I spent nearly three decades of my life sexually involved with other guys, and even longer than that attracted to them, and in all that time I never once considered Pride Month or attending any Pride parades or events. Part of that thinking is because I was raised in the South in the 60’s and 70’s, and in the Black community particularly acting like a homosexual (or “sissy” or “f*ggot,” words commonly used back then) was strictly taboo.
Gay men would either stay on the down-low or be total flamers because they didn’t care what people thought.
I was the former, someone on the DL.
It wasn’t until I moved to Seattle in the early 90’s during the AIDS Epidemic that I saw my first Pride parade. You wouldn’t believe the tension and fear that filled the atmosphere back then.
Despite so many businesses refusing to serve people, parents kicking out their teenage kids, friends rejecting friends, clinics turning people away, restaurants having people use plastic utensils while seated in the back, people losing their jobs, and churches closing their doors because they were afraid of catching AIDS, the gay community still pulled together as a family and organized those annual parades.
Every gay club, bar, and organization in the city saw what was happening in hospitals and homes and hospices and on the streets — death among death — and instead of canceling the Pride parades, the community decided they needed something to lift spirits. I was working in a gay drug rehab center at the time, so the Pride parade went right past my building.
Being the only “straight” employee there (remember, I was on the DL, and people saw me as an ally), I got asked if I wanted to go to the parade since I’d never been to one. I said sure.
I’m not one for parades in general, but in the few moments that I stayed, I could see that people weren’t worried about the number of pills they had to take, who hated them, the bloodwork they had the next day, and all the other negative things in their lives. They just wanted to be queer and enjoy the parade.
Sometimes that’s what we have to do — just be queer and enjoy the parade of life, so to speak. All too often we let the pressures of this world weigh us down, and when our same-sex attraction (SSA) adds to that, we tend to complicate things more than we need to.
Since leaving Seattle, I’ve attended Pride parades in two other cities on opposite sides of the country: San Diego and Jacksonville. I guess it’s no coincidence that I’ve lived in gay neighborhoods in both of those cities. As conservative as San Diego was when I lived there years ago, things were quite different come Pride time: drag queens and other people wearing leather chaps or strap-ons or thongs with their butt cheeks showing, gyrating and twerking on floats to music blaring through the streets.
It’s amazing how nobody complained. I guess nobody wanted to be regarded a homophobe.
In Jacksonville, I’ve never paid attention to Pride parades because people are more open with their sexuality here than when I was in San Diego. I guess what I’m saying is that every day, even outside Pride Month, Pride is a celebration in my neighborhood, and I love it.
Like everyone else in this neighborhood, I can finally be me — something I could never do growing up. I always had to fake the stereotype of being a strong Black man.
Of course, I never really knew what it meant to be a strong Black man; but what the heck, I figured I’d give it a shot. I’ll tell you right now, that didn’t last long, surrounded by femininity: my mom, my great-grandmother, and two sisters. How was I supposed to be a strong Black man amidst all that estrogen?
Looking back on all the years I wasted not being who I was, I’m saddened. I know part of the reason is because of when and where I was born, but another part is because I wasn’t as brave as I should have been like those at Stonewall.
Sure, I suffered for being gay by being sent to prison and embarrassing my family, but I never got beaten up for being gay, or outed in the newspaper, or excommunicated from the church, or disowned by my family and friends just because I wanted to be true to myself.
Parades aren’t for everyone, but we can take part in this sense of Pride not just in June, but whenever, because of who we are. So many of us have had to hide who we are because of when/where/how we were raised; others have chosen not to say anything for other reasons.
Whatever the case, whether we identify as SSA, gay, bi, asexual, non-binary, or somewhere else on the sexual and gender identity spectrums, be proud of who you are because you are made in God’s image.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)
Have you attended a Pride parade, or have you felt a disconnect with or resistance to Pride? How do you exemplify a healthy sense of pride in who you are all year long?
Michael, I’m so glad you’re writing now for YOB! Awesome perspective on Pride. Thank you.
Thank you, SO much, Peter! 😀
I went to my first NC Pride with a friend in Durham in the mid-90’s. It was great fun. Got there too late to march but still saw great entertainment & good book stalls. There were interesting people to see & nobody I recognized. Then on to the Electric Company to dance with friends.
The second NC Pride I attended was in Carrboro. Too late to march but recognized people like the campus chaplain who recognized me & started to feel uneasy. They might suspect I’m a homosexual & tell someone.
The third NC Pride I attended in the 90s was in Winston-Salem. A friend’s daughter who was a journalism student was there taking pictures & waved. A speaker asked how many people had been physically attacked because of their sexual orientation. I was shocked that nearly everyone including my friend raised their hands. He asked how many people had been harassed on the job because they were LGBT. Nearly everyone raised their hand again including me. The march started. My friend looked at me & said, “Let’s go.” Fortunately it started raining so I walked with an umbrella pulled low over my head. There were people screaming hatred at us & a church group handing out water although it wasn’t that hot & the march wasn’t that long. It stopped raining so I had to fold the umbrella but along the way I found my pride & courage – grew a pair maybe?
I’m going to Raleigh Pride this week-end with friends. Not scared of being recognized but in the back of my mind, I worry that somebody with an assault rifle might show up.
Things have changed for us since then but there’s an abiding fear they can change back. Reactionary legislators won’t do anything about health care, gun violence, or climate change but they can sure crank out legislation to suppress voters and sexual minorities. I want to stand up now & be counted.
I hope you actually rent to the parade and enjoyed yourself and weren’t didn’t fear take over. This is just my opinion, but the media thrives on fears because it boots ratings. You shouldn’t let fear run your life.
Michael, I’m excited for you to keep peeling back the layers of your story and sharing more with us. I’m so fascinated by the life you’ve led, from east coast to west coast and overseas, and through all these decades of American history. So, so grateful for your willingness to tell your story here (if I haven’t told you that enough lately!). I’ve never attended Pride, but it remains on my mind and heart as I ponder this notion of what I’m “proud” of with regard to my sexuality. Certainly this community has helped me reframe this blessing of what was once a total burden.
Thank you again asking me to be one of blog contributors. At first, I really didn’t think I would have much to offer. Truth be told, I was afraid because of how long it takes me to write because of my dyslexia, but I know God will help me share my stories the way they are meant to be so people can be blessed.
I enjoyed this post and the important history presented here!
I’m happy for those who enjoy it. Parades can be so much fun, especially if meaningful and unifying. But my personal preference is a bit different… For me, personally, Pride does not represent ANY part of me. The parades, LGBTQ flags, slogans and symbols do not represent my identity – not even my sexuality, as I have SSA and am celibate for religious reasons, and have faced rejection, anger and contempt from those who find way faith and way of life unacceptable. In my experience, Pride does not celebrate my personal survival or existence, but excludes me because of my core identity – a classic/orthodox Christian. The political and social message of Pride and other LGBTQ events that I have attended, have further alienated me. I’m a first-generation immigrant with a rich culture and ancestry (another important part of my identity), and also grateful and proud to be an American (another part of my identity). I’m pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, etc. I completely respect those who feel different, but I don’t wave the LGBTQ flag in June because in addition to celebrating us survivors of homophobia, I have sensed tendencies of Christophobia, slowly festering and growing in some circles (not just among LGBTQ folks), a phobia openly celebrated by media and the powerful film industry. I don’t feel personally represented in the LGBTQ rainbow. So I continue to celebrate the symbols that do express my identity as an ethnic person, as a proud American and, most importantly, as a Christian. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to think of things that may represent my sexual orientation, my particular brand of “gay.” I just know that for me, it won’t be Pride.
Like you, I don’t have a flag or anything else showing the rainbow during June or any other time of the year. I never have. I lived that life for 29 years (sometimes openly, but mostly in secret.) I understand the rejection, contempt, anger, et cetera because of all the things I went through during those years (you can see what happened in the other 2 pieces I’ve written and others coming in the future). I thought that I needed to be proud of my sexuality and for the most part, that’s true. I’ve embraced my attraction to men, but it’s not by any means all that I am. God has shown me over the years that I’m more than my sexuality. I’m a man, a Christian, a mentor, brother, American, et cetera.
Even though I’m am a son, I didn’t mention it (it’ll make sense in a future blog). My mom is pretty much a homophobia though she’d deny it. But she’s no different from the Church as a whole. We in the SSA/LGBTQ communities have to do our best to educate those in the Church about the pain, rejection, suicidal thoughts/attempts, et cetera that so many of us have dealt with and still dealing with and don’t feel like we have enough allies within the church community to turn to. Sometimes, pride can be as simple as taking a bold step to be an advocate for those in your church who aren’t brave enough to do it yet. It doesn’t have to be all about the rainbow and being flamboyant.
Thank you taking the time for reading the piece and your comments.