“I hope this event turns out like the Boston Marathon a few years back” Chris Dodds writes on the Facebook page for Stonewall Columbus Pride and Festival. That was posted just a few days after the anniversary of the Orlando shooting. This crosses my mind as I barrel towards the exact parade Chris wished terror upon.

In 2017, expressing and celebrating yourself is one of the bravest acts to commit. Chris’ post and the Orlando shootings are not the first, or the last time the LGBTQIA+ community will experience such disgusting homophobia. As I race up I-71 towards the parade, one question crosses my mind: Is this safe?

Trepidation is the word that comes to my mind when I think about attending my first pride parade. Being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community is something I am proud of, but festivals and mass gatherings are not my scene. Growing up, and even currently, my friends are either heterosexual or don’t participate in LGBTQIA+ culture all that much. For all intensive purposes, this was the first time I was immersing myself into the culture I so strongly identifying as. Not only was I nervous for potential violence, I was nervous that I would stand out, not belong or feel excluded at the festival.

The parade kicked off at 10:30am, and me and my two friends were standing in the beaming sun. The first thirty minutes breezed by as I saw so many floats, dancers, walkers, signs, political calls to action, LGBTQIA+ songs that I felt amazed at how large and inclusive this community was. It was one of the first times I truly felt like my sexuality didn’t make me different than anyone else in the area. In classrooms, my home and around my friends it sometimes feels as though my sexuality is a cornerstone for conversation and social interaction. Though my interaction with strangers was minimal, I honestly felt liberated from the weight of my sexuality.

As the parade neared an hour though, something felt off. With few exceptions, the parade didn’t stun me as much. It felt repetitive, as though I wasn’t seeing anything new anymore. Being in the hot sun didn’t help either, and my morale seemed to drop. Finding shade didn’t help either, and I ultimately felt bored and trapped at the parade rather the fun I had for the first half hour.

After the first hour, we made our way through the parade route to find a place to eat food. We encountered a hate group (no surprise), but we ignored them like a major portion of the parade-goers and opted for pizza instead of their nasty rhetoric. Once we were finished (it took 40ish minutes), we headed back out and began walking towards the festival.

The festival did not help improve my opinions. Walking past the dozens of booths, nothing stood out as overtly important. To be frank, a lot of it felt gimmicky, as if corporations were using the parade to promote their brand and make profit. After sitting in the shade and listening to a women’s choir, we decided to go home and I was more than ready. I was quite glad to be leaving.

Overall, my first time immersing myself in the culture (more like putting my feet into the pool) was underwhelming. Just after thirty minutes into an almost two-hour parade, it lost its charm and appeal for me. It turned from a fun adventure to feeling like something my parents drug me to.

However, I can’t help but think so strongly about the feeling of being liberated from my sexuality and not thinking I am different in this social setting. It was a powerful moment, and something I will cherish for a long time. It’s my motivation to continue exploring my community and culture. I am more than aware a single pride festival doesn’t define my community, and opportunities arise at home and at school to further my exploration.

Lastly, it occurred to me a few days later that I was immensely nervous for mine and others safety going to the parade. I felt a general anxiety that some form of violence was going to break out. It occurred to me in this moment that the most beautiful thing about the parade was that even in this targeted community -- a community that so often experiences violence and death, no one seemed scared. From the moment the parade kicked off, any fear absolved itself. It was the recollection that thousands of people gathered, united, stood against homophobia and called for furthering our progress that stuck out with me. To stand together in this trying time, was the bravest and boldest thing we could do as a community. Knowing more festivals are happening all around the country makes me feel even better. And I am thankful I was able to experience that first-hand.