The first Pride parade was in 1970, in the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement and following the Stonewall Riots. At the time, the opposition to allowing LGBTQ+ people to coexist with the general population was contentious: many LGBTQ+ people lived in “gay villages” or “gay ghettos,” with little opportunity and significant violence. The Pride parade was a statement that we’re a part of this world too and that we won’t be swept to the side. The well-known chant “We’re here, we’re queer” is a political statement, making it clear that we do not intend to be brushed away into ghettos or to leave behind who we are. There are thousands of us, walking down your streets, our streets, being who we are, and we’re not leaving. Despite the threats and legal assaults, the Gay Liberation Movement pushed through and made its message loud and clear.
Fifty years since the Stonewall Riots, Pride looks a bit different than it originally did. Today, your average Pride parade is a time for celebration and includes city officials, companies, and the general public. There’s certainly a lot to celebrate. Over the last fifty years, dozens of countries have legalized same-sex relationships and begun to treat LGBTQ+ people as they would any other citizen. The road there was not easy and is not over, but Pride is when we look back and show pride in our accomplishments.
It is also to show pride in who we are. Due to things like a general lack of acceptance, the stigma on standing out in this way, and the difficulties homophobia and transphobia has caused people in their lives, it’s easy to be ashamed or embarrassed to be a part of this community. However, it should be even easier to say that it’s a part of who you are and to be proud of it, just as you would for any other aspect of yourself. Going to Pride means seeing thousands of people celebrating what others would shun, making it just a bit easier to say that it’s something you’re proud. For me, going to Pride meant not feeling like the odd one out for the first time. I was free to feel good about myself without feeling the slightest judgment or strangeness, which is really something everyone deserves to feel.
Despite the progress, things aren’t perfect now. Pride parades often are accompanied with protestors denouncing what they consider wrong or immoral. Even worse, Pride isn’t always a safe place to be, especially surrounding the parade. Just this year, we’ve had to deal with Nazis and active shooter scares. That same violence that the 1970s movement protested still exists today, intimidating and harming people simply celebrating who they are.
Whether in 1970 or 2019, the Pride Parade has the same message: we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not leaving. And that’s something to be proud of.
Ah, Pride month is here. I know this because Target and Macy’s both have their displays of requisite rainbow clothing, a garment to wear that says, “look at me! I’m-“ I’m what, exactly? Gay? Queer? Something on a spectrum to be labeled? And why is this month different than other months?
Pride Month, like many things in culture and history, is complicated. Its history is a wonderful mix of defiance, joy, sadness, and most certainly, passion. To me, Pride Month is a celebration of who we are, a reminder of where we’ve been, a protest against injustices, and a joyous hope for a better world to come.
As a celebration, Pride month allows us all to be who we are, in whatever form that takes. My name is Tom, I use he/him pronouns, and I identify as Bi.
A few months ago, I was at a performance of the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus. One of the men had a service dog, and during the question and answer period a high schooler asked “whose dog was it?” The gentleman shared an answer I will not soon forget. He said that the service dog was a promise to his longtime partner who died from AIDS. He would continue to use his voice to make a difference in this world, fighting for equality and rights. Not that long ago, being gay meant not having the same rights as others, with the very real possibility of being arrested.
Newsweek summarized the complex history of Pride here: https://www.newsweek.com/pride-month-2019-stonewall-50th-anniversary-history-lgbtq-america-history-1440491. Sophia Waterfield writes, “You have to understand that in the 1950s all U.S. states had laws criminalizing same-sex sexual behavior. You could be arrested and even imprisoned for even proposition[ing] someone for sex in public. Lesbians and gay men were routinely fired from their jobs if their boss or coworkers discovered their sexual orientation.
“The laws criminalizing same-sex activity gradually disappeared from state penal codes over the years but the U.S. Supreme Court only called them unconstitutional in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas.”
I find it amazing that the current generation of youth are so accepting of others’ sexual and gender identities. Is the world at 100% acceptance? I would be naive to say yes. But it’s far better than even a decade or two ago, which is great progress. Each Pride event is an opportunity to demand acceptance, to demand the same basic rights as any others - human rights. The right to exist, the right to be free in one’s actions, the right to love, the right to body autonomy, the right to dance - every right that is afforded to heterosexual, cisgender people should be applied in the same positive manner to everyone on the gender and sexuality spectrums.
Pride reminds us what the best in all of us can be - welcoming, inclusive, and, well, proud.
I love being a part of this wonderful community of LGBTQ+, but there are times where I feel I don’t belong. I sometimes wonder, “am I ‘gay’ enough to be a part of a conversation?” Because I have done some things and not others, do those things make me less of an LGBTQ+ person? As I look back at the history of Pride, and where we are today, seeing the amazing people who are so welcoming into the LGBTQ+ group, I can answer my own question - if you identify in any way or part of this group, then you are a part of this amazing band of humanity.
So, here I am with this message to you. Pride month is just that - a moment to let yourself be proud. Be proud of who you are. Be proud of where we’ve come as a group. Be proud of where we’re going.
I may even buy something rainbow this year.
About LGBTQ+ of FIRST
LGBTQ+ of FIRST is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and acceptance of LGBTQ+ participants in FIRST Robotics. LGBTQ+ of FIRST was started to spread visibility of the LGBTQ+ community within FIRST and help teams become safe spaces for their members.