“Is it appropriate for me to attend the Pride parade?” my mom asked me last June.
My mother isn’t gay, transgender or bisexual, but she does have a queer son — one that she’s incredibly proud of and unconditionally accepts. She wants to show her support for the LGBTQ community, but isn’t sure if celebrating Pride is the best avenue to do so. And it’s not just her — many well-intended allies are asking themselves similar questions, especially in 2018.
The past couple of years for the LGBTQ community hasn’t been easy. The palpable optimism in the air during the summer of 2015 — which started with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage — quickly disappeared a year later, when news of the Pulse Nightclub shooting struck everyone across America. Six months later, Trump and Pence were voted into office. Quickly, the LGBTQ community’s general tone shifted from optimism to protest.
The entire Pride movement, however, was borne from protest.
The first pride protest march commemorated the Stonewall Riots, which took place during the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969. The queer community of New York City was tired of the blatant harassment and discrimination perpetuated against them by NYC police officers, so during one summer’s raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in in the heart of Greenwich Village, the community fought back. Transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were among two of the more prominent people to retaliate against the police forces. A year later the Pride march began, commemorating the anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
Pride’s now evolved to mean a number of things to the LGBTQ community. It’s a celebration of its diverse members. It’s a time where we congregate to experience what it’s like to be the majority in a large, public space. Seeing a bunch of fellow queers swarm the streets — kissing loved ones in public, proudly wearing fabulously flamboyant outfits — is not only empowering, but also a reminder that while we often feel alone, the LGBTQ community exists in great numbers. It’s also a time, like it was nearly five decades ago, when we march not just for tolerance but for acceptance. We march to end workplace discrimination, to receive equal access to healthcare, and to serve openly in the military. We also march for the lives of transgender women of color, who are being murdered at an alarming rate.
In fact, what we are fighting for could actually be boiled down to one thing: we want everyone who’s not a member of the LGBTQ community to become an ally. We want straight people to not only believe that LGBTQ people deserve the same treatment as cisgender, straight people, but to also fight for our rights as queer individuals.
Still, it makes sense why my mother and those like her would feel apprehensive about attending a Pride festival. On the surface level, pride is being overrun by straight people and large companies who attempt to capitalize on gay culture with limited-edition pride products – remember when Burger King unveiled the “Proud Whopper” in 2014? A combination of the influx of straightness at Pride, along with the major setbacks the LGBTQ community has experienced in the past two years, has encouraged LGBTQ people and activism groups, like the Reclaim Pride Coalition, to once again make Pride a form of protest, not simply a celebration.
Nevertheless, even though Pride isn’t “for” my mother or any other straight person, that doesn’t mean she can’t show her support. Her support, unlike those of many companies, simply needs to be genuine.
The issue isn’t then, “Is it appropriate for allies to attend Pride?” because the answer is unequivocally yes. If allies weren’t allowed to partake in Pride, then straight women who date bisexual men wouldn’t be able to attend. It would also prohibit a cisgender straight man from celebrating Pride with his transgender wife, or a mother from taking her recently out, 13-year-old gay son to the parade.
The issue becomes “What’s the best way to show support while simultaneously realizing that as a straight and cisgender person, Pride isn’t for you?”
Really, it’s simple: be respectful and accepting — exactly what the queer community is fighting for during Pride.
If you are there to gawk at or judge the men wearing rainbow jockstraps littering the streets with glitter for their their overtly sexual “lifestyle,” then you should stay home and twiddle your thumbs for the entirety of June. Similarly, if you think gay people deserve equal rights, but “don’t really get what transgender is all about” then don’t attend. Instead, take the time to learn what being transgender is about. A large part of being an ally is taking it upon yourself to educate you and the others around you about the plight of the marginalized community.
You also need to recognize that there are some spaces that aren’t for you, like a leather bar, a bear party, or Dyke March after party. There are spaces that aren’t for me, too — I know not to attend a space that’s exclusively for butch queer woman. Butch queer women often feel marginalized in male-centric gay spaces, so it’s necessary for them to have a space to call their own. I respect that. Just like I expect allies to respect my queer-only spaces.
Part of being an ally is giving up space. Privileged people take up more space, literally, as in there are more of you and you probably feel comfortable in a lot more places than LGBTQ people, but also figuratively, when you monopolize a conversation by trying to offer your experiences. Or worse, when you say something along the lines of “not all straight people are like that.” Which is another way of saying, “I’m not like that!”
We are very well aware, thank you. But this conversation isn’t about you. If that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable, then good. That’s kind of the point. So during Pride, make sure you’re going out of your way to give up space for the queer community.
Actually, a good ally does this year-round — so perhaps you should ask yourself, “Am I an ally the other 11 months of the year?” I know my mom is, so I told her over the phone, “You can absolutely attend Pride. Just bring some extra sunscreen to offer the drunk, half-naked boys who are getting burnt. Feel free to hand out my number, too.”