Pride 2018: Finding Strength In Where We Started

Celebrating the legacy of the people who rioted empowers us to keep the fight alive.

Photo by shutterstock

For me, New York City Pride week has always served as the grand mile-marker of the year, in the same way New Year’s Eve probably feels for most Americans. Since I happen to detest New Year’s Eve (teetering in high heels through the slushy streets of New York whilst desperately trying to hail a cab in below zero weather one too many times, has killed the NYE spirit for me), Pride is the time of year when I can’t help but reflect on the year at large and marinate over the progress (or lack of progress) we’ve made as a community and a culture.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but didn’t Pride 2016 and 2017 feel heavier when compared to the lightness of the few years prior? In 2016, New York City Pride came in the wake of the devastating Pulse massacre in Orlando, and Pride week felt like a stretched out memorial service in which our community collectively mourned the heartbreaking loss of the 49 beautiful angels that tragic evening. It was as if we’d been invaded and violated in our safest, most holy space, the gay club.

“I’ve never looked at these places as clubs, but as homes. Now, what’s a home without a family? The Pulse shooting has left my family murdered and traumatized, and all of humankind can feel it. Whether you’re queer or straight, it doesn’t matter. This massacre has rendered us all homeless and heartbroken.” I wrote in an essay reflecting on my Pride 2016 experience.

During Pride 2017 we still carried the heavy sadness of the Pulse massacre (we always will) upon our increasingly fragile shoulders, but also found ourselves crushed beneath the added weight of the Trump administration. Pride month was no longer being recognized by the White House. The decision of the White House to toss Pride week out the proverbial window made so many of us feel more erased than we had in years and even more hell-bent than usual to make our queerness as visible as possible. It was as if someone had tossed a hefty dose of gasoline right on top of the gay fire, and our fiery queer flames were flaming more intensely than ever. I burned with the desire to unabashedly flaunt my Sapphic prowess with a ferocity I hadn’t accessed in a long time.

It felt similar to the way I felt when I first came out of the closet and all the pent-up pain from all those stifling years of hiding had finally boiled over and I was filled with the impulse to SCREAM my dykeness from all of the penthouse balconies in all of the highest skyscrapers in all of New York City! The streets glimmered with gay glitter for months after Pride Week ended in 2016. We. Will. Not. Be. Erased. Our glitter will get inside every single crack of every single street in this damned town! I thought to myself as strutted through the Village clutching the rainbow flag like it was my lifeline (which in many ways it is), adrenalin making me numb to the pain of my eight-inch rainbow adorned platform sandals strapped to my aching feet.

Zara's sparkly Pride shoes
Zara’s sparkly painful pride shoes 

This year I’m not going to lie, I didn’t feel much like celebrating Pride week at all. If in the year prior I felt my spirit getting crushed by the weight of the Trump administration, this year my spirit felt flattened by the darkness of everything that has happened in recent weeks. This year hasn’t just been an epically harrowing one for my LGBTQ family, but for every single person who has ever fallen into a marginalized category.

How could we find the strength to throw glitter in the air and celebrate “love” when there are newly-motherless children crying in cages at the border? Celebrating Pride felt fundamentally wrong and gross — like I was going to be flaunting my privilege of having the means to live in New York and the freedom to live in a place where I can unabashedly make out with my girlfriend in public. I’m not living in fear of having my beloved family ripped out of my arms. I’m so, so privileged to be free of that fear. How dare I flaunt that?

As I begrudgingly made my way to the historic Stonewall Inn to host my first Pride event of the season (a photo tour of the West Village) I’m not going to lie, I feigned enthusiasm when I welcomed the crowd. No matter how much I tried to remember my vulnerable younger self, my bullied high-school self, the girl who felt so utterly alienated in the classroom, yet felt so *empowered* by watching the grown-ups celebrate their sexuality during Pride month — I couldn’t muster up any emotions beyond this flat-lined sadness and unshakeable feeling of dread that followed me everywhere.  When you were in the closet, Pride was your beacon of hope  I tried, with all my might to remind myself. But not even the memories of my disenfranchised youth could push through the all-consuming ache I felt for the heartbroken and scared children at the border.

And then as I stood in the historic Stonewall Inn, swaddled in a close-knit group of loving strangers, all of us huddled around bartender and 1969 Stonewall veteran, Tree, who was present during the night of the Stonewall riots, a new-feeling I couldn’t identify, swelled and swelled in my heart until it washed all over the entirety of my being. We dutifully listened to Tree retell the events of the evening when LGBTQ people finally said “enough is enough!” and threw themselves on the front-lines of resistance. They sacrificed everything; their safety, their careers, their dignity, their standing in different communities, their lives all because of their thirst for justice overpowered their fear of the powers that be. I trembled as I imagined Marcia P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera two trans women of color, two women who had the most to lose in those riots, fighting on the front lines for the dignity of not just themselves, but for all people who had been shamed and harassed.

Standing in the oh-so-familiar walls of the Stonewall Inn, I was reminded that LGBTQ people have a long-standing history of standing up to bigotry in all of its toxic forms. Whether it’s the fight against homophobia, racism, xenophobia, transphobia or misogyny I can *always* count on members of my chosen family to show up and express their support for what’s fundamentally right in this world.

And for the rest of Pride week, with each passing day, it became clear that beneath the surface of all the fabulous parties and beautiful go-go dancers and glitter-adorned floats that gracefully sail down Seventh Avenue, lies a message that is so powerful and so palpable it extends outside the bandwidth of LGBTQ. Its energy is so wild and strong that it pours over so many of us who are being discriminated against right now. The message is this: we are still standing. Despite being knocked down decade after decade, we as a community have not fallen down. We will never fall down. And all of this urgent celebrating, all of this ferocious dancing and marching, proves that though the media sometimes makes us appear weak, we are an unbelievably strong demographic of people. We fight for everyone. In every speech, I heard, in so many signs I witnessed, and in so much of the chanting my ears consumed this weekend, it was made clear that the fight wasn’t just for LGBTQ people this pride, but for the children at the border. The countless victims we’ve lost to violence and racism. The people of Puerto Rico. The women who have silently endured sexual assault in the workplace for decades. The teenagers who have lost their lives to gun violence.

The spirit of resistance during Pride 2018 filled my lackluster body with the strength to fight for all people this year.

After all, The Stonewall Riots happened in response to the bigotry of the men at the helm of power. Celebrating the legacy of the people who rioted empowers us to keep the fight alive.

So I leave Pride 2018, feeling yes, exhausted. I’m finding glitter in places I didn’t know I had. My voice hurts from so much shouting. But I feel as if I’ve tapped into a strength I forgot existed within me. A strength that exists in all LGBTQ people. The strength to resist and to stand up for all people, of all backgrounds, everywhere.

The pulse of our community. 💔 #pulsenightclub #prayfororlando

A post shared by Zara Barrie (@zarabarrie) on

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