Pride still has an important role to play in progressing the LGBT cause. We mustn’t overlook that.
There are more than 60 Pride events held in the UK alone each year. Revolving around rainbows, acceptance and love, the celebrations serve to provide a sense of community, a fun experience and an acknowledgement of the work done and still left to do surrounding LGBT rights and visibility.
Pride has been criticised for fetishising same-sex relationships and portraying the LGBT community in an overly dramatised light. Although the parade does not realistically depict the everyday lives of LGBT people, it is important to remember that the purpose of Pride events is to abandon restriction of individuals and promote freedom of expression. Pride is about having fun without concealing your identity. The increasingly popular St Patrick’s Day parades held all over the world consist of dressing from head-to-toe in green whilst dancing amongst inflatable shamrocks, consuming immense amounts of Guinness and singing Irish folk songs. Does this accurately represent the day-to-day life of a regular Irish person? Not at all. Does it promote positivity, appreciation for the culture and most of all, fun? Absolutely.
As well as the parades, it mustn’t be forgotten that Pride can also consist of conferences, screenings of LGBT films, displays and an endless list of events to get involved with. For example, the LGBT tour at the Victoria and Albert Museum explores gender and sexual identities through a selection of objects and creative pieces – the event aims to appreciate the history of the LGBT community as well as displaying art relating to LGBT themes or artists. The existence of a Pride event within one of the world’s most renowned museums of art and design is a huge and poignant step for the movement.
Pride also serves to honour those who fought to achieve the rights that we do have today. The Moscow Pride parade, for example, is annually held in May to honour the anniversary of Russia’s 1993 decriminalisation of homosexuality. Global Pride Month is held during June each year to commemorate the infamous Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969 in Manhattan. The riots are generally regarded as the catalyst for the gay liberation movement, and prove that demonstrations of unity both empower anxious members of the community and result in practical change.
However, despite how far we have come, LGBT people remain second-class citizens in the eyes of the law and society. Pride is also a reminder of the fight ahead. There is still work to be done in order to eradicate LGBT oppression. On 23rd March 2016, North Carolina passed a law which specifies that people must use the bathroom which corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate, rather than the gender they identify with. It also removed local ordinances passed to protect LGBT people and eliminated anti-discrimination protections in the state.
Only months later, on 12th June 2016, a gunman at the gay nightclub “Pulse” in Orlando initiated the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. He killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others, all members of the LGBT community who were targeted for this reason. Homophobia is still a catastrophic problem which has taken far too many lives in 2016 alone. One of the best ways to diminish homophobia is to demonstrate high levels of acceptance and community, as is done with Pride events, isolating the view that the LGBT movement is wrong.
Of course, some people may argue that it is only fair to have a “Straight Pride” as well- after all, if we are aiming for equality then surely we should celebrate majority groups in addition to minority groups? On 25th July 2015, a “Heterosexual Parade” was organised in Seattle by blogger Anthony Rebello, who described the event on Facebook as “in the name of equality [and] equal rights […] to celebrate our right to be heterosexual, and to encourage younger heterosexuals that they should be proud of their heterosexuality.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rebello was the only attendee of the actual parade.
Dismissing the concept of a “Straight Pride” parade is not about dismissing the identity itself. There should never be any shame nor negative connotations attached to being part of a majority or privileged group, and heterosexuality is just as valid as any other identity. However, the truth remains that the promotion of “Straight Pride” is unnecessary. Heterosexuality is an identity with little recorded history of being subjugated by others. In reality, every day is “Straight Pride” day – it is accepted as normal. There has been no struggle for heterosexual rights, and there is no struggle ahead.
Pride combats the notion of cisgender heterosexuality being the standard and established identity. Heteronormative messages come from a variety of sources. They’re deeply ingrained, and those in the cisgender, heterosexual majority may not notice them and therefore do not recognise the necessity of Pride events. One of the most important ways that homosexuality is disregarded and marginalised is through the formal curriculum of sex education. In my own secondary school, a fairly progressive one, sex education revolved solely around heterosexual relationships. As an institute for girls, we were taught about pregnancy, learnt how to put a condom on a dildo and only discussed hypothetical scenarios of being in sexual situations with men.
Whilst these topics are not unimportant in any way, they have the potential to alienate any students whose interests and attentions may lie elsewhere. Rather than expanding the kinds of learning opportunities we create space for, we inadvertently reinforce a regulated and restrictive framework for understanding the complexity of human sexuality. Many LGBT young people are brought up in an environment where they can feel isolated, confused and abnormal. The Suicide Prevention Resource Centre estimated that 40 per cent of LGBT youth, depending on age and sex groups, have attempted suicide. In a poll initiated by Pride in London, 74 per cent of the LGBT people asked said they “felt the need to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity.” It is essential to hold open events where attendees can be certain that they will be accepted for their identities. Pride parades and events offer a sense of community to people who have potentially been isolated and outcast, even from their own families and places of supposed security.
In light of the devastating Orlando shooting and arrest of a man carrying explosives whilst heading to LA Pride, it is pivotal to remember that safety should take priority over everything else. If you are attending Pride events, keep yourself as safe as possible – go with friends, always be vigilant and if possible, let your guardian know where you are. As important as Pride is and as much as we’d like to consider the events to be safe and friendly environments, a parade or any demonstration is not worth putting yourself at risk for.
The fact that Pride is not accepted by everyone (to the point of safety so unfortunately being an issue) only reinforces how indispensable it is. Aside from its necessity in empowering the movement, Pride is the celebration of life, civil liberties and ultimately the right to love whoever we want and identify in whichever way we feel. That is always worth celebrating.