Why We Need LGBT Pride Now More Than Ever

Men, draped in a rainbow flag, embrace ahead of a candle light vigil in memory of victims one day after a mass shooting at th
Men, draped in a rainbow flag, embrace ahead of a candle light vigil in memory of victims one day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

We've been here before. And it's no less gut-wrenching.

We see the hate, the callous disregard, and the faces of horror, grief and loss.

And, as before, it comes at a time when we thought we'd arrived, when we looked at our old ways of connecting, and when we thought we were too good for them. We'd moved beyond them.

We didn't need LGBT Pride, many of us told ourselves, for various reasons. It was too commercial, too rainbow kitsch, too much for this age group, or for that age group, too much or too little of something. Not for us anymore. And maybe, some of us thought, it shouldn't be for anyone -- maybe we should abolish it because it's been taken over by the corporations and the self-promoters.

But just as has happened before, just when Pride seemed obsolete, we're shocked with a terrible, numbing event, one that reminds us we only have each other, and that, despite our sometimes vast differences, together we are enormously powerful -- but only if we're together.

It happened in the '80s. Many had experienced an electric, magical era of sexual and other freedoms, post-Stonewall, often seductively believing throughout the '70s that being able to dance all night on a dance floor meant we'd been liberated. We'd come out of the closet, forged relationships and America accepted it -- or so we thought.

Then came AIDS and the awful truth that America didn't care about us at all. We may have been chic to some before that, but now we were a diseased people to be disregarded, discarded, left to die. We did, by the tens of thousands, bodies piling up, while much of the political establishment, and the media, ignored our plight -- except for the purpose of using us for their own gain in demonizing us further as sexual deviants with a dangerous "lifestyle."

Pride parades, suddenly, literally became life-saving events where, yes, we celebrated who we are, as before, often with all of our fun outrageousness and creativity. We weren't going to lose that, which is our queer dignity. But we became newly defiant and used Pride to tell the world we'd never be silent again. Pride marches and parades of the time became places at which to organize around so many issues, beyond AIDS -- so many activist groups grew out of Pride and came back to Pride to recruit each year -- and to create change. We fought, we changed the media, transformed the medical establishment, won visibility and gained some rights. And we eventually got the drugs developed that ended the death and suffering.

By the mid-to late '90s, however, it happened again -- that false sense of full arrival. We believed we'd moved into the mainstream. LGBT people actually talked about Ellen DeGeneres' sitcom, "Ellen," after both she and her character came out, as being "too gay." And a British import arrived, the notion of being "post-gay." It was about not being so "ghettoized" and breaking from the supposed chains of the community and the events that had become cliché -- like Pride. We didn't need it, some said, because we were now integrated into the world, with many creating families and having or adopting and raising children. Pride was a relic of the past.

Then in 1998, the brutal attack in Laramie, Wyoming of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, left on a fence to die, stunned the world. It shocked us, frightened us, galvanized us, and invigorated us. The fact that we were still loathed and condemned by so many came into stark relief. And so, again, did the vigils and the marches -- and Pride.

And here we are now. Marriage equality swept across the country, and many queer people believed the polls and the pundits saying we were truly accepted. But the backlash that began brewing from before the Supreme Court's ruling in June of 2015 well into the year after, with anti-transgender bathroom bills and "religious liberty" laws, began to stir many who realized they were perhaps overcome with what I've called "victory blindness."

Then came the Orlando massacre and the harsh, horrific slap of reality -- right in the middle of Pride month. The hate is still here -- so indelibly that it inspired unthinkable violence. In the wake of that violence, one church pastor in Sacramento nauseatingly praised the Orlando attack, saying that city is "safer" now, while another pastor in Arizona celebrated "50 less pedophiles in the world." There couldn't be more chilling examples of how we are still despised by those who inspire many others.

And once again, Pride has new meaning.

Yes, it's often hokey, and kitsch and commercial and whatever. But it's ours. It's also diverse and vibrant and enormous and powerful.

Most of us don't grow up in families that are like us. We only find our own people when we come together. And Pride is a people -- of all ages, colors, creeds, sexual desires and genders -- coming together.

More than that, it's strength and solidarity. It's empowerment in these painful times. And it's a statement that, when we are one, nothing can stop us.


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