It took me a long time to find the words to describe Pride this past weekend.
Some of the words were easy—joy, exuberance, vivaciousness. The sun was bright and the rainbows were brighter. Glitter-filled beards and sparkly tu-tus abound. A veritable cornucopia of cute dogs enjoying the crowd as much as their people were.
Despite all of the joy I felt while marching, though, I couldn’t help but find myself tearing up as I walked through the streets in the parade. I saw couples of all kinds holding hands and cheering and thanking us for the work that we do. It was beautiful solidarity for a better world, where we all can feel free and safe.
When I marched in Pride for the first time, it was on the heels of one of the most notable victories in LGBT history: SCOTUS ruling that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional. This certainly didn’t fix so many issues facing the LGBT community, with housing discrimination, mental health issues, drug abuse, and poverty rates all higher than average. Bullying and marginalization has always been and continues to be painfully present. But on that day, it felt like we were making progress. Any activist will tell you that progressive victories are hard-won and tenuous, but it had truly felt that the long arc of history was finally beginning to swing towards justice. We could take a step forward without a crushing blow back.
Then, Donald Trump was elected.
Of course, this was not the only setback that the community had faced. But it was national, and it was crushing. His vice president, Mike Pence, had been known for his aggressive anti-equality stances, even going so far as to advocate for “conversion therapies” that have been the stem of trauma for far too many LGBT youth. The new White House quickly rolled back education policy guidelines urging public schools to allow trans kids to use the restrooms consistent with their identity. For the first time in years, June wasn’t declared Pride Month by the President. Attorney General Sessions and other federal agents slowly and quietly rolled back civil rights divisions in the DOJ and elsewhere. Amidst chaos and dysfunction, the march towards progress was so clearly not inevitable. So many victories are easily washed away with the stroke of a pen by hateful hearts.
At the parade, like every year, a small but loud gaggle of protesters was gathered on the corner to remind the participants that our pride would be the ticket to eternal damnation. Last year, they were louder than expected, and it quickly dissolved into a shouting match to try and drown out the cherry-picked bible verses being blared over loud speakers. This year, however, organizers came prepared. A drum line was set up in front to play happy beats to cover the protests, and a group dressed as angels with their arms spread out and covered in sheets stood in front of the protestors, holding a giant sign: “God loves gays.”
I’ve thought a lot about that sight over the past few days. It was a beautiful moment of solidarity.
For a little while, the hate in the world could be relegated to a corner, emblazoned with messages of acceptance and love. It takes true courage to show love to those who hate us. The most important times to show compassion are those when it feels the most impossible. However, it also reminded me of another, more somber, dynamic. The colorful happiness of Pride was not borne out of a desire for a good time. It was the natural reaction of a community struggling to receive the most base of human respect and dignity. It was an act of radical political defiance, a reclamation of joy in the face of a world that sought to deny it to unorthodoxy at every turn. We can cover the hatred under the sheets and behind the curtains while we celebrate, but it remains, lurking, a reminder that to be queer and to be human are see as mutually exclusive in too many circles.
I am proud to be who I am. I am proud to be a member of a community that has learned resilience at every turn. I just wish that we didn’t have to keep getting refreshers on that lesson.