This is the time of year when GLBT communities around the world celebrate Gay Pride. The June/July period was chosen to honour the Stonewall Riots that occurred in 1969 in New York, the first time gay people fought back physically against police harassment and entrapment. The riots involved 300 gay men, lesbians, and drag queens. This historic event sparked the modern LGBT equality movement throughout the world, bringing LGBT people together like never before. But OutUK correspondent Josh Aterovis wonders what it means more than 40 years on.
Chances are you won't be hearing any proclamations or statements in honour of Pride from church leaders. However, you probably will hear someone saying that gay pride celebrations are a passť concept. That it's silly to be proud of being gay because it's like being proud to have brown eyes -- it's something you have no control over. Maybe you've even said or thought the same thing yourself. Now I'm the first to insist that everyone has the right to their own opinions, but I don't necessarily agree with that idea.

I understand the concept that we should be proud of who we are rather than what we are. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to do that right away.

I think it's great when people are secure enough to simply be proud of accepting themselves, but I do think "gay pride" has its place -- especially for young gay kids or people first coming out. It's a need of many oppressed minorities (think Black Pride, or Girl Power). It takes something that is traditionally demeaned and makes it something powerful. It makes it easier to accept being gay if it's something to be proud of versus something to be ashamed of.
When I was first coming out, I wore rainbow Pride necklaces all the time. I never left home without one. I grew up in an extremely conservative religious family, never knowing a single openly gay person. For me, as it is for many from rural areas or religious upbringings, being gay wasn't something to be proud of. These necklaces were a physical link to a community to which I didn't feel I fully belonged yet. I wanted to belong, but I was still searching for my own individual identity, which at the time was almost consumed by the fact that I was gay.
Wearing that necklace, that symbol of pride, of belonging, allowed me to be proud of something I was still coming to terms with. It helped me to be proud of what I was: a gay man. As I became more comfortable with who I was, I found I didn't need to constantly announce the fact that I was gay. Being gay no longer defined me as a person. It was merely a part of my sum total. My pride shifted from what I was to who I was -- but I needed that first step. I had to accept being gay before I could become a whole person.

That's why I think gay pride is still extremely important -- maybe now more than ever.

The LGBT community is under attack in the US even though they have won the right of equal marriage from the Supreme Court. A vocal minority of people who claim to be religious are frequently misquoting scriptures to spread hatred and fear. We've gained visibility, but with visibility comes increased attention. Homophobic attacks still take place in the heart of our cities, sometimes resulting in severe injury or death.
There is an abundance of negative information floating around out there these days, so what messages are gay kids receiving? If they're relying on the mainstream media, the messages are coming through loud and clear. Sexual orientation is excluded from equal opportunities legislation, so gay people do not deserve the same rights as others. Gay families are less valid than "traditional families." It's okay to discriminate against minorities. Hate is acceptable when it's targeted at those without rights.

We need to counter those messages with the truth, and one of the ways we can do that is through Pride.

Imagine, for a minute, a young gay child. Maybe he doesn't even know he's gay yet, or maybe he's just starting to realize his attraction for other boys. Maybe he only understands that he is different. He's being inundated with negative information on a daily basis: from school, from church, and maybe even from his parents. Where are the positive messages?

The Right would like us to live in shame, fear, and silence. Pride celebrations defy them in a powerful and positive way. By making ourselves visible and celebrating who we are, we're sending a clear message to both our critics and impressionable minds. We're here, we're queer, and we're not going anywhere!

To me, Gay Pride Month is less about those of us who are already out and more about those who have yet to make that step. It's a powerful statement, but the best part is, we get to have fun while making it! Gay Pride events are being planned all across the country and world, but you don't have to join one of the large planned galas. You can make a statement right where you are, about who you are.
American author Richard D. Mohr, writer of The Long Arc of Justice: Lesbian and Gay Marriage, Equality, and Rights, relates this story in his book. "The town I live in is girded by cornfields. It's nowhere near large enough to support a gay pride parade the last weekend in June, when cities across America commemorate with parades the so-called Stonewall Riots that launched the modern lesbian and gay rights movement in 1969. The town's gay men and lesbians do something at once more radical and more ordinary than that. We have a gay contingent in the town's all-American Fourth of July parade. The parade draws in crowds from all of the county and much of the rest of east-central Illinois. Last year, a purple parade banner streamed by the crowds reading 'Lesbian and Gay Pride.' I saw a little girl, maybe five, lean over to her father and ask, 'Daddy, what does pride mean?' Apparently she knew what lesbian and gay meant."

Whether you do it in the city or in the country, as part of a large celebration or a small act of defiance, get out there and show your pride! It's important.

 

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