It is officially June, my favorite month of the year. The summer weather calms down into a gentle heat, my birthday is in the first week, and it's LGBT pride month! As a bisexual woman, it took me a while to find my identity. I thought I was straight, then I thought I was gay, then I fell for a man and had to reconcile that with all the work I'd done making a place for myself in the LGBT world. This transition has been strange, but worth it, both for myself and my partner (love you, honey!). Walking down the street holding hands with who I love no longer puts a target on my back, but it also alienates me from many friends, and sometimes from my identity. That can be super exhausting.
This is why I love pride month so much. I hear my whole community telling me I'm okay! This is the one time of the year when I feel completely surrounded by the LGBT crowd. I proudly wear my colors, and this year I am beyond excited to experience Iowa City Pride for the first time!
I just have one concern.
Iowa City is a party town, and the party scene is pretty dominated by heteros. It's part of the culture, and that's totally fine. I knew that when I moved here. But lately I've been hearing straight girls getting excited for Pride, which it sounds like they view as the ultimate party. They're missing this key component of Pride as a safe place. This is not a time to point and laugh at gay dudes in bondage gear in a parade. This is a treat for those of us who have been struggling and hiding and trying to survive a hostile world all year. It's not just a party, it's a release of frustration and pain and it's a memorial of those we have lost.
I can see your indignant face through the screen, and I get it. "Gabie, this is a huge festival full of rainbows and glitter and sex toys, it's not like an army of straight girls is charging into a candlelight vigil. Lighten up!" Yes, there are all of those things at pride. But Pride is also about culture, and to understand that, you need to understand the history of the LGBT community.
Pride started with the Stonewall riots, which ended in June of 1969. If you aren't familiar with the Stonewall riots, well, there's one reason Pride isn't for you.
Ronald Reagan allowed the HIV epidemic to continue because it was killing gay people and black people, undesirable groups in his eyes. HIV is now completely treatable, and people who are HIV positive can have healthy sexual relationships without infecting their partner. Still, the stigma that began in the 80s has survived to this day. You will likely come across memorials for those lost to AIDS, as well as demonstrations trying to lift the stigma surrounding HIV. If these confuse or frighten you, it's because you're out of place.
Does the name Harvey Milk ring any bells? No? Google it.
How about Marsha P Johnson?
These people, these events, these struggles- they gave us Pride. Pride used to be a protest. It used to be illegal just to be LGBT. Police would raid clubs, beat us down, strip search us, and worse. Not all glitter and rainbows, huh?
It is through an endless fight that we gained Pride as a celebration as well as a protest. And I guarantee, even in Iowa City, you will see protesters at Pride on both sides of the aisle. Discrimination just on the basis of sexual orientation is still legal in some circumstances. Trans people still experience violence every day. Conversion therapy, which drives a quarter of "patients" to suicide, is still legal in 41 states.
Just recently, the Supreme Court decided that a baker was within his rights to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. That decision has begun to snowball into "You don't have to sell LGBT people a house" and "Businesses should be able to deny service to people of color." This fight is not over, and I don't think it ever will be.
But, it's ok! You can still come to Pride! You can get your rainbow snow-cone and come see the LGBT talent at Pride events. But please, earn it. Align yourselves with the LGBT community. Research the things I mentioned, because I just barely scratched the surface. Look into the crisis of homeless LGBT youth, find an organization that gives you a way to help. Protest with your LGBT peers.
We have to wave the flag every day of our lives, and we don't always get cheers and applause for doing it. If you're going to celebrate with us, fight with us too.