By Tanya Luz
As I walked through the 3rd Annual Ypsi Pride celebration a few weeks ago, there were tables with sexual health pamphlets, and booths with sparkly baseball hats with terms like “Enby”, “Pan”, and ‘Trans” on them. There were merchants selling handmade art, and others slinging samosas. But mostly, there were just people. Every day people. Your librarian. Your doctor. Your kids’ teacher. Your banker. Your scientist, writer, or favorite indie musician. The sheer volume of diversity was staggering and exhilarating.
A riot of love and color
What I noticed most, though, was the riot of big, bold, inclusive love being displayed everywhere. It was intoxicating. Every few feet in every direction, people were excited to see each other. Some spotted their exes and crossed the street to say hi, and some were looking for a new ex to miss someday. People taking silly selfies, children running around, long lines for hot dogs and ice cream were delightful. There were people drinking sweet sangrias and mango margaritas, statuesque trans women walking in high heels, and short men wearing shorter hotpants. There were groups of teens wandering, arms locked, and a conga line of ladies offering “Free Mom Hugs.” There were big, beautiful women performing burlesque on the stage. I just soaked it all in. Everyone had a different reason to be there, or none at all. And that, to me, is what Pride Month is all about.
For my friend Paul, Pride is the time of year that he will hold his husband’s hand and walk down the street openly. Pride, for others, is the first time they might feel brave enough to be seen by colleagues as their “true” selves. For my friend Jean, these events are both a celebration and a solemn memorial. She remembers the horrific toll that AIDS took on the gay community starting in the 80’s, and all the friends she lost. For some, they just came to show support, and for others, this may be their first experience with the LGBTQ+ community.
Each and every person arrives at their true identity on their own schedule. It’s not an instant thing, knowing who you are, but instead an evolution as new experiences, information, friends, or lovers come and go. Pride is part of that exploration. Some feel a strong pull to be there, not knowing if they’re “allowed” or unsure about the rules and the meaning of unfamiliar terms. Parents attend in solidarity with their kids. People who do not feel sexually attracted to anyone attend. This is still their tribe, and the word Queer, for me, encompasses all of them.
A decision to live authentically and without fear
Despite all of the parades and parties, Pride is at its core a political statement demanding the right to love who we love, who we are, and what we look like, without fear of being attacked. The sharp memory of the people rounded up in the Stonewall raids, and more recently the slaughter at Pulse in Orlando, still cuts deeply and always will. The mourning is constant, wounds drawn from other queer peoples’ blood worn like psychic tattoos on our hearts.
“It could be me next” is an ever-present drumbeat to many in the community. To be a person of color, queer, and or any of the other identities considered not white, male, able-bodied, and thin is extremely complex, and means you can be part of one group but not another and have to fight to be valid and valued everywhere, everyday. It’s particularly exhausting for Kulky, who is Punjabi, queer, and plus-size. To be trans can mean bladder infections because public bathrooms are a deadly battle ground now, and there are few safe places a trans person can go. Being visibly gay can mean being murdered in cold blood while hailing a taxi, like my friend Chris. And yet, the power and drive to survive continues, grows, and is celebrated in these Pride events in cities across the world.
To be gay, lesbian, trans, queer, or anything else not considered ‘normal’ by a rapidly shrinking but potentially violent majority, is to live with the ghosts of the past, the hopes for the future, and the fierce determination to live authentically despite the consequences. That is the energy and activism that Pride cultivates… strength in numbers and solidarity in the face of hatred. The will to thrive. To strength to resist the impulse to hurt ourselves. A dance in the streets by someone who knows they are a target has its own cadence.
Rather than judge people who are different from myself, I prefer to live as an eternally curious person, which allows me to leave room for it all and not have to decide who is right and who is wrong. Standing at a Pride parade is a testimony to the wild diversity of the world, and the stubborn insistence of love showing up, in all its forms, for everyone.