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The warm, almost summer, month of June ushers in a flourish of pride celebrations across the globe. Officially, Mumbai, India has the distinction of holding the very first “PRIDE PARADE” of the year in January but celebrations, parades, marches and rallies are held somewhere, in some way, every month on Earth. Big cities and small towns alike have taken to rolling out the rainbow flag for our community…with mixed results. Stemming from the June 28, 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, the word “pride” has become synonymous with GLBT awareness, equality, and parades filled with bright floats, loud dance music, half (or more) naked people and tons of collectables draped in that unique cloth designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker. For the sake of accuracy, North America holds parades, while many other nations have marches. Yes, there is a difference. But I will get back to this issue later.
To be clear, the gay right’s movement definitely did not begin on this weekend, which just happened to also be the death of Judy Garland (you decide for yourself if this has any true meaning), and it has never been confined to American shores. The desire, the need to be seen and treated as equal, socially and within the eyes of the law has been a long struggle for marginalized sexual minorities of every race and nationality for as long as one can recall. Unfortunately, whenever some progressive movement has been made, setbacks were not far behind. For example; Berlin, Germany had a thriving gay scene in the 1920’s, even though homosexuality was still illegal, but the rise of the Nazi party and World War II saw thousands of gay men beaten, tortured, sent to concentration camps and even murdered. The pink triangle, which was used to mark homosexual clothing in camps, has become a symbol of those we lost during those dark times and our refusal to forget. One step forward, two steps back.
Fortunately, our collective sorrows have also seen some triumphs. The Netherlands has been very active in increasing the rights for its homosexual citizens. 1993 saw the passing of the The Equal Rights Law, which bans discrimination regarding employment, housing, public accommodations, and more. Domestic partnerships benefits began in 1998, and the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001.
Larger nations like the United States have a much more complex relationship with gay rights as some individual states have charged forward, creating more protections and remedies against discrimination than others. The North has always led the way by example but ironically, the Empire State of New York, home of the actual riots, was one of the last in the region to pass a marriage equality law even though a sweeping anti-discrimination bill succeeded decades earlier.
Currently, same sex couples can marry in the United States, mostly without issue, but there are no large standing Constitutional or permanent Federal protections for sexual minorities. Each new president has the luxury of deciding just how safe we will be in our own nation. More troubling for the long term is the crafting and passing of so called Religious Freedom Laws throughout too many of the Southern States and a president who has promised to sign a federal version, if it passes his desk. (He signed an Executive order on May 4, 2017) When you mix in the issues of estate planning, adoption, housing, and employment discrimination as well as the almost daily micro-aggressions of homophobia and race, life in America can be a very challenging experience.
That was a tremendously brief overview of why we have, and continue to march on some random Saturday and or Sunday and wish each other “happy pride” wearing our tightest t-shirts. But that is not what this article is really about. The history lesson was to remind you where we are, how far we have to go and that we need each other if we want full equality.
We at GMJ wanted our first feature to address an issue close to our hearts and one that fuels our business model: how do we support ourselves and all of our gay brothers?
Having pride, or saying that we do, has been a rallying call of our community for over 40 years. We stepped out of the closet and into the streets to proclaim our intentions to be seen, heard and recognized as full citizens around the world. We had a purpose and goal of equality. Pride was the word on our lips as we rioted, protested, ACTed-UP and marched on Washington. But, it is also a way that we have divided, marginalized and harmed not only our brothers, but anyone that does not confirm to a singular view of who should be allowed to sit with us at lunch.
Webster’s dictionary defines pride as:
But, our favourite comes from their Student dictionary, “too high an opinion of one’s ability or worth: a feeling of being better than others.”
Somehow pride can be both a wonderful, and meaningful self-empowering statement as well as a negative to use against others. It can lift up the “one” or put down “the many”. Within itself pride can be a motivator for success or action but in the wrong hands or group mind think, it can lead down the path of ruin. Every year in June, we read so many boring articles, asking the usual suspects, what does pride mean to them, and the answers are just what you would expect from a beauty pageant contestant regarding a wish for the world…”peace”. We never look at the dark side of pride, which lives very strong on the Internet and in bars and clubs as far as the eye can see. For far too many pride season is not one of celebration and everyday life does not ever get better.
I attended my first pride march in New York City at the tender age of 15. It was amazing! So many people, so many floats, so many smiles. To me it seemed that the gay male community was going to be this amazing brotherhood, which accepted everyone, no matter their race, age, shape or form. We were in the struggle together. There was a level of joy in my heart at that first pride that I have never had since. But, like you, I was sold a bill of goods. The equal, all loving, no judgments, non-racist community did not exist. But…there was lots of pride.
Over the years since, I have run across many guys that refuse to attend these parades for numerous reasons, but the most common one is that they do not feel welcome. At first, I could not understand, because these events are for everyone. I know this, because I was constantly told this. And if one disagrees, the sharp answer is that it must have something to do with the individual. It is his fault that he does not feel welcome. Move on, and have another cocktail!
This is a sign of the negative version of pride; The inability to see the hurt in your brother that you, or someone else is causing. You don’t have to agree with his reasons, but at least give him the time to explain his position and find a way to help him through. But being dismissive because we cannot, or don’t want to understand someone is all too common for our community. Our pride trumps another’s pain. Compassion is not a coveted trait. Because for most people that say they hate Pride, what they are really saying is that they feel left out of the community and would like to be invited in and feel welcomed.
So, new communities were forged. The Leathermen, the Bears, The Fairies, Gaymers and so many more. Guys branched out and away from the traditional sect, seeking to make a home for themselves, thus splintering our community even more. Our house is falling apart, but we are not supposed to notice. Even our most protected class, the ones we vowed to help and assist and even gained the right to marry from (look it up!)…those infected with HIV, have been victimized and bullied by their negative brothers. Think about that for a moment. Once, we held “die-ins”, created networks to assist people infected with this disease, fought for affordable medication/housing and even held their hands as they died. We listed their names in the back of our, defunct, gay newspapers. Now… well, you know how we treat them now. You know what is said about anyone with this illness. Yes, you do. Is this our legacy? Is this truly how we want to show pride? “No fats, no femmes, no blacks, no Asians, no AIDS”?
Held along with the traditional, well known and promoted gay pride and fetish events are yearly, much smaller, Black and Latino celebrations. From Boston to Atlanta and across the coasts, people of colour gather to show unity for the intersection of race and sexual orientation. These pride events are open to people of all races but concentrate on creating safe spaces for those of colour as well as mixing cultural references and shared experiences. These are events for those who have to walk the hard road of being marginalized and hated because of both their race AND sexual orientation. These gatherings are the only time that they can comfortably be and celebrate both. This is how they show their pride. These are places of healing and support. And, as expected, there are people that cannot understand why these events are necessary…no matter how many times it is explained, but also go further to demonize those in attendance and call them racist. Some of you are doing that right now after reading that sentence!
For numerous reasons that I refuse to go over, people of colour have not felt welcome, and have even been victimized, at traditional pride events. They have been told that they don’t belong and made to feel like thieves at the table that they have helped to build. People of colour have always been fighting on the lines of the gay rights movement, but their achievements are easily disregarded, ignored and erased. Black and Latino pride allows them to tell their stories and be heard. This is a good thing. A better thing would be if all of our stories could be told together and validated. The best thing would be if pride was recognized as something that we all could have and share. No matter your race, you are welcome at Black and Latino pride events, just don’t expect them to give you a cookie because you showed up.
Individually, one day, you may find yourself on the other side of the pride divide. You will get older, gain a gut, become ill or disabled, even contract HIV. You will then find that the space where you felt so comfortable no longer wants your presence. You will be the one told that you are not their “preference” or something much worse. This is not something I or our team wishes for you, rather this is a fact of the culture of our community. But, each one of us can change this. Each one of us can take the first steps toward truly being deserving to carry that rainbow flag, even as we strive to understand why some would feel the need to add a Black and Brown stripe to it. We can begin to understand why for some, the celebration and parade has come too soon, because they still need a march…or even a riot. The fight is not over for the majority of us. We have not won anything. The struggle is real!
A parade is a symbol of acceptance by the larger community. Organizers go to City Hall, provide the proper paperwork and obtain a permit. The local police department blocks off traffic and patrols the streets. The event on June 28, 1969 was not a parade, it was a march. It was an act of defiance against the status quo and the larger community. It was our anger and frustration on display. It was necessary.
For far too many in our community, the need for a march, not sponsored by predator lending banks, corporations that don’t hire people of colour in management, or women as CEOs and surrounded by police officers that are known to brutalize their community, is greater than ever.
Pride, based purely on sexual orientation has outlived its usefulness and effectiveness. Just like our gender and race, we played no hand in the matter. We were born this way. Our pride should come from our actions. From how we treat our brothers and others. All of them, not just the ones like us.
This definition of pride suits us better:
During this season of pride, we would like for you to reflect on what you have, and what you do for yourself and others. It would be amazing if you could shift into the world of JOY and have a sense of peace and purpose as you help to create a community that you can truly be proud of…not just once a year, but everyday. Let it be reflected in your interactions with others, as you lead by example. Because, we are truly in this together. Our enemies are powerful and numerous. But together, we can prevail.