My Pride Experience – Challenges of Pride
Welcome to My Pride Experience!
My Pride Experience is a series where contributors share their experiences with Pride celebrations. These can be good, bad, or in between. Join us on our journey to discover how Pride is celebrated and experienced by members of our own community.
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Challenges of Pride
It’s Pride Month, one of my favorite times of the year, probably only second to Halloween. When I was asked to write about my experiences with Pride, my first thought was “all right, how can I talk about how amazing Pride is while also acknowledging the problems that current Pride events have?” I am a white cisgender pansexual woman, which puts me in a very interesting place in both Pride events and any LGBTQ space.
But before I get into that, I want to talk about my upbringing and how it relates to my current thoughts on Pride. Like many of my comrades, I was brought up in a strict religious conservative environment. As a child and teenager, I did not know any queer people and the only mention of homosexuality I encountered were the stories of teens or adults who went through “conversion therapy”. As I understood it, most people were not gay and if they were, they could be fixed. I was also sexually repressed in general as a woman: constantly shamed for my choices in clothing and told that even kissing a boy before marriage was sinful. I remember my mom making comments like, “it’s ok if you want to kiss someone, that’s normal, as long as it’s not a girl” or “I would rather you get an abortion than to come home saying you’re gay.” For context, my parents were passionately pro-life, so I knew after that comment being gay must be horrible.
The first time I ever fell for a woman was when I was 15 and crazy in love with my best friend.
She lived in New York and would occasionally come to visit. I did not feel so lonely when I was talking to her and cared less about the attention of boys. When she visited, I looked forward to getting in bed with her at night so we could snuggle and kiss on each other. I never went further than that because I was too scared she would reject me, but the thought never even occurred to me that I was enjoying this because I was attracted to women. Bisexuality was not even a concept for me at that point, I knew lesbians existed but I couldn’t be one of those because I wanted to kiss men too. It took me leaving the church and my parents’ house and dating a man to put a finger on (no pun intended) what my sexual identity was. I realized that I still loved my boyfriend but I also wanted to have sex with women. I came out as bisexual at 23 and pansexual a year or so after that.
I went to my first Pride festival in Florida 3 years ago at 26 years old, and I cried the entire parade.
I had never felt so accepted as a queer woman before. Seeing men and women and non-binary individuals openly display affection for each other was brand new to me and made me feel like I actually belonged somewhere. After years of being repressed and beaten down, I finally felt like I was being told, “You’re special and you matter and you’re not alone.” That’s a feeling I never get anywhere else. Queer women are the most likely to suffer from mental illness and substance abuse because of the compounded homophobia and biphobia they regularly experience. Over 40% of bisexual individuals have considered or attempted suicide compared to 25% of gay men or lesbians (Parshall, 2017). For someone like me, Pride matters because it is literally the only space that celebrates my sexuality instead of attacking it. Acceptance of sexual identity is closely tied into mental health, and I truly believe that Pride is a place that can keep queer people from depression and isolation.
Unfortunately, as Pride has grown, so has its problems.
I first went with my male partner and was very nervous because I had unfortunately encountered biphobia from gay men and lesbians in other queer spaces. Several women had told me that it was inappropriate for me to go to Pride with a man because “it’s for gays only.” One girl asked me why I chose to be with a man if I liked women. You know, the same dumb shit bi/pan women deal with all the time. When bisexual/pansexual individuals are interviewed about their experiences at Pride, many of them state they do not feel comfortable being there because people have told them they’re “straight passing” (Eloise, 2017). This is so ironic to me because the founder of Pride, Brenda Howard, was an openly bisexual woman with male and female partners (Holland, 2018). Pride originally started as a commemorative event for the Stonewall Riots when a bisexual trans woman (Marsha P. Johnson, rest in power) threw a brick at cops arresting and assaulting queer people at the Stonewall Inn (Schlaffer, 2016). Gays and lesbians who tell bisexual/pansexual people they are not gay enough and do not belong at Pride are doing a massive disservice to the folx who started Pride in the first place and need to read up on some queer history.
Another problem I have experienced with Pride is the amount of people (usually white) clamoring for police protection at the events.
Their usual justification is, “we need protection, what do we do if someone attacks us?” For many queer people of color and trans individuals, the police represent more of a threat to safety than some abstract attacker. I could go on for an entire thesis on how cops do not care about the safety of individuals, especially black people. Police regularly arrest people of color at Pride events and turn a blind eye to white gays. Here in Florida, police will throw trans women in male prisons and openly mock them. Butch lesbians are misgendered and femme lesbians are sexually harassed by male police officers. How quickly white folx forget that the police were never on the side of queer rights.
I mentioned the Stonewall Riots earlier as a prime example of how police are detrimental to people like me. Police showed up at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 (only 50 years ago!) and began arresting bar patrons (Holland, 2018). They forced trans women and drag queens into the bathrooms to “verify their sex” before arresting them, sexually assaulting them in the process. One cop bludgeoned a butch lesbian over the head for complaining that her handcuffs were too tight. It wasn’t until Marsha Johnson and other activists incited riots that the police were overwhelmed and disbanded.
Pride was never a cute little party, it was a fucking war, and it infuriates me to see police invited to Pride. They don’t keep us safe. They never did. I would put my life in the hands of drag queens, butches, and bears before I would ask a cop to protect me. I ask my fellow white queers that they consider the feelings of people of color and trans individuals before demanding police presence. You may end up driving away some of our most vulnerable comrades.
I want Pride to be less of a corporate party and more about remembering the sacrifices our queer ancestors made for us.
Much as I like to have a good time with my friends, it pains me to see so many gay people display racism, classism, sexism, biphobia, and transphobia towards individuals at Pride. It takes away from the safety and joy I feel when attending Pride events, even as a cisgender white woman who lives with an immense amount of privilege. If I don’t feel safe, I guarantee you queer and trans women of color have bigger problems.
Eloise, M. (2017, August 17). Why don’t the LGBT community care about bi people? Retrieved from https://www.dazeddigital.com/life-culture/article/37091/1/why-dont-the-lgbt-community-care-about-bi-people
Holland, B. (2017, June 09). How Activists Plotted the First Gay Pride Parades. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/how-activists-plotted-the-first-gay-pride-parades
Parshall, H. (2017, March 24). Bisexual Health Awareness Month:Mental Health in the Bi Community. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/blog/bisexual-health-awareness-month-mental-health-in-the-bisexual-community
Schlaffer, N. (2016, October 23). The Unsung Heroines of Stonewall: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Retrieved from https://sites.psu.edu/womeninhistory/2016/10/23/the-unsung-heroines-of-stonewall-marsha-p-johnson-and-sylvia-rivera/
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