When the planners of the first Pride parade in Los Angeles in 1970 tried to get a permit for the event, they were told by the police chief that “granting a permit to a group of homosexuals to parade down Hollywood Boulevard would be the same as giving a permit to a group of thieves and robbers.”
They marched anyway. And after what happened on Saturday night, after a man entered a gay club in Orlando and murdered 50 people during the month dedicated to the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ people will continue to stride forward.
Up until Saturday night, the deadliest mass murder of LGBTQ people in American history was on June 24, 1973, when 32 people died as result of arson at the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans. Afterwards, dozens of churches refused to hold memorial services for the victims, and LGBTQ New Orleanians were afraid to attend one service that did take place. Parents refused to claim their children’s bodies after finding out they were gay. A joke went around on New Orleans radio: “What will they bury the ashes of queers in? Fruit jars.” In New Orleans, and across the country, LGBTQ people were alone for a very long time, and had to depend on themselves. Like they did when Harvey Milk was murdered, or when the Reagan administration responded to AIDS with laughter while they and their allies had to bury their dead at the height of the AIDS crisis. Or, with agonizing recency, as dozens of trans women of color have been murdered in our streets and then misgendered by our media.
That’s why we have Pride — because we were told we couldn’t. We couldn’t be proud to be ourselves and love ourselves. We couldn’t be proud of our families, our children, our relationships, our lives. But at Pride, we are, and more than ever. We’re loud as hell. We’ve got strollers and booty shorts. We’ve got PFLAG and leather bars. Because we can, and because we’ve been told we can’t.
Pride isn’t a party. It’s a response to violence — physical and emotional and spiritual. Pride is how we fight back. Not with guns, or knives, but with rainbow flags and parade floats and solidarity. And after Orlando, we’ll do it again, bigger and louder. We’ll dance at the clubs we founded because other clubs wouldn’t have us. We’ll sing arm-in-arm with our chosen family, because for many of us, our biological families have left us behind. And we’ll win.
When I was 7 years old and beginning to realize that how I felt about girls wasn’t how everyone felt about girls, I asked my mom, very tentatively, what she would do if I were gay. She told that me that she would be sad, because if I were gay she would always fear for my safety. I suppose that in some ways, and because of what happened in Orlando, she always will. But I won’t. I refuse to give in to fear. I refuse to be anything less than fully myself.
I have been to every Pride parade held in the cities I’ve lived in, and I will keep going, because the memories of the people who died for me to be here and queer and extremely married to the love of my life, and the people still living who look to Pride for hope and change in the face of discrimination, require it.
What happened in Orlando, a scene of murder and mayhem, was terrorism, in that it was intended to make us feel terror, and to make LGBTQ people aware that being ourselves with one another is dangerous and to be avoided. But it won’t work. We were done with being afraid nearly half a century ago at Stonewall, and at Compton Cafeteria, and when the first of us started to die from a disease we didn’t understand, and when Matthew Shepard was hung from a fence, and when Islan Nettles was beaten to death. And we’re not about to fucking start being afraid now.