What’s There to be Proud About?
An introspective search for reasons to feel proud this Pride season
Rainbow flags adorn shop windows, festivities abound and there is a feeling of love and acceptance in the Summer air. It’s Pride season and the LGBTQ community have some celebrating to do.
Just last year, countries such as Germany, Australia and Malta voted in favor of same-sex marriages. In the US, a recent poll shows that approval of same-sex marriage has hit an all-time high. Activists are calling for an end on the ban of gay marriage in Northern Ireland. Significant progress has been made in a few short decades and it is nothing short of astounding considering how slow emancipatory processes can be. In many parts of the world, what was once considered aberrant in terms of LGBTQ visibility and integration is now seen as commonplace and dare I say, normal.
As a community, we have so much to be proud about. Or do we?
Are we proud about the fact that many countries around the globe still label homosexuality a punishable offence, occasionally extending that punishment to a death penalty? Are we proud of what has recently happened in Chechnya, with chilling reports of concentration camps for gay men? What about the conversion therapies that are apparently able to ‘cure’ young people of their homosexual desires? Are we proud of the obvious flouting of transgender rights across the globe?
In 2018, the radiance of our substantial progress is eclipsed by the darkness of repressive systems that aim to change us, in order to make us normal. This does not leave me feeling particularly proud.
It’s quite easy to dismiss these examples as extreme, possibly even sensationalistic.
Why should these atrocities detract from our reasons to celebrate?
But even beyond these monstrous, obvious transgressions, the daily indignities directed towards the LGBTQ community are as damaging and dangerous. Even in nations with legal protections and rights in place, research shows that the LGBTQ community consistently presents with higher rates of mental illness, substance abuse issues and low wellbeing. Hate crimes and microaggressions are commonplace even in settings where homosexuality is protected under the law. That hardly leaves me feeling proud.
Within the LGBTQ community, there are rampant examples of discrimination and a lack of tolerance. For gay men particularly, reports of sexual racism abound — especially on app-based dating or hookup platforms. ‘No Asians, Blacks, fats or fems’ (or some combination of these terms) is a frequently-used phrase that combines a few types of discrimination into one neat package, allowing individuals to swiftly exclude whole groups of people with one quick keystroke.
Body shaming happens on an epidemic level and in many gay circles, masculinity equates to muscles. This obsession with looking a certain way, acting a certain way and expressing masculinity in a certain way has caused an endemic shaming cycle that most individuals find impossible to escape.
The gay community must be one of the rare examples where individuals are happy (even proud) to describe themselves in terms of the diametric opposite in an attempt to distance themselves from being gay. I’m referring to the term straight acting— a term frequently used by gay men to indicate that they are not ‘gay acting’ (camp or effeminate). Because, of course, that would be an awful thing to be. In other social groups, those kinds of terms are usually reserved as scathing insults and hardly ever a term one would use proudly (such as describing a Black person as an ‘Oreo’ or a ‘coconut’). Not much to be too proud of there either.
The reason Pride celebrations started in the first place was because they aimed to serve as galvanising acts of protest demanding rights for a marginalised and oppressed group of people. Starting with the Stonewall riots in June 1969, LGBTQ communities used protest and activism to make their voices heard. This spirit of not silently accepting maltreatment united the community and inspired others to take a stand when their rights were trampled on. When the AIDS epidemic struck the gay community in the early 80s, angry activism was once again used as a form of urgent protest to make governments listen.
Our freedoms that we celebrate today were not easily won; they were roughly seized from the powers that be.
It’s time to get angry again. I am angry at the everyday injustices perpetrated against my people. It’s time for the spirit of Pride to re-ignite our passion, our anger and our activism. As a community, it’s time to unite and act to banish whatever weakens us, whether that’s a repressive law or an unrealistic ideal of beauty.
It’s time to realise that we aren’t truly free if only some of us get to enjoy those freedoms.
That would give me something to be proud about.