In a Word: Pride

by Dr. Jen O’Ryan


I was chatting with a barista the other day while she worked on my double tall Americano. Our conversation eventually turned to the new month. June, it turns out, was her mother’s middle name. It also happened to be the month this barista would graduate university. June is also, of course, LGBTQ Pride Month.

We talked a bit about her graduation festivities and the number of Pride flags popping up across our city.

Then, her question came. “What is your favorite part of Pride?”

My initial response is always around the parades and after parties. I’m a product of the 70’s . . . stop judging.

But, of course, it’s more than that.

Pride is a celebration of community and being visible — standing in the world as who we truly are. Reflecting our own humanity back onto others. Pride celebrations are social recognition of our whole selves.

As I talked to this young adult, whose life experience began 30+ years after Stonewall, it must have sounded like my grandmother describing to me her life on the farm. Kids learn about historic events, but that doesn’t make it real for them. They need relatable lived experiences — the significance of humanizing our shared history.

Being cognizant of her time, I thanked her for the chat (and coffee) before heading out. Had this conversation occurred somewhere else, I would have loved to share with her how things used to be.

A not-so-distant past where queer people were routinely arrested and prosecuted for ‘homosexual conduct.’ Where homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Where countless non-straight humans maintained heterosexual relationships in order to keep up social expectations.

Social progress over the last generation has greatly improved the experience for LGBTQ individuals. Marriage equality, legal rights, gay-straight alliances and support resources in schools — all hard fought by a community who refused to stay in the closet or be treated as ‘less than.’ Our culture’s heteronormative lens of sexual orientation and gender is starting to evolve.

Yet, there are still far too many places where it is unsafe to be openly out. Hate crimes, sexual violence, and discriminatory policies are very real threats to LGBTQ individuals. The spectacularly damaging practice of conversion therapy has only been banned in a fraction of US states. People can be (and are) fired from their jobs for being queer. Transgender and gender variant people are subjected to horrifically intimate discrimination. Every. Damn. Day.

Pride celebrations honor those giants upon whose shoulders we stand. They remind us to keep fighting for the next generation coming up.

Parades, flags, festivals — these create space for LGBTQ individuals to celebrate life and the human desire to be seen as one’s true self. No hiding. No pretending. No shifting or compartmentalization that leads to emotional exhaustion. Being human, being out, being you.

Pride also reminds us of the incredible diversity of this community. We are everyone. We are parents, cops, soldiers, doctors, students, drag queens, religious leaders. We are artists, engineers, dreamers, advocates. We are fighters, lovers, humans. Some of us are assholes. Most of us are not.

More than anything, Pride reminds us of our equal place in the world — that we belong. As did those who paved the way for us and made all of this possible.


About the Author:

Dr. Jen O’Ryan completed her PhD in Human Behavior, specializing in gender and sexual orientation. She provides training and resources to organizations on developing their inclusion strategies. Jen has recently introduced a new approach to policy review, entitled “Queer Eye for the Inclusion Guide”.

Jen also offers guidance to parents and families on navigating a child’s coming out process, as well as ways to develop a deeper connection with the LGBTQ kiddo or young adult in their life. Through years of research and advocacy, she brings an extensive background on the complexities that often come with conversations about orientation and gender.