Here is a thing I posted on Tumblr about celebrating Pride (which is why I am non-specific about what city I'm in, etc):
The summer I first came out, my girlfriend was travelling, and I was in a new city for grad school where I didn’t really have any close friends. I celebrated Pride by painting my toenails rainbow striped, and renting half a dozen LGBTQ movies from the local video store. Over the next few years, we did go to Pride, but that mostly involved standing and watching the Pride parade, and feeling an odd mix of included, and lost in the crowd. I wasn’t involved in any local queer communities--most of the other LGBTQ people I knew were through online fanfic communities. (Edited just for LJ/DW to add: But not all. We often did the parade watching in the rain, specifically, with zulu)
When we moved to a smaller city, there wasn’t a parade, but there was a BBQ in the park. We never went. We didn’t know anyone, and even though it was open to everybody, it still felt to me like it would be crashing a family party.
Now, I’m on the organizing committee for Pride in my midsized Canadian prairie city. In the recent past, most of the activities have all been aimed at young, able-bodied, presumably white gay guys. That’s been changing dramatically over the last few years. We’ve got some pretty typical big stuff--a flag raising, an awards gala, a parade and fair in the park, and a dance. But the current approach is, if you have a queer event open to the public in June, we will put it in the calendar and event guide.
This year, that included things that happen year-round like local LGBTQ support group meetings and community QSA meetings and performances in a local queer theatre space, explicitly queer-themed versions of other year-round events (LGBTQ movies at the library, non-gendered swing dancing, Pride editions of board gaming and artist meet-ups to take a stance on creating LGBTQ-inclusive spaces). It included events set up by other partner groups, like the screening of a documentary criticizing the commercialization of Pride events, and a curated exhibit opening at the local art gallery, or run by board members like a LGBTQ history walking tour, a panel discussion on the intersectionality of indigenous and queer identity, and a drag queen clothing swap.
There were more than fifty events on the calendar. Some of them worked. Some of them didn’t. Some of them were the starting point for something bigger next year. Some of them were controversial (police involvement, anyone?) and I know there’s more work we need to do. But one of the amazing things was how many different groups of people showed up, and watching the ebb and flow of both familiar and new faces at the different events.
A gay organization from a bigger city thought they’d offer us some advice. The kindly told us that we were running too many events, and we should just focus on the important ones. The parade, the dance, the flag raising. Yeahhhh. When a fellow board member told me that, I had the same reaction he did. We both laughed. Important to who, is the question.
I’m not sharing all this just to brag that we’re awesome. (Even though I’m feeling pretty damn proud of our efforts right now, no pun intended.) None of this happened overnight, and none of it happened in isolation. We’ve had pushback from within our own community, that we’re too radical, and that we’re not radical enough. We’ve had acts of vandalism and passive-aggressiveness from the general public, and conversely, an amazing show of love and support. But none of it happens if people don’t show up, speak up, and if you have been the one speaking, shut up and listen.
Pride in your city may or may not be receptive to changing. But nothing will happen if it’s always the same people organizing, the same voices, and the same echo chamber. If you want to see change, let them know. If you can, put additional time and effort behind your voice and volunteer. If they won’t shift, do your own thing.
You don’t need to be part of an official Pride celebration for your LGBTQ+ student organization to have a movie night and invite the public, to do a queer gaming event with a local comic shop, or to organize a Pride yarn bombing. These are just my ideas--you know your own interests, abilities, and connections.
I am not advocating for anyone to do anything that will put their own safety or health at risk, but Pride doesn’t have to just be the big party, and it doesn’t have to just happen in big cities. If you think your town needs Pride events but are afraid it’s too small, I can hook you up with the organizers in a nearby agricultural, very religious town of less than 10,000 who had a BBQ and two flag raisings this year, the second time after the first flag was stolen.
Community is important. Connection is important. Activism is made up of many small steps as well as the big gestures.
Happy Pride, everyone.