By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
Every year around the beginning of June the question of ‘Is Pride still relevant?’ seems to comes up. And each time I find myself thinking back 20+ years ago remembering the climate of acceptance and tolerance for the LGBT community – which wasn’t much. So understanding the significance of Pride, at least in the past, was much easier to appreciate. At a bare minimum, those of us LGBT, who so often felt belittled and marginalized from mainstream culture found Pride a time and place we could find our community, celebrate and feel safe.
Perhaps the reasons why we celebrate Pride is lost on our present day community because we are fortunate enough to live in a city that is overall LGBT friendly and welcoming. Let’s face it; we do live in a sort of bubble here in Portland and the PNW compared to other parts of the US, and definitely the world when it comes to acceptance of queers. And younger LGBT generations may not experience the same level of intolerance and homophobia that older generations have endured, which is fantastic progress. Pride to some of them and others might be just another fabulous queer party.
Years ago, before it became more socially acceptable to be gay, the Pride parades and celebrations consisted of beautiful drag queens, dykes on bikes, seemingly homemade floats and random trucks with scantily dressed men covered with boas dancing. And of course a crowd favorite – Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Today in many larger cities Pride parades are full of big corporations who’ve jumped on board. So even though the overall parade and celebration can seem much more luxurious, entertaining and yes – a bit longer, the purpose of the Pride Parade may be skewed and watered down.
Since it appears more of a mainstream event with big businesses comfortable supporting Pride, it begs the question – is that an indication that Pride is losing its importance and relevance? I would say no, but it is a step in the right direction. A direction I’m assuming we all ultimately desire – a culture where everyone is treated equally and share the same rights. A utopian-like society where the idea of celebrating a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity would be as trivial and unnecessary as celebrating someone for being straight.
Yet we’re not at that utopia quite yet. Homophobia and transphobia still exist everywhere. LGBT inequality is still present in many of the laws throughout the U.S. and the world. And since that is the case, saying Pride is irrelevant could be compared to asking whether or not feminism is relevant. Feminism and equal rights for women will be relevant until sexism and discrimination against women disappear – period. Pride and the commemorating and embracing of the LGBT community will be important until we have equal rights and LGBT discrimination disappears. Face it, despite recent progress, our government and heteronormative culture often continue to treat LGBT like second class citizens who should be ashamed by denying us full equality under all laws. Pride is a time to bring community together, support each other and show the world we are not ashamed but proud. And that we deserve the same rights as everyone else.
I will admit wholeheartedly that in the past 30+ years we have definitely come far by socially progressive standards. We currently have Federal Marriage Equality, the Hate Crime Bill now includes sexual orientation and gender identity and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been overturned. Even more ground breaking are social attitudes towards LGBT that have dramatically shifted. When the President of the United States come forward and says things like, “Every single American – gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender – every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society,” – you know we are headed down the path of true equality.
But even with all this progress, many LGBT inequalities still exist. Members of the LGBT community can still be fired in 29 states just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT can legally be denied housing in 30 states. Blatant discrimination is happening in North Carolina with the passage of the HB2 Bill requiring transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate. And right here in Oregon, a lesbian couple was denied service recently by Sweet Cakes by Melissa because they were gay.
And what about children and teenagers struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation and gender identity or who live in areas unsafe to be publically out? Statistically about 4 out of 10 LGBT teenage youth say the community they live in isn’t accepting of LGBT and they are twice as likely to be bullied and assaulted. And the risk of lesbian and gay suicide attempts are 10-20% compared to 4.6% of heterosexual youth. This percentage increases for transgender youth to 41%. For these kids and their parents, Pride is still extremely relevant and can have a profound, meaningful and positive impact on them.
We as a nation have come far in regards to recognizing the oppression, discrimination and inequality LGBT people experience. Pride is definitely a time to embrace that progress and celebrate. It’s also a time to recognize our foremothers and fathers who fought so hard just to get us to the place we are now. Whether Pride for you is a political statement, a time to reminisce or perhaps a time to party with other queers – or all of the above; it has been and will continue to be relevant and important.