Taking PRIDE in Being Gay
By, Peter D. Rosenstein
I was in my early 30s when I began to feel PRIDE in being gay. After coming ‘out’ I became a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community so future generations won’t have the same experience. Those in my generation didn’t always have it easy. Today there are many role models for young people both in the United States and around the world to look up to and see they can be ‘out and proud’ and live a full and successful life. From Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy, out and proud Olympians, to Daniela Vega the beautiful transgender woman who starred in the Chilean film A Fantastic Woman and became the first transgender presenter at the Academy Awards.
We have openly LGBTQ+ individuals in Congress. Last November Virginians elected Danica Roem the first transgender person in the House of Delegates and there are now four members of the LGBTQ+ community in the House of Delegates and one, Adam Ebbin, in the Virginia State Senate.
It wasn’t always that way. I thought I was the only gay person in my high school of over 4,500 students. The first public LGBT event I went to was in Dupont Circle in 1980 and remember hiding behind a tree to make sure my picture wouldn’t appear in a newspaper fearing my employer might see it. A far cry from Capital PRIDE in 2015 when I rode in a convertible near the head of the parade as a Pride Hero.
I was lucky in the early 80’s when I came out DC had a large and welcoming LGBT community. That wasn’t the case around the country and certainly not in many cities and small towns in Virginia. By 1981 I was holding hands with my best friend as we walked to the PRIDE festival, finally living my true self and openly gay at 34. Those who know me today may find it hard to imagine I was ever closeted.
Each year at PRIDE I remember back to those early years and realize how important PRIDE still is to so many people because not everyone lives in a big city like Richmond or Washington, DC. Only recently we read about Starkville, Mississippi where Mayor Lynn Spruill broke a 3-3 tie to allow a Pride parade there to go forward for the first time. It took an alderman to change his vote after the ACLU threatened a law suit. There are still places where being out is not easy and for many in that community PRIDE will mean as much today as it did for me nearly 40 years ago.
Today we have PRIDE, Black Pride, Trans Pride and Youth Pride among others. In many places we are a large and diverse enough community to have categories for PRIDE to celebrate our different cultures and achievements. PRIDE celebrations have changed over the years. During those first years when I began going to PRIDE many more people were closeted, and this was the one day of the year we actually could attend a celebration and know we weren’t alone. The floats in the parade weren’t always fancy, but they were fun. As the 80’s wore on the tone of many PRIDE parades across the nation changed. The community was dealing with the ravages of AIDS and float after float reminded us of the epidemic. Contingents marched with pictures of friends, children and lovers who had died, and we watched the parade with tears in our eyes remembering all those we lost.
As the years moved on, we again began to see PRIDE as a celebration of ourselves and our public face to the world. The mainstream media coverage of the events surrounding PRIDE began to increase and fostered debate in our own community about whether our parades should include bare-breasted lesbians or drag queens, afraid this would be the only thing the mainstream media would report. We went through a time where many in the community just thought we should assimilate with the larger community.
During this time the crowds coming to PRIDE Parades and festivals swelled and became more representative of the community at-large. Political candidates lined up to be in the parade. In D.C. by the 90’s, the LGBT community was in the mainstream of local politics and the PRIDE parade became the place to be seen. PRIDE Festival organizers had to curtail the political speeches as there were so many politicians wanting to speak it began to sound like a political rally.
In D.C. there is once again the debate over the purpose of PRIDE with some wanting to ban many corporate floats and contingents. But in Virginia and D.C. the parade is still a fun event with politicians, floats from our various clubs and bars and sports teams; some from sponsors and some from our local and national organizations wanting to be seen and heard. Some advertising, but many saying thank you to the LGBTQ+ community with their LGBTQ+ employees marching. The community has come so far that cities like Tel Aviv, Israel and Sydney, Australia, advertise themselves by touting the size and scope of their PRIDE festivals.
I am thankful to have lived long enough to see so many young people grow up able to be comfortable being out and proud; to see our community having achieved marriage equality; and, so many in our community with their own beautiful families. While we are still fighting for full equality, each year during PRIDE one is able to rekindle the hope for a better future and be reenergized to continue fighting for it.
Peter is a non-profit consultant, LGBTQ and community activist. He writes for the Washington Blade, the Georgetown Dish and has a blog on his website www.prosenstein.com.