Straight? Come Join us for Pride

It’s the Opposite of Shame

Photo by Gotta Be Worth It from Pexels

But First, a Tutorial: for straight people with questions

Straight and cisgender people often ask me the purpose of Pride. What’s the point? Why be proud of some innate condition like sexual orientation? And for heaven’s sake, why dance half naked in the streets? What the hell?

First of all, a little history.

The Stonewall today. It wasn’t nearly so fashionable in 1969.

Pride commemorates the Stonewall riots of June, 1969.

The Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan is the site of three nights of rioting that kicked off on June 28, 1969. Back in those days, dancing at a bar with a member of the same sex could get you thrown in jail. So could just drinking at a bar known for such things.

The Stonewall, like most gay bars in New York City at the time, was owned and operated by an organized crime syndicate, with the implicit cooperation of the police department.

In an informal but rigid arrangement, the police would collect regular bribes from the owners in return for not shutting the place down.

They would also conduct semi-regular raids to arrest people on public indecency charges — to keep up the appearance of fighting “vice.” Sometimes, bar patrons would be tipped off before a raid, but not always. On the night the riots started, nobody at the Stonewall knew to stop dancing and duck out early.

The house was packed.

The police response was poorly organized and there weren’t enough officers or paddy wagons initially to transport everyone to jail.

Things got out of hand fast.

A few less-than-entirely-sober “drag queens” (as they were known at the time) — including famed activist Marsha Johnson — got pissed off at the thought of spending the night in jail again. Shouting started. Insults got exchanged.

Somebody threw a beer bottle at a cop. The rest is history. The Stonewall Riots symbolize the beginning of the modern LGBTQ or queer rights movement.

Stonewall was the spark that lit a bonfire.

The very first Gay Pride March took place the June after, when a coalition of activists came together to seize Fifth Avenue and march up from the Village to Central Park. It wasn’t a parade, it was a take-back-the-streets protest.

When we celebrate Pride today, we’re commemorating both Stonewall and that first, illegal march.

We’re remembering how we refused to be ashamed.

Straight people express their sexual orientation in public constantly — free from shame. Queer people are stigmatized and harassed every day for behaving exactly the same way straight people behave with respect to their sexuality.

Do you talk about your spouse or significant other at the office? Do you have a picture of them on your desk? Do you walk down the street arm in arm with your partner? Do you snuggle up to them at the movies? Do you rent halls to celebrate anniversaries and weddings? Do you buy party decorations and custom cakes from merchants?

When we try to do many of those things, we’re often shamed.

No, sexuality is clearly not private. But certain straight people sure wish we queer folk would be ashamed of ourselves and stuff ourselves back in closets.

Pride is the opposite of shame.

That’s why we’re out in the streets every June. We are different. We’re going to remain different. We’re not hiding anymore, and people of good will all over the world are cheering us on for taking back our dignity and our pride.

But aren’t we over the top? I hear that question so often.

Why are your parades so damn freaky? Why all the half-naked people? If you’re trying to convince us to accept you, you’re not doing it right. We think your parades are kind of gross.

First of all, understand something. Our parades aren’t for you. Oh, you’re welcome to come and help us celebrate. The more the merrier. But these events are ours. We’re not out in the streets begging acceptance.

We’re shouting out our pride, our love, and our defiance.

We’re reaching out to our fellow queer people who may still feel mired in shame and rejection. We’re taking the streets back to make them safe for us, for our chosen families, and for our youth.

The love and acceptance that we experience at Pride is for many a spiritual experience. We live in a world where we have to constantly look over our shoulders, constantly wonder if people are mocking us or even planning to assault us.

We bask in the warmth of one day when we can be in a space where we feel like a majority, totally safe and accepted among our peers. We’re not working to convince you that we deserve equality. We’re taking equality for ourselves and living in it for a few hours.

And as to those half-naked people?

You need to stop watching the news and actually come to a parade. You’d be surprised to see how boringly normal most of it is. Sure, some people dress up and wear fab costumes. Some bar floats feature go-go boys. None of that makes up the majority of Pride parades, though, or anything close to a majority.

Most of the time, you’ll see what you see at any parade — people marching, bands playing, floats flashing, bystanders cheering. And yes, you will some some gay men in skimpy briefs, some lesbians going topless, some drag queens with beards. Like it or not, that’s part of who we are.

We don’t apologize for it.

It’s funny, though, how our parades are so often characterized by those sorts of representations. Our more colorful moments, no matter how small they might be with respect the rest of the event, somehow end up being broadcast as if they they WERE the event.

You know what that is? People trying to shame us. Yup, back to shame again. “Oh, my gawd, you gays are so freaky. Can’t you just be normal, please?”

New Orleans Mardi Gras. Photo by Cayetano Gil on Unsplash

My response?

Please, Blanche, I attended my first Mardi Gras in New Orleans when I was 19.What I saw there exceeded any levels of debauchery I’ve ever experienced at Pride.

Tens of thousands of people were drunk as hell, vomiting and urinating in the street. Women everywhere were flashing their breasts. As the night grew toward morning, plenty of women took their tops off for the duration. Couples copulated in alleys, little concerned with who might be watching.

Later that year I went to my first summer frat party. Wow!

Do I judge straight people as debauched because of excessive celebration at their festivals and parties?

Of course not.

I can guarantee you, though, that if you attend a major LGBTQ Pride parade somewhere, you won’t feel half as shocked as 19-year-old me did at Mardi Gras all those years ago. So, let’s not pretend that a few sexy men strutting their stuff and a few lesbians baring their breasts is so distasteful that Pride as a concept is ruined.

Queer people and straight people alike celebrate sexuality in public all the time. That’s just part of being human. It’s normal and it’s OK. Let’s not hold us queer people to a special standard.

We celebrate Pride to remember when we stood up and refused to be jailed for who we were. We celebrate Pride to to dispel shame and to nurture our youth, our communities, and our souls.

We also argue about it. Has it become too commercial? Is it inclusive enough for all of our communities. Have we sold out to some of the forces that are oppressing many of us?

Whatever the answer, please understand that Pride matters. To us. It’s ours, and we revel in it. You’re invited, though.

Come join us!

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