Reflecting on Pride

This weekend, there will be dozens of Pride celebrations in Minneapolis, as there has been and will continue to be across the U.S. and in other countries throughout the month of June. As always, these celebrations prompt discussion — and vitriol — around their execution, what they stand for, and who they target.

More than at any other point of the year, this is the time when LGBTQ folks are the most ‘out’ to the general public. If you live in a liberal metropolitan area, it’s likely that you’ll see rainbow flags, signs, and other shows of support during whatever celebrations are planned. Even if you don’t live in these areas, you’ll probably hear about it via osmosis through news programs and the internet — though which news you watch will likely color what exactly you hear about.

Aside from the predictable hate-filled speech that comes around anything to do with LGBTQ issues, which does not merit further discussion or airtime, June prompts conversations on the status and existence of Pride as a concept, and what it has become, from inside the LGBTQ community and out.

Pride originated from a riot — — so it’s no surprise that it’s often paired with conflicting points of view, though these days it tends far less towards action and far more to just being passive aggressive on Twitter. As with any group that is strung together by just a single facet of their identity, LGBTQ people are not bound by one idea of what Pride is or should be, what it should look like and who it should be for. This is not new — people within the LGBTQ community have been debating the “proper” way to be LGBTQ since at least the 30’s1.

There’s more nuance in this discussion than I can possibly go into here, and more issues than I’m even aware of, but the two biggest discussion points tend to circle around the commercialization of Pride and Pride events, and who is attending them.

One reason Pride is so hotly debated now is because items related to Pride are more widely visible than at any time in history. From storefront displays at to , it seems almost every company is now not only accepting of LGBTQ people, but celebratory of a new customer base.

It’s exactly that which proves to be the issue. Capitalism’s goodwill in any circumstance is dubious, since the entire end goal of any for-profit corporation is… to gain profit. If market research shows that a group of people isn’t being targeted, but has money to spend, and the money lost from whatever other outrage exists doesn’t outweigh the potential profits, it only makes sense that those companies target that group of people and sell to them. Pride is a very convenient vehicle to target a specific underserved population of people — LGBTQ people, and even allies who believe their purchases showcase tangible support.

This is inevitable, so the follow-up question becomes — where does the money go? Does it go only to the pockets of the shareholders of the company? Does the corporation pledge to actually do something to help the LGBTQ community, or do they simply cash in on the hot time frame which they know will generate sales?

The answer, as always, is complicated, and it varies from company to company. While some may dream of an idyllic world where corporations have absolutely nothing to do with Pride, that world is, at this moment in time, impossible to achieve. Until capitalism as the ruling economic structure is dismantled, or if LGBTQ people are forced once again to live in secrecy, and profits cannot be generated without great risk to the company’s public reputation, there is nothing that will stop companies from stepping in and selling Pride.

What becomes most important, then, is deciding which companies to support as best one can. If a company is selling Pride, but has a very easily traceable history of homophobic acts or , that company does not deserve your money. Likewise, if a company itself is seemingly well-intentioned, but they, that corporation also probably doesn’t deserve your dollars. does a great job explaining some of the nuances of this approach to Pride, and the complications around ‘pink’ capitalism.

The other major issue that tends to be brought up in discussions of Pride is the presence of certain groups of people — the largest and most hotly debating being that of police. Let me make this clear: uniformed police officers have no place in Pride events.

Even if you overlook the police force’s recent record of violence and corruption — a monumental task — the history of police , harassment, and cannot be forgotten. As recently as 2002, . Police spent decades targeting and arresting thousands of LGBTQ people everywhere they could — bathrooms, bars, movie theaters. Existing as an LGBTQ person meant being at risk of your life being destroyed at any moment, or living a lie.

While this is often debated — and people present the counterpoint of ‘there are gay police officers!’ — it should not be. The history of police violence against LGBTQ people cannot be forgotten and their visible presence at Pride events should not be allowed. Regardless of any single officer’s sexual orientation or gender identity, they still suit up and support with their life an organization that spent decades oppressing and suppressing LGBTQ people.

While we can debate the validity of Pride as it stands now, it’s execution and who and what are profiting from it, it all comes back to a basic question: what, now, is the point of Pride? The answer is simpler than I think we make it — to celebrate survival of what LGBTQ people have been though (, , ), to keep at the forefront challenges that we still face and need to conquer (, , etc), and, perhaps the most intangible, yet most important — to celebrate and accept, openly and visibly, who we are.

No two LGBTQ people are the same, and very few of us have the same origin story. However, there are common threads that seem to run throughout our backstories, no matter how varied — those of isolation, internalized rejection of ourselves, and the fear of or actual rejection by others. No matter where we come from, or who we are in other aspects of our lives, these threads tend to bind us.

For many people, Pride represents a break from those fears and celebration of the trials that we have conquered. For me, partaking in Pride — even just being in a city center where Pride was actively celebrated — was liberating. It is the first time I can remember where LGBTQ identities were not only visible, but applauded. Instead of being isolated in certain spots or due to monumental events (such as the change of the marriage law), it was everywhere. For once, I could count myself as a member of the majority, and the personality traits that I usually had to contain around people in order to not make their heteronormative worldviews uncomfortable were now merely normal. Being real to myself wasn’t the monumental event it always felt like — it was easy. It made even further self-exploration possible.

While a lot of that feeling has faded as I’ve fully embraced myself and have been exposed to Pride events more regularly over time, allowing me to focus more on the issues surrounding it, I will never forget the feeling of those first moments, being out and in the world as I was. For many people who still call small towns home, that feeling can seem impossible to reach. It’s more of a distant fantasy; one that appears like a fleeting dream, if one’s even able to imagine it at all.

I want everyone to have the same experience I did: that of freedom, of realization, one that says ‘yes, accepting yourself and being happy is possible’. There are things to criticize about Pride as it stands — whether it be in it’s commercialization, or the ever-looming presence of the most antagonizing forces in LGBTQ history within the celebrations themselves. But while we discuss these issues and strive to better the events around us, I hope we can also sit back and recognize that being here is still important. In many ways, simply being alive and LGBTQ is still a revolution unto itself.

Whether you choose to participate in the festivities or not — take some time out of your weekend to reflect on who you are as a person, and be proud of that person, and know that your self-acceptance and openness helps others to be comfortable with themselves. Your existence is changing the world, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

Have a happy and safe Pride, everyone.

1. Kaiser, Charles. The Gay Metropolis. Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

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J.J.

J.J. writes about sports, video games, social movements and a variety of other things. Also tells bad dad jokes.