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June 16, 2010

All the Pride we can get

The word pride itself has several definitions, some of which seem to oppose each other. Pride can be considered “an unduly high opinion of oneself; exaggerated self-esteem” or “haughty and arrogant behavior.” Then there is the other meaning of “proper respect for oneself” and “sense of one’s own dignity or worth.”

Which kind of proud do I feel when I go to Pride? The answer, of course, is both.

I went to my first Kentuckiana Pride Festival in the late ’90s when I was a teenager. And I have to say, watching that sea of people move through downtown, shouting and dancing, and then spilling onto the Belvedere along the riverside made me proud to be gay. I wanted to tongue-kiss my girlfriend right there in the street. To have that many people joining together to celebrate diversity inspired me to show off what was diverse about me. There were rainbow flags everywhere and noise that traveled for miles. I saw men dressed in a minimal amount of leather, waving and dancing from a parade float. I saw “Dykes on Bikes,” which is exactly what it sounds like. I saw women and men, young and old, who were yelling passionately about the fact that they were proud to be queer.

Being a teenager, I thought, “Wow, all these people are OK with me sleeping with girls.” But, of course, it was about more than that. Pride felt like purposefully exaggerated self-esteem, meant to undeniably catch the eye of the rest of the city.

I continued going to the Pride Parade and Pride Picnic over the years, and that overwhelming sense of celebration and visibility continued to fuel my confidence. As I grew older, and as the political climate around the LGBT community grew on a national level, my sense of pride expanded. Now I think about “adult things” like civic responsibility and respect. Being gay isn’t just about kissing my girlfriend anymore. It’s about whether or not we can get on each other’s insurance policies. Or making sure we can visit each other in the hospital if we need to. It’s about working for change so that my friends who are in committed, same-sex relationships don’t have to travel to another state to be legally married, while keeping their jobs. I’ve learned that kind of pride needs as many supporters as we can we get.

Over the years, I’ve met people of older generations who helped pave the way for us to have a Pride Parade in the first place, through bold political action and by simply being out during the ’60s and ’70s. I’ve learned that part of my self-worth isn’t just about me, but honoring those who came before me.

“I think a public program that highlights what LGBT people have done for the community at large would be an improvement,” says an older lesbian. “Our time to come together should also celebrate our family values and public service to help strip away the fear about who the LGBT community is.”

I’ve met people who don’t necessarily consider themselves gay, but who want to show their support for the LGBT community. “As a straight man who has grown up with a lot of gay friends, it is an honor and privilege to play at an event that promotes peace, unity and equality,” a musician playing at this year’s Pride told me.

I’ve seen hetero and homosexual couples raise children with the idea of acceptance, including my sister and her husband, who attended Pride last year. And I wonder how we can make the festival even more kid-friendly. “Including activities that will bring out more families and supporters would help,” one mother told me, “like something along the lines of a kids’ contest booth or face painting.” Just know there will probably be men in leather and lesbians kissing in the street.

What I hope to see again at the Pride Festival this weekend is that the LGBT movement consists of a very wide range of people — from activists and folk singers to leather daddies and grandmas, and everything in between — who believe in celebrating unity in their own ways. As the political fight for equal rights and acceptance expands, I expect Louisville Pride’s sense of pride to also expand. This year I hope to see more of both kinds of pride: the loud, in-your-face kind and the dignified celebration of self-worth. Pride is a tricky thing, after all, because it’s what you make it.