I’ve recently been hearing a lot of straight folks say things like, “Why do the gays have to flaunt their sexuality?” or “Why is there a gay pride parade? You know that people would freak if there was a straight pride parade!” or “What happens in the bedroom is your business, but don’t flaunt it. I don’t want to have to see that sh*t.”
On the more innocent side, I’ve had a few straight young people ask me to explain Gay Pride, particularly as this month is (officially) LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Pride Month. They seem a bit confused as to why Pride expressions look the way that they do or even exist at all. Well, in honor of LGBT Pride Month, I figured I would explore a little of why Pride matters!
Despite some popular perceptions, Pride is not simply an excuse for scantily-clad gay men to dance around on colorful floats (though that is an awesome part of any Pride parade).
Nor is Pride simply about throwing a middle finger to the Straight world (though that also can be a pretty fun part of Pride).
Nor is Pride simply an excuse to get pretty drunk and party like its 1999.
Pride actually has 3 main premises:
- People should be proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Diversity is a gift, a gift we should celebrate.
- Sexual orientation and gender identity are inherent and cannot be intentionally altered, so we should celebrate ourselves as we are – Whether we are Lesbian, Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or somewhere in between, we were Born This Way.
While those may seem like pretty simple statements, when I stop to think, I realize that they are quite radical. After all, most messages in the media, in politics, and in religious discourse say that if you are anything but Straight as an arrow, you should be ashamed. Our schools are often horrible places for anyone who is not Straight. An atmosphere of shame and bullying ends in the leading cause of death among Lesbian and Gay youth being suicide.
At it’s essence, Pride is a humanizing celebration. Too often our public discourse on sexuality dehumanizes those who are not Straight. It silences. It shames. It often even terrifies Queer-identified folks from openly proclaiming who they are.
For most of the year, the idea that two gay men might hold hands or kiss on the street would be met with jeers or even violence.
For most of the year, the idea that two lesbian women might openly express their love for one another would be met with shouts or, again, violence.
For most of the year, a drag queen or a trans person would risk verbal or physical violence for simply walking down the street.
However, during Pride, for at least one day, the Queer community and their allies use the power of numbers to proclaim, “We’re Here! We’re Queer! And We’re Proud!”
You see, those of us who are straight (as in any case of power and oppression) have a tremendous amount of privilege:
- More than likely, I could sit on my girlfriend’s lap (or vice versa) at a public pool without so much as a second glance. I have the privilege of having it be socially acceptable for me to show affection to my partner!
- I have the privilege to marry my partner in any state of the Union.
- I have the privilege of seeing my sexual orientation reflected in just about every film and television show without controversy and in a positive light. Further, I can see straight actors playing straight people (while Hollywood routinely casts straight actors to play gay folks – Milk, Six Feet Under, and I Love You Phillip Morris to name a few).
- I can talk about my sexuality (mention my partner or describe a date) without being accused of pushing my sexual orientation on others.
- I can see my sexual orientation reflected in public school curriculum without controversy or accusations of an “agenda.”
- My sexual orientation is assumed, is the standard. I would never need to “come out” as Straight to my family.
- I can almost guarantee that my medical benefits will also cover my partner.
- My behavior is not seen as a wider reflection of the Straight community.
- Being called Straight is never an insult.
- I am not asked to think about why I am Straight or how I came to be that way.
- I know that I will never be fired because of my sexual orientation.
- I could go to most any religious service and never worry that the sermon might condemn my sexual orientation.
- I don’t need a Straight Pride parade because every day, on every street, on every channel of television there’s a Straight Pride parade called life in America.
The list goes on and on.
Pride is about turning these privileges that Straight folks enjoy on their head (if only for a day or a week or a month). Pride is about Queer-identified folks demanding that they be treated with the same dignity and respect as Straight folks. Whether done subtly or with flamboyance and pizazz, Pride is about Queer-people asserting their humanity in a society that so often treats them as less than human.