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Pride: Looking Back and Moving Forward

By: Carol Queen, PhD

PrideI have been having flashbacks. And judging by this year’s Pride Month themes, I’m not the only one. Looking Back and Moving Forward in San Francisco. PRIDE: Past, Present, and Future! in Boston. in NYC it’s Strength in Solidarity. (In Seattle it’s Galactic Love—you stay weird, Seattle, we <heart> you!)  

We’re looking backwards for an important reason. The gains made in our communities since the homophile movement emerged in the 1950s (shout-out to the activists who came out even earlier) are under attack. Especially vulnerable are the trans and Black communities (particularly where they intersect), and young people who are just coming out. Access to supportive voices for youth is at risk as the right wing’s strategy includes book banning and criminalization of those supporting trans youth with necessary gender affirming health care. For all of us, the road to the future seems to lead though the past.   

I came out into the LGBTQIA+ community in the early 1970s—less than five years after Stonewall. Back then, Pride commemorated a riot—though at least two decades of more quiet and sometimes decorous organizing had preceded it, less flashy but necessary groundwork for the explosion of activism that followed. Post-Stonewall queer activism was often joyous—it feels great to speak up, make gains (even incremental ones), learn more about other communities and strengthen ties with them, and come out and connect.  

We still needed to protect ourselves and each other from all that, and homophobic hate and violence most certainly did not go away just because we were coming out and expressing pride. As I wrote last year, Pride was never a party—the festive atmosphere we’ve known for decades makes it a thrill to come together, but that excitement must not cover up the real reason we’re on the streets. We do that to show strength, demonstrate our visibility (to each other, and the world at large), and connect as a community and movement (as well as distinct communities and movements) evoking Pride to fight shame.  

And this has never been more important. Because as dire as things often were before Stonewall (and other instances of fighting back that helped birth the queer community—other riots happened in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and probably other cities too), organized homophobic resistance isn’t just present—it is pressing against all the gains we’ve won in the last 50-plus years. The face of violent homophobia and transphobia isn’t just some drunken guys in an alley—though they are still there. It’s Proud Boys, Moms for Liberty, and a large part of the Republican party. It’s book bannings and burnings, lone wolf attacks, organized strategizing to attack queer families, disgusting lies and smears calling us pedophiles (when we know most abuse happens in religious and hetero family contexts). Projection much? 

Stay safe this year at Pride, and have a great time. We need each other right now. Whether you’re in a town park or marching down the main drag—IN drag—feel the pleasure and power of being  in the company of people standing up for change. Only by standing together can we fight the fear, hate and lies coming our way. We did it before. We’ll do it again.