BY JESSE MONTEAGUDO
Many of you will be reading this article after one of this month’s many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride events. First established to commemorate the Stonewall Rebellion of June 27-28, 1969, GLBT (or LGBT) Pride is now observed worldwide as a community-wide celebration that unites all genders, races, classes and lifestyles. By taking part in Pride events, we assert who we, as individuals and as a people. We contribute all that is good in us to Pride events and in return Pride makes us feel good about ourselves and others like us. In short, Pride is a tremendous morale boost and an antidote to self-hatred and internalized heterosexism and homophobia.
Unfortunately, Pride events are usually followed by all-too real and not very proud reality. After Pride ends, we must return to a world that hates us as much as it did before Pride began. Back in the eighties, bad news always seemed to follow a Pride celebration. As if mounting AIDS casualties weren’t bad enough, Pride Month 1986 ended with the now-infamous Bowers v. Hardwick Supreme Court decision (since overturned by Lawrence v. Texas). The 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (which was itself a Pride event writ large) was soon followed by Senate approval of one of then-Senator Jesse Helms's notorious amendments that would have banned federal assistance for gay or AIDS groups. Pride Month won't keep AIDS from killing us, bashers from hurting us, or bigots from trying to send us back into our closets.
While the enemy remains at large after Pride ends, many of us go into hiding. All the energy that we acquired during Pride seems to disappear as too many of us return to our closets after the last Sunday in June. But Pride should be a year-round event, not one that is limited to a certain period of time. I admit that it is natural and essential to rest after an overly-active week or month of celebration; in order to recharge our batteries, relax and enjoy ourselves. But GLBT and questioning kids continue to take their own lives; gay and bisexual men (and others) continue to test HIV positive; queers everywhere continue to suffer from hate crimes and antigay violence; and folks like the Rev. Fred Phelps continue to make life hard for us.
Therefore, it is important that we keep the spirit of Pride alive long after Pride is over. Let Pride be not an end but a beginning. For some of us, the annual Pride events are our only contact with the rest of our community, our Family of Pride. But do not wait until next year for your next contact. Let the goals of Pride Month be your goals for life:
1. TAKE PRIDE IN YOURSELF. Internalized homophobia is still a part of our lives. "Ex-gay" groups prey on those of us who still accept what straight society taught us. Do not let yourselves fall into that trap. Nor should you let confusion and self-hatred lead you into addictive behaviors, unsafe sex, loneliness or suicide. There are many individuals and groups that can help.
2. COME OUT. If all the lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people who "come out" for Pride Month remain out, society would surely have to notice. Studies show that “straights” who know GLBT people tend to be less homophobic than those who don't. Though announcing our sexual orientation might not be right for all of us -- I wouldn't recommend it to U.S. military personnel, Roman Catholic priests or Scientologist actors -- being honest with our loved ones seldom hurts and usually improves our relationships. And if the person in question turns you off because you are LesBiGay or Trans, more often than not that person is not worth relating to at all.
3. HELP A FRIEND IN NEED. As the Jewish sage Hillel observed, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?" Closely linked to taking Pride in ourselves is taking pride in our sisters and brothers. If you know someone who’s in a life-threatening situation -- whether it be AIDS, cancer, substance abuse, threatened suicide, domestic violence, homelessness or hopelessness -- give them a helping hand, always remembering that they, too, have their Pride. If you don't know anyone who needs help (though I find it hard to believe that you don’t), volunteer to help at your local AIDS organization, battered women's home, homeless shelter or community center. There is enough Pride to go around.
4. BE A PART OF YOUR "FAMILY OF PRIDE". It is impossible to take part in Pride events without encountering a variety of community organizations. They serve a variety of purposes, not the least of which is the reassurance that we are not alone. There are literally thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and AIDS-service organizations in the United States and Canada, all of which translate into thousands of reasons that we can proud. Surely there are, among all those groups, at least one that you can call your own. By joining such a group, you will get involved in activities that you enjoy, meet like-minded people and help make our world a better place to live in.
5. BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION. I don't have to remind you that we live in a tough world. Things are not easy for us, and things might get worse if we don't watch out. As the saying goes, if we are not part of the solution we are part of the problem. Let us make Pride work for us, by fighting for our lives and for our rights. There is a variety of activist groups that can use your political energies, from those that work within the system to more aggressive, "in your face" entities. If you feel you don't have time for active involvement, then vote, write, phone or e-mail your elected officials and make a financial contribution to your local LGBT or gay-friendly organization.
All of this should keep the adrenalin flowing and the Pride growing throughout the coming year. Let lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pride be more than just a slogan. In the words of the openly gay folk singer Charlie Murphy, we must "love life enough to struggle." Working together, we can make a difference.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and gay activist who lives in South Florida. Reach him at [email protected].