I went to my first Pride march at the end of my freshman year in high school. I was one of the only Black kids in the entire private school and spent most of my time bouncing in between being the “acceptable Black person” and advocating for resources for the other Black kids. I was a people pleaser; I did whatever people wanted me to do and was whoever everyone else wanted me to be. Many Black private school kids will tell you they did the same as a means of survival.
The years pass a little faster when you aren’t fighting hard to stay true to yourself. Ignoring my truth allowed the time to fly by easily. I didn’t spend much time exploring who I was or asking myself difficult questions. I was completely consumed in everyone around me.
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That changed when the school’s GSA coordinated both rides and approval for our attendance at the Pride march in Northampton. I immediately knew I wanted to go. Freshman year had been a wave of transitions. Coincidentally, it was also the year that my mom and I had gotten stuck in a one of a kind wave of tornadoes that hit my hometown of Springfield MA. I was in dire need of a break. I never liked huge crowds but my best friend, who was a white lesbian, assured me that Pride is the best day of the year. Northampton streets were filled with rainbows and Queer people and the air felt like magic. I spent so much of my time at school trying to fit in but I finally felt what is was like to genuinely fit in once I got to the Pride march. I dropped the facade and allowed myself the pleasure of just existing. I didn’t have to fake my smile. I didn’t have to force my excitement. . There was no scrutiny around boxes I didn’t (and would never) fit in. I didn’t feel like my entire being was under close observation like I often felt at school. I wanted to soak it all in — know everyone, see everything, experience as much of Pride as I could before I had to leave. I wasn’t sure when the next time I felt genuinely happy and accepted would be.
The following summer, I came out (initially as bisexual) and I spent most of my following Pride marches hoping to find my soulmate. My best friend became my first real crush. We didn’t have much time to date or explore outside of our all-consuming class schedule Pride gave us a chance to practice flirting, get to know the surrounding queer community, and explore. I saved up a good amount of money each year to splurge on the PERFECT Pride ensemble and to get my hair done. Pride was one of the very few times that I welcomed attention and put myself out there. On a regular day, I’d try my best to blend into the shadows. If no one ever saw me, I was cool with that. With the exception of student organizing, I tried really hard to not exist. I haven’t been to a Pride march in four years and I miss them. I can’t afford to travel the way I had in the past. I yearn for the wave of excitement, the rumble of passersby, the uncontainable and unabashedly proud. But my time away from the glitter of Pride marches has given me time to learn more about myself, Pride’s origins, and people like me. The more I learn, the more radical I become. It is not hard to see, as the years go by, how much more our resistance march becomes an excuse for every huge business to have an explosion of rainbows for thirty one days. Each year, we get further and further away from everyone being welcomed and accepted, to consistent conversations around who is allowed and not allowed at Pride. The more name brands that buy in, the more the commentary shifts towards things like “Pride should be family friendly” and “there should be no drag queens or Trans people” and “do they have to do THAT HERE”. The more stores take advantage of our small window of celebration and disruption, the more they believe they have a say in who gets to revel in the fact that they have survived in spite of. Many of the same companies wouldn’t think to support their Queer staff members at any other time of the year but use Pride as a redemption pass and hope we don’t notice.
So many of us died for these marches. So many of us continue to die for these marches. So much so that major entities within our communities have begun to put out safety preparedness messages because they have noticed that the violence against us spikes in the middle of the month that brings us so much joy. We have been asked to pair off and be on high alert during our period of celebration. We have so much more fighting to do.
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The older I become, the more that Pride becomes a period of remembrance. This year, I choose to take each day to honor us in one way or another. I do more research on Black lesbians. I buy as much as I can from Black and brown Queer artists. I read as many books by Black and Brown Queers as I can find (or at least buy them to read later). I spend days sobbing, allowing myself to grieve for the loss of Black and Brown Queer people who died and were not mourned. For the Black and Brown lesbians who have been wholly forgotten in many parts of our history. For the Black and Brown Trans women who are hunted for sport. And for the Young queer people who have been abandoned by their families and dumped into an endless foster care system. This year I won’t be at a Pride march, but I will be connecting with as many of my Black and Brown Queer family as I can both in person and virtually. I will be investing myself into the re-creation of spaces for Black and Brown lesbians because so many have disappeared. I will be living my Pride in honor of those who didn’t get to their twenties. Pride is my resolve to being more than boxes to check off. Pride is all of the legacies we carry whether we know them or not. Pride is the work we have to continue to do until we can walk into every space and everyone is welcomed and honored and supported and protected. This June and every other month, I hope you all will carry your Pride with you. I know I’ll be carrying mine.