what Pride is


My former discomfort with Pride is probably most people’s current discomfort with Pride. The SEX. The DRINKING. The CRAZINESS. But then again, I only knew of Pride from what I had seen from afar and watched on the news and heard in scathing conversations about how “showy” it is and how “shameless” the people were (if they called them people), so when I went to my first Pride last year in Chicago, I was humbled. The cartoon gave way to the real thing and I watched a beautiful, joyful, rambunctious procession of drag queens and churches and families, children waving from their dads and moms shoulders, organizations supporting their employees, the veterans. I watched Pride with new eyes. And my heart was changed by it.


Justin Lee wrote a fantastic piece on Pride last year that I would like to echo here. He talked about how many Christians will point out that Pride is a sin and how the whole thing appears to be a kind of worship to the self. Not the whole story.


Especially not for those of us growing up in evangelical Christianity. Pride stands in opposition to the Shame we’ve known all too well. The shame we internalized. Drowned in. Barely survived through. Pride is a kind of reclaiming of the ground Shame took. It’s a once a year celebration where we fight back against the voices of our past, even our own. Where we say, I am human and I am free and I am worthy of love.


Another thing to consider is the historical origins of Pride, which I am ashamed I did not know more about. But then again, my school years didn’t include it and that’s probably because we’ve sort of erased LGBTQ people right out of those history books.


In the wave of the Red Scare following World War II, much of America wanted to cling to the old social order and push back against any movement to change. On the Federal Government’s blacklist were the “homosexuals”, leading to mass discharges from the military and hundreds fired from government jobs, all because they were “suspected” of being gay.


When I was in Chicago, I spoke to one elderly gay man who said that whenever him and his friends went out, there’d be a cop waiting outside the bar door, taking IDs and writing down names on a clipboard. It was a time to be paranoid.


In the fifties well-known gay people were listed and followed by the federal government. Sweeps were conducted on gay establishments, which were then shut down. Wearing gender-nonconforming clothing was against the law. University professors were fired. In this stigmatized age, thousands of people were humiliated, assaulted, and pushed out of their professional communities and families.


And no one did a thing. No one could do anything. It was the law. It was the culture. It was just the way things were.


Until late June of 1969 when police went to sweep the Stonewall Inn and found themselves on the frontlines of a community that had had enough. The Stonewall riots were the most monumental moment in the gay liberation movement. It is the event that is commemorated at the end of June with the Pride Parade.

4c2ceb5142b73.preview-300What I love about this story is its’ characters, too. The Stonewall Inn, an establishment owned by the mafia, served the lowest of the low in the gay community, the poorest of the poor. Drag Queens and male prostitutes, homeless youth and the first buddings of the transgender movement. In a world that had shoved them out, threatened them with violence and their paycheck and their housing and their military honors, this was a small place of warmth. Fellowship. Pride.


And it was this band of rag-tag, have-nots that stood up the empire and changed the lives of LGBTQ people everywhere.


And that is what this is all about. Not forgetting and finding your people. Learning that we are all welcome here. That we belong to one another. No matter who you are. Where you come from. We are family.


I know it is easy to chalk it up to a big ole sex romp (and in many ways, I get that view) but that isn’t the heart of it. The heart of it is something deeper. Something so beautiful.


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  • Kate

    One of the best “homework” assignments I’ve ever been given was from a friend who encouraged me to read up on the Stonewall riots and lgbtq history. Doing so opened my heart more to see the depth of her story. It’s like that history is a part of her DNA, shaping and forming her. It also moved me beyond her story to the countless stories that have weaved and intertwined – with great pain and heart ache – into the beautiful tapestry you describe. I’m so glad you wrote this and hope that many will be able to see Pride with the “new eyes” you’ve given us here.

    • You are incredible, Kate. (and so is your friend). Love this. Love you.

  • Aidan Bird

    I just wanted to point out something that you may not have realized: Trans people were one of the hardest hit communities during that time period (and are still the most marginalized today), and have often been erased from history (even within LGBT communities). Sylvia Riveria became the most famous, especially in the following years, and she’s a bisexual trans woman. A lot of people tend to lump trans people with drag queens, which is very much a misnomer and often is hurtful. Not all drag queens are trans; just as not all trans people are drag queen (or kings). You can read more about this issue here: http://prospect.org/article/45-years-after-stonewall-lgbt-movement-has-transphobia-problem

    Reports of the stonewall riots has the first action being a cop hitting a trans man, who fought back. Other reports say Sylvia Rivieria threw the first shoe, though both events may have happened simultaneous. From there, things escalated fairly quickly. During the years that followed, in the parades and protests, trans people played a huge and crucial role in the start of the “gay rights” movement. Yet they are often forgotten and erased far more than cisgender gay and bisexual people. You can read more about transgender issues and their history in relation to the “gay rights” (or LGBT) movement here: http://www.transadvocate.com/so-what-was-stonewall_n_8424.htm and this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ashley-love/on-stonewall-riot-initiat_b_634115.html

    This is just to supplement the information you had here. The “gay rights” movement isn’t really all that inclusive toward trans people, which is a bit sad and ironic since some trans people are gay. Gender identity and sexuality are not the same thing at all, but yet, people will lump the two terms together. Trans people are often erased, or their role in history downplayed to an enormous extent, even within the LGBT movement. If you want more information, I can send you more to read. (I even have a report I wrote about how to create a trans* inclusive safe space, which has a lot of resources for people to peruse, so feel free to ask me questions about all of this.)

    • Thank you for this Aidan. And I know, I’ve often failed here to be trans-inclusive, I think often, I fear writing about one groups’ story that I have not experienced. I’m still figuring out issues of privilege, what I can/should say and how to say it with deep respect to (one of) the most marginalized groups in the LGBTQ community.

      • Aidan Bird

        You’re welcome.

        Well, like I said, if you have questions, I’d be more than happy to answer since I fall squarely in the T spectrum (this is one part of my story I may never really tell. It’s even more painful than my struggles with my sexuality and Christianity, but I am trying to be more open about it).

        Also, don’t worry too much, I’m pretty sure you’ll do alright. And if you do mess up, I’ll gently let you know and be here to help you along. That’s what friends are for, right? And thank you for your support and understanding.

  • Thanks for sharing Ben! This is a whole new area of history for me to study. Do you have any resources on the Stonewall Riots and LGBTQ history in general you recommend starting with?

  • Roo James Wilson

    Ben, interesting that this should be what I opened to read this morning. After hearing about Pride over the weekend, I went online to look up what it was really about, I found myself looking through social media to get a glimpse of how it looks through the eyes of those attending, so I perused through tumblr. Its definitely eye opening yet what surprised me the most was how many t-shirt, banners etc. had slogans of hate written across them…wore by the LGBTQ community. Now, I get there are always the militant within every community and there is nothing I detest more than Christians who are hell and brimstone fire towards the LGBTQ community yet it struck me as odd that a group of people who know oppression for being who

    • Great question Roo! I think, first off, it’s kind of the sucky part about Pride and oppression against queer people, in that much of the media coverage focuses on these less than inspirational folks and the offensive statements they make (which you point out).

      If I am honest (and this is speaking as someone who is still a bit more conservative and homey) I find much of the celebration to be immature. I cast my eyes to the families and churches and community support groups. The sexed out scenes, meh and sometimes, ew. The hateful messages I think are plain immaturity and or going along with someone else’s anger, trying to be as provocative as possible (I know this comment sounds like it comes from an SBC-er!) But when it comes to those folks, ya, there’s a mix of motivations, much of it is hurt, a lot of it is people trying to party and be wild and make a statement that perhaps they don’t even realize they’re making. (and now I shrug and sigh 😉 )

  • Sheila Warner

    I watched a documentary about a country music star in the USA. She’s beautiful and talented. She was known for making sexy music videos. For years she hid her sexual orientation. By the end of the film, when she declares “I am gay!” you just want to cheer. She is free for the first time in her life. I get Pride. I hope one day I get to march alongside my gay citizens. I am gay affirming. Go, Pride!

    • Next year, you gotta do it!!

      • Sheila Warner

        Ben, I live near Philadelphia. Will the Gay Pride parade be advertised ahead of time?

  • I had no idea about the history behind Pride! Thank you for sharing this.

    • I didn’t until a couple years ago. Many are unaware of it. I think a lot of people (myself included) are simply thrown off by the spectacle of thongs and ayiyi, the many other characteristics of Pride festivals.