By Dave Fountinelle | firstname.lastname@example.org
My first real-life Pride celebration experience took place 12 years ago. It was 2008 and my ex and I planned a weekend trip to see the famous parade and celebration for ourselves. I have so many random, incredible memories from that weekend. I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting, but it exceeded all of it. The people, the energy, the colors, the freedom. What I felt the most the entire time was that everyone there was being exactly who they wanted to be. There were no labels at all. Sexuality, gender, race, age… the only thing that mattered was being there and being yourself. Freedom is such a powerful, beautiful, essential thing.
That weekend, and what I took from it, has been on my mind often over the past few months. When the COVID-19 pandemic began escalating in February, it quickly became apparent that Pride was going to be very different this year. With the restrictions on social gatherings and closure of bars, clubs, and venues – what was Pride without the celebration? Without the parades, the dancing, the outfits, the people? I couldn›t imagine trying to capture the energy, the freedom, of an all-night, off the hook street disco in a Zoom meeting.
And then George Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin and two other Minneapolis police officers. At the same time, a 4th officer stood guard next to them, preventing anyone from interfering and doing nothing to stop the brutality. This tragedy came on the heels of both the video recorded stalking and killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the wrong address, no-knock warrant raid by Louisville police resulting in Breonna Taylor’s death. Taylor was shot eight times in her bed, and her boyfriend was arrested and charged for using a lawful firearm to defend themselves. An already weary country has had enough.
Outraged citizens took to the streets to protest yet another killing of an unarmed black man by the police. Minneapolis PD met them in full riot gear. Without provocation, the police began throwing tear gas and flash-bang grenades into the crowd and opening fire with rubber bullets and pepper spray. The city erupted in chaos, violence, and destruction. In the following days, protests have sprung up all across the country and throughout the world. Most of the demonstrations have been peaceful, but riots and looting have been a problem in many places. Simultaneously, the police response in many cities has been brutally excessive and seems almost exclusively directed towards peaceful protests rather than those destroying property and breaking the law.
The unfolding events have had a polarizing effect on the country, reflected nowhere more clearly than on social media. There is so much understandable anger, so much frustration, pain, and sadness. Many people are wondering how this can still be happening in our society, 60 years after the Civil Rights movement began.
The protest movement is growing just as we enter June, and Pride begins. Images of the demonstrations are reminiscent of the 1960s Civil Rights protests, and a timely reminder of the June 28th, 1969 protests – the revolution Pride continues to honor. The Stonewall Riots began with a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. The attack sparked a riot between the police, bar patrons, and residents. What followed was six days of protests and violent clashes with police. The demonstrations were the spark that ignited the gay rights movement, propelling it onto the national stage and marking a significant positive change in public opinion. They are also a solemn reminder that equality is rarely gained without a fight.
Yet, when I think of Pride today, I think of how included and accepted, I have always felt as a hetero man. I think about the energy and the positivity and the freedom to be who you are. I admire those who fought and endured the hate and the discrimination and the progress they’ve made. I empathize with those who are still fighting just to have equality. Just as I honor and respect POC who have fought and are still struggling to end systemic racism 52 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. History shows us that the fight for equality in this country is both difficult and costly. It costs us our peace, it costs us our morality, and it costs lives. But Pride has always shown me that it’s a fight that the good guys are still winning. That every victory is a win for all of us, who believe we can be better, and that the party is so much more fun when everyone’s invited. When I think of Pride, I think of the LGBTQ movement at its absolute strongest. Because, to me, nothing tells your adversaries they failed like throwing a month-long party right in their faces and having the absolute time of your life.
We need that right now. We need it badly. History has taught us that – unfortunately – things are probably going to get worse in the days and weeks ahead. It also, unfortunately, tells us that what little meaningful progress comes from all this will come at a terrible cost. But if we can still find our shine when the dust settles, and if we can emerge from this dark chapter and throw a huge, over the top party right in the faces of everyone who stands on the side of hate, ignorance, and living in the past. If we can come together stronger and more united against the forces of division, it’ll be worth it. And that’s the party I can’t wait to attend.