we have been discriminated against more times than we care to remember, we do this out of what I think is both fear and consideration of others. We choose not to make others uncomfortable. When we go to bars, not something we do very often anymore as we are well past that age, or we go to Pride Festivals, again, has been years since we went, we allow ourselves those moments to be a couple in the world rather than just a couple within our walls.
Pride festivals remain important, celebrating LGBT Pride is imperative to release the chains of self-hate, depression, and feelings of isolation. Gay Bars are important. While many view them as just a place to hook up, they serve as a safe haven to let go of the fear and feelings of isolation if only for a few hours at a time before going out into the world.
That is the reason that the Pulse Massacre in 2016 was so hard for so many in the LGBT community worldwide. It was not just a bar, and as horrible as the deaths and injuries were, the fact that such an act took place within the very walls where we collectively go because of the feeling of safety and freedom, we were reminded that our sense of security was nothing more than an illusion. In fact, for some, the idea of going anywhere that had a high concentration of LGBT people was avoided as it proved to be a target where large numbers of us could be harmed.
But, the LGBT community is resilient, we have been in the world since time began, and I assume we will be here till the end. We are your brothers, your sisters, parents, aunts, and uncles. We are teachers, actors, construction workers, singers, and athletes. Seen or unseen, we occupy space within every occupation, every hobby, and every walk of life. We are your friends, even when you don’t know, we are your partners in this world, even when you fail to recognize our contributions. Our relationships are no different than yours, our sexual expressions no different, from the mild to wild, we are just like you. We are you.
Our dreams are as real as yours; our goals are just as valid. We don’t always understand you, any more than you know us, yet we accept and embrace you and your rights, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you in your times of difficulty. We hold your hand and wipe your tears, we celebrate and encourage your triumphs, and are sympathetic to your failures.
I dream of the day when we are just people. When who you love or who you are attracted to is less critical; when all that is important is that you love. I dream of a world where regardless of skin color, religion, political affiliation or gender expression, we accept any couple as a matter of fact, rather than finding the need to search for tolerance because it seems odd.
I dream of a day when one does not need to fear losing a job because someone deems them unfit due to who they love. I dream of a day when no one would think twice about denying service to someone because who they love does not conform to their limited concept of normal. I dream of a day when love is more important than hate, when acceptance is universal, and intolerance is the exception.
The only way for this dream to become a reality is for more and more members of the LGBT community to be visible, thus the importance of high profile coming out statements for those who are ready willing and able to do so, as well as for allies to be more visible. Alone we cannot bring about this dream, together, Gay, straight, bisexual, trans gendered and everything in between, standing as one we can make this a reality.