It seems to me that these are the people who march at Pride Parades now. In New York, DC, and the Twin Cities, the crowds were large, brightly colored, and covered in glitter. But the floats passing by, more often than not, did not contain members of our community. They were filled with allies–corporations who understand that they will gain more business than they will lose by supporting us, religious groups attempting to reach out where there compatriots have not, and the occasional politician, pandering to a crowd of voters.
I don’t know that the presence of allies at Pride is necessarily a bad thing. Their support is valuable and important, without a doubt. As anti-capitalist as my politics are, money is important if you have any sort of agenda. We need the money of corporations, and the voices of these organizations. But why is some (not identified as LGBTQ) woman from Wells Fargo speaking at Pride, instead of someone from their supposed wealth of LGBTQ employees? Why is a cis-woman speaking about all the awesome things the ACLU is doing for trans* people, and then handing the mic over briefly to trans* activists? Why do we need a cishet politician to tell us about how our community needs to speak louder about our rights? And why, when a gay woman is finally standing at the mic, does she spend her whole speech talking about what an awesome ally her brother is?
Pride is about finally being able to come out of the closet. It’s about celebrating LGBTQ-identified people and how far we have come in terms of visibility, legislative “equality”, and fighting the hetero/bi/transphobic agenda. For me in Boise, it was about seeing that I was not the only one: I was not the only queer person who has somehow ended up in this bizarre, conservative, religious, seemingly-homogenous state. And yes, some of that was achieved at Pride. I saw countless couples holding hands, hairless thin gay men in speedos, drag queens, teenagers in rainbow, plaid, and glitter, and dykes on bikes. It was exhilarating. But we were not getting up on stage. We were standing in the crowd, literally below the podium, looking up. I couldn’t help but feel like there was something horribly wrong with this image. This is, after all, our movement. Our fight. And yes, we need your help, you banks and churches and politicians. We need your money, and we need your word of mouth. But we do not need you speaking for us. We do not need you to tell us how much more we have to fight for. We already know. We’ve already been fighting, years and years and years longer than you have been (and yes, Wells Fargo, I heard you when you told us about how you have been at 20 years of Pride Parades).
Sometimes it’s about the big things. But sometimes, also, it’s about the little ones. I didn’t know anyone at Pride, so I took to introducing myself to people who looked cool or interesting or approachable. At one point, before the speeches and the parade, this meant two young girls (probably 16 and 14) and their mother. The mother immediately tells me that they are there for the first time this year, in order to celebrate her daughter, who shyly looked away. At some point it came up that I was a college student.
Mother: Oh, do you hear that? You could go to college.
Me: Yeah, college is great!
Girl: I’m not going back to school.
The words on the page don’t read the way she said them. There was bitterness, and hurt. I didn’t know what to tell her. Immediately I thought of the Harvey Milk School in New York–a school for LGBTQ teenagers who have not been able to who need a different academic setting. Namely, it’s for kids who were bullied too much in high school to succeed. I want to tell her about it, I want to tell her that there’s hope, and that education is important and okay and can be safe.
But the Harvey Milk School is in New York, thousands of miles away. At the Pride rally, there are the Boy Scouts and the ACLU and the Mormons. There is no GLSEN or GLAAD, there are no youth resource centers here for her. No high school GSAs. She does not have unsupportive parents, she does not need to run away. And yet still, all I can offer her is the hope that is offered by Somewhere Else. By waiting until you can leave. And maybe she doesn’t want that. She shouldn’t have to want that.
I don’t know the details of her story. I don’t know if what I’ve elaborated is accurate. I don’t even remember her name. But I’m not forgetting the look in her eyes or the sound of her voice anytime soon. I don’t know what to do for these kids, but there has to be something. There may not be many of them, but they are here, and we can’t just keep telling them that it will get better once they are able to leave their homes and find a big city. There has to be something better that we can offer them. Something better than a Pride Parade, more than Let’s Get Better Together.