Many people ask me, “Why Queer Pride? We don’t need Straight Pride.” My answer is usually a quick, flip “well… maybe straight people haven’t anything to be proud of!” Of course, that’s not the case. The difference is that heterosexuals do not need to express their pride. There has not been a time when heterosexuals, as a group, were forced into silence in society. Further, there is an assumption of heterosexuality. Generally speaking, society does not take into consideration that people may be other than heterosexual.
But, to answer the question, “Why do we need Queer Pride?,” quite simply, because our young people are killing themselves every day. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one out of every three teenagers who commit suicide is gay, lesbian or bisexual. We need Queer Pride so they know that they are not alone: that they are okay. Even though one in four gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers is kicked out of their homes by their parents, we need to let them know that it is not they, it is their parents who are at fault.
We need Queer Pride because until we end the silence and destroy the closet we will always be second-class citizens. In 38 states we can be fired because of our sexual orientation. Our children are often taken from us because of our sexual orientation. In Florida a judge granted custody of his child to a man who was convicted and served his time for second degree murder rather than give custody to the mother, who was a lesbian who was forbidden to see the child in the presence of her partner.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that there is no guarantee to privacy in the Constitution when they upheld Bowers vs. Hardwick and allowed states to keep sodomy laws. Twenty states, including Massachusetts, still have these archaic laws on the books that tell us what sort of sex we can have, what position we can have sex in, and with whom.
Many people do not realize that these laws in fifteen of the states pertain to heterosexuals as well. We need Queer Pride to reaffirm who we are and to glean the strength to hold our heads high in the face of adversity.
We also have the right to be proud of our people. After all, queer people have been some of the movers and shakers of society. We have created beauty and uplifted souls. We are theologians: The Pharaoh Akhenaten introduced monotheism to the world. The monk Desiderius Erasmus was one of the greatest thinkers of the Reformation. St. Augustine, in his book Confessions, writes “I felt his soul and mine were one soul in two bodies.” Then there are the popes Leo X, John XXII, Julius II, Paul II, Sixtus IV, Alexander VI, Julius III and Benedict IX (some good, some bad). King James I commissioned the best-known version of the Bible and was known far and wide as “Queen James.”
We are generals: Alexander the Great conquered the world. Julius Caesar tried to follow. Richard the Lionhearted preferred the Crusades to ruling England. Frederick the Great wasn’t known as “Great” for nothing.
We are great artists: Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Leonardo DaVinci painted a smile that has left billions of people wondering, and served a prison sentence for a sodomy charge. Thanks to Andy Warhol, we will never look at a soup can the same way again.
We are educators: Plato, Socrates, Sappho, George Washington Carver. Human rights activists: Sojourner Truth, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbara Jordan, Susan B. Anthony, Bayard Rustin.
We are writers: Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, Willa Cather, James Baldwin.
We are entertainers: Josephine Baker, Gladys Bentley, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey. We enlighten. We uphold truth. We spread beauty.
Our history is rich with great figures who have molded and shaped society. As with everyone, their personal life, loves, trials and tribulations shaped who they were. Is it important that we know whom they went to bed with? No, not really. Is it important that we know that they were gay, lesbian or bisexual? Definitely. Their sexuality helped mold them, shape them. It allowed them to see the world in a different way. To see what things might be, and not get mired in what things are: to think beyond the box.
We have Queer Pride because we cannot be silent any longer. Those fabulous Drag Queens and Butch Dykes in the Stonewall Riots of 1969 showed us the power of speaking out. Of being proud of whom we are: of not hiding. We refuse to any longer isolate any part of ourselves. The writer and activist, Audre Lorde said, “There will always be someone begging you to isolate one piece of yourself, one segment of your identity above the others, and say, ‘Here, this is who I am.’ Resist that trivialization. I am not JUST a lesbian. I am not JUST a poet. I am not JUST a mother. Honor the complexity of your vision and yourselves.” Sister Audre, we celebrate all aspects of our being, and during Queer Pride Days, we dare to share ourselves with the world.