To Straight Folks at Pride: Be Deliberate About the Space You Hold

Josh Merchant, Investigative Editor

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It’s ironic to see a person who called me a faggot in sixth grade celebrating the progress of LGBTQ+ rights, and it’s a strange experience to see my former harassers at Pride with a rainbow-painted faces.

I understand that public view towards LGBTQ+ folks has changed in 10 years, and it’s entirely possible that those former bullies are changed, reformed, and open-minded. Same-sex marriage is legal, LGBTQ+ employees are protected from discrimination, and I feel safer holding hands with my boyfriend in public… mostly.

However, when I talked to my mother a few months ago about the AIDS epidemic, she was shocked at how emotional I was. I told her about how we lost an entire generation of gay people to an epidemic that the U.S. government ignored. I told her that Reagan, Bush, and all of the other complicit politicians murdered the pesky gay folks living in Greenwich Village, and I said that they would have killed me, too.

In 2019, Pride is ahistorical. Police departments and companies like Amazon walk in parades, but they’re stomping on the graves of trans and gay folks brutalized by police and traumatized by laws that continue to criminalize our existence.

All too often, straight folks forget what they carry into queer spaces.

Pride is a casualty of the millennial LGBTQ+ movement, and it’s a tragedy for queer folks to feel unwelcome at a celebration of their own marginalized identities. Pride, at its core, is a celebration of how we challenge straight and cis norms and dismantle heteropatriarchal gender expectations.

Pride is inherently uncomfortable for straight and cis people, and rightly so. It’s a parade of kinky gay men in leather, lesbians riding motorcycles, and drag queens prancing through the streets. Straight folks turn away and awkwardly smile when I kiss a man, and though that response is ordinarily hurtful, Pride renders it empowering, as queer folks take ownership of our disregard for gender norms.

It seems to me that straight and cis people come to Pride to moderate it and water down the sacred celebration as another capitalist holiday for profit. Instead of celebrating our flagrant disrespect of gender norms, it becomes another opportunity to spend money at Target, get drunk in a park, and buy brightly colored t-shirts—only this time, instead of red-white-and-blue, they’re rainbow.

Pride is a celebration of queerness and its history. In June, we celebrate the resilience of those who lost every single one of their friends to AIDS and those who grew up without gay or trans role models to guide their maturity. We remember the courage of the trans women of color who threw bricks at the policemen who wanted them dead, and we march to show that we will not be silenced by incarceration, violation, and murder.

All too often, straight folks forget what they carry into queer spaces. When I see straight folks at Pride, I remember the kids who harassed me in locker rooms, the anxiety I felt when I started questioning, and the fear I feel every time I hold hands in public—and the fear that prevents me from kissing a man when people are nearby. Yes, even in Capitol Hill in progressive Seattle.

So please, my straight and cis friends, be aware of what your presence carries.

I know you mean the best by showing support at Pride, but understand your place. Pride is central to the resiliency of LGBTQ+ people. I show up to be with my community—not to become an exhibit for straight folks trying to prove how open-minded they are.

Yes, Pride is a celebration of free love and acceptance, and you could argue that exclusionary attitudes runs counter to those ideals. But more importantly, it needs to be first and foremost a space for healing from centuries of trauma inflicted on the LGBTQ+ community. Don’t decentralize our healing for your party.

And for God’s sake, no cops at Pride.

Josh Merchant, Investigative Editor