June is Pride Month for those of us in the LGBTQIA+ community, and all across the country various Pride events commemorate and celebrate the Stonewall Riots, typically considered the start of the modern gay rights movement. Last year, I gave birth towards the end of May, and so my baby was only a couple of weeks old (and I was back in the hospital) when our local Pride events came around. He was too little to go, and I wasn’t well enough, and so it wasn’t even really a discussion for our family. Pride came and went, and we went on with our lives. This year however, this year was different. I was determined to take him to his very first Pride with, well, pride! But as that weekend got closer and closer, I found that I actually felt incredibly conflicted about the whole thing, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to take my baby to Pride at all.
Years and years ago, I remember going to Pride, and running into a friend who was also a Unitarian Universalist minister. This man was and is straight (at least, as far as I know), but he was also a minister of a church that has a welcoming and inclusive policy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. He was there with his wife, and his daughter, who was only 2 years old at the time. He smiled at me, holding his toddler in one arm, and said “this is her second Pride!” It made me really happy in a way that I couldn’t explain, that this child was growing up with that kind of love and acceptance all around her. I took one look at her and realized that, having gone to her first Pride parade at the age of 1, she'd never remember a time when it wasn’t a normal part of her life. Even though her parents were straight, she'd grow up knowing that no matter what her orientation, they'd not only tolerate her, but love and celebrate her.
I like when we march down the streets of our city, proud and defiant in the face of oppression and hate.
I couldn’t help but feel happy for her, and I knew that I wanted any future children of mine to have those experiences too. It was that memory, ultimately, that made me excited about taking my kid to Pride. I imagined myself, him, and his other mom standing in the crowd surrounded by a community of beautiful queer people, and I couldn’t wait for that to be a reality. But I also felt really mixed up about it.
The fact is that Pride is about more than just celebrating our queer identities (though it is certainly about that). It’s also about remembering a time when those identities weren’t safe, and honoring those who still aren’t as safe as we’d like them to be. Pride has its roots in protest and rebellion, and in the knowledge that no one is going to give us our rights if we aren’t willing to stand up and fight for them. That’s one of the reasons that, ultimately, the parade has always been my favorite part of Pride. I think Pride should be more than just a party, and I like when we march down the streets of our city, proud and defiant in the face of oppression and hate.
Our local Pride festival definitely leaves something to be desired in terms of activism and honoring the past. A few years back, there was a huge push to move it from the suburbs to downtown proper (which I wholeheartedly supported, because of that marching down the streets thing, and also I just hate going to the 'burbs). But after the move, it felt even more watered down and corporate. The festival itself takes place in a completely closed-off park, and now they even charge a nominal fee for entry. The parade route is short, as to avoid disrupting downtown traffic, so much so that oftentimes straight people going to downtown sporting events don’t even realize it’s Pride weekend at all.
Even though I felt like Pride was important, it also felt like kind of a joke, and wouldn’t my kid get just as much (if not more) wonderful radical queer influence just from being around me, my wife, and our friends?
And unless you like watching drag performances and drinking really awful beer, it’s pretty much just a bunch of corporate booths vying for your gay dollars. When the group of people wearing matching rainbow shirts gets a louder cheer from the crowd than the group protesting trans bathroom bills, that doesn’t make me feel like I’m part of a proud and important movement for LGBTQIA+ rights, it feels like I’m at a party for corporations.
And since getting downtown with a huge baby is kind of a pain, I found myself kind of dreading the whole thing. Even though I felt like Pride was important, it also felt like kind of a joke, and wouldn’t my kid get just as much (if not more) wonderful radical queer influence just from being around me, my wife, and our friends?
And then, a friend scheduled a birthday party for her baby on the Sunday of the Pride parade, and my conflicted feelings reached a new height. I didn’t think there was any way my little family would be able to do both, and I wondered if maybe the birthday party would be a better option for a 1 year old. And that’s how I found myself, the night before the parade, sitting up with my wife saying, “I don’t know, I can’t decide…” over and over. It seemed like such a weird position to be in as a queer person in a queer family, but there we were.
Ultimately, the next morning, we made the decision to go. In the wake of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, I couldn't imagine being anywhere but surrounded by the members of my community, celebrating and mourning together. I took my son to his first Pride parade because I realized that it's one thing to ignore a bigoted pundit spewing off homophobic nonsense, but it's an entirely different issue when people are literally being gunned down for being gay. And even though Pride isn’t everything I want it to be, in the wake of the Orlando shooting, it was, in many ways, what I needed. And I still believe in pushing it to be more than that.