An Intergenerational Exchange: Two Black Perspectives on Celebrating Pride

Co-authored by Dr. Wilhelmina Perry, convener of LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent and 78-year-old senior

Throughout the month of June, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and same-gender-loving (LGBT/SGL) people are busy organizing and engaging in various activities. These events will be weddings, private and public parties, festivals, parades and marches, dinners and happy hours. Of course, the events that are celebrations will receive the greatest visibility, especially if they seem to reinforce the public's notions of who we are, but there are deeper sentiments that need to be expressed about Pride and what it means to us.

Robert West

For me, celebrating Pride is akin to the exhilaration and satisfaction felt upon completing a jigsaw puzzle. It allows me to celebrate the whole of who I am. With my identity as a gay man being just one piece of the puzzle, I never look to celebrate just that facet but who I am in my entirety, which includes being gay.

In the freedom I experience in celebrating Pride, I certainly look beyond the occasion being a moment to party and scream and shout. Of course, I do that as well, but it wasn't until I attuned my internal expectations to that of the initial reason(s) for Pride celebrations that I began to truly appreciate it in its entirety, just as I'd like for others to appreciate me in my entirety.

Pride is indeed a celebration, but it is also a moment to express gratitude. Yes, that's right, gratitude. For each LGBT/SGL-identified person, especially those who dare to live openly, we are worthy of a "thank you" that exceeds the mere expression of "thanks" that we are accustomed to. We deserve a "thank you" that is shouted from the rooftops, shouted so loud that it awakens those who are no longer with us and commands them to return to the festivities that were made completely possible due to their courage, sacrifice, love and hope. It is a misnomer to think that only those affiliated with an organization or marching or rallying deserve a round of applause at such annual festivities. No, my friends, as LGBT/SGL people, we all work year-round. For every question you've had to answer from family, friends or foe in your daily informal LGBT/SGL 101 sessions, you deserve a "thank you"; for every moment you've had to question just how much to turn on or turn off when negotiating varied settings, you deserve a "thank you"; and for every moment you've cried with another, holding their hands and not just telling but consciously showing, "It gets better!", you deserve a "thank you." These are really the moments that go unseen but are the real fuel behind our movement. So if you happen to see a 7-foot-tall "queen" or "king" shouting "happy Pride!" in your direction, do know that in queer talk, that means "thank you!" Accept it, as you've earned it.

As a man who identifies as a black American but is genetically composed of the blood from three continents (Africa, Asia and Europe) while looking very Latino (I'm told) and being gay, my very existence is one that celebrates the innate spirit of humans that desires oneness, yet it is also a reminder of how that inherent purity is polluted when born into self-righteous dogma and just downright hate. My parents, both deceased, were of mixed blood. My Pops was brought into this world by a savage attack by a white man against his mother, a black woman, while my Mama was the product of a love that could have never been publicly revealed, between a black woman and a Chinese man. Both were denied the opportunity to know anything about their non-black heritage. When I think of Pride, I always think of my parents and the countless others who've lived parallel lives, and I celebrate (for them) the fact that I can stand in my entirety and declare who I am. With a pot of "chitlins" in one hand and the rainbow flag in the other, as a proud black gay man, I can look out upon the world and shout, "Hello and happy Pride!"

Dr. Wilhelmina Perry

Pride is a time to reflect upon the concept of freedom. This widely sought dynamic, especially once gained, is often relegated to a construct that we take for granted; a sense of entitlement abounds, and while it absolutely should, one should not neglect to remember those who were not afforded the opportunity to have such lofty expectations. To do so diminishes the lives of those who fought so very hard for it.

Over the past decade, there have been many new images offering glimpses into our lives that permit a more transparent view of who we are, a clearer understanding of how we live and what we are thinking. Our weddings, family gatherings and other occasions of both joy and sorrow have become a consistent part of our news coverage, television shows, print and television ads, and Broadway plays. The freedoms of our community are being played out across the small and big screens, as well as in the very neighborhoods we inhabit.

I can celebrate a society that has become more open and accepting of LGBT/SGL people. I can choose to join the parade and/or attend the special breakfast service at my church or a number of other houses of worship around New York City. Oh, yes, to our ancestors, this new taste of freedom would indeed feel familiar, familiar because it is the same as the joy experienced in discovering, as black people, that they could now attend local movies, public talks and theater productions anywhere they'd like, or the same joy of discovering, as women, that they could now own their own car, property or savings account. We can own who we are!

I feel like celebrating because marriage equality is now the law of the land in many states of the nation, New York City has passed an anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT/SGL people, and our president has evolved to the point of publicly supporting same-sex marriage. I celebrate because I have the comfort and self-confidence to publicly proclaim that I am a lesbian, and I am the convener of an organization called the LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent.

I celebrate because we who are black folk will enjoy our fourth Pride celebration in Harlem. We have evolved to a place where we can stand and say aloud, "We are proud, black and gay!"

Two Generations, One Vision

Though we love the Pride festivities of the great metropolises (there's nothing like sheer numbers to impress and convey just how far we've come and just how much a part of the fabric of any community we are), there is something special about attending smaller or emerging Pride events, like Harlem Pride, an event that, just four years ago, many said couldn't happen. The fourth Harlem Pride, taking place June 29, 2013, in Harlem's famed Jackie Robinson Park, is now anticipated to attract over 10,000 people. It's at these events that you are especially reminded of the courage it still takes to be who you are, and the courage, commitment and selfless giving it takes to fancy a mass assembly of LGBT/SGL folk via a celebration that creates a space for us to fight back in the manner we've excelled at: being visible and welcoming others to experience the warmth and fabulousness that is us, all while making it very clear that it's really a relationship of reciprocity that we seek.

Pride is not just for the out or the long-ago committed ally; Pride is an opportunity to educate and change minds, lives and the world. Pride is also not a time to grow complacent within our own ranks but a time for us to reflect on how we can improve: Are we really embracing the "rainbow" (read: diversity) of our community? We should be proud to challenge ourselves to ensure that all who are represented under the rainbow -- every ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic status and physical ability -- are given equal visibility, voice, opportunity and love. Dare we say that those who first embraced the rainbow as an emblem of our community did so not simply because the colors are beautiful but because the colors complete something of beauty. Envisioning each band of the rainbow as a symbol of something personified here on Earth is the way we've chosen to allow its meaning to inform the work we strive to do.

Freedom intersects and should permeate every realm of life. In the quest for freedom, it is at these intersections that we best have the opportunity to appreciate our differences. True love and acceptance is never signaled by a melting pot; rather, it is exemplified by an adeptness and willingness to embrace all things different, to sacrifice the ease of living so others are acknowledged, respected and included. When we celebrate Pride, we celebrate the foundation the past has provided us; the present, simply because it is here, as are we; and the future filled with a hope that all will experience the freedom to be proud of who they are. Happy Pride!