The day was overcast and threatened to rain, but it never did, as if West Hollywood kept a storm at bay through sheer force of will. The Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade, the first of which took place in L.A. on June 28, 1970, is usually a celebration of the LGBTQ community that draws thousands to the streets of West Hollywood. This year, it was marred by the fact that a gunman, only hours earlier, had murdered 50 people inside of a gay nightclub in Orlando.
I also happened to be in a gay club at that very moment, at downtown Los Angeles’s Precinct, blissfully unaware. Drag queen Christeene Vale sermonized to the audience, "We don't need fucking safe spaces, we need spaces where we can be our weird, queer selves." We couldn’t know yet that even our spaces were unsafe, that people were being held hostage inside Pulse, during its Latinx night. I went home and went to bed, energized for the Pride parade the next morning, unaware that I would wake up to news of a massacre.
Of course, queer people of color never really forget that we are always under attack. And just as black trans women are murdered at a much higher rate than their white counterparts, the spaces that queer people of color take as safe, as sanctuaries, are so often the first to be destroyed by hatred and intolerance in America. And even though films like Stonewall might erase us, it was queer and trans people of color who led the revolt at Stonewall Inn in 1969.
Barack Obama once said that "American culture is black culture and has to be affirmed." That has never been more prevalent than in the icons that the gay community have adopted as surrogates for their emotional and external struggles. Disco music coincided with the birth of gay pride parades, and the mixture of lyrics that embraced queerness in aesthetic and sexuality were mostly sung by women such as Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, and Chaka Khan. That's how a gay icon is born. While you struggle internally, the music that surrounds you in every facet of your life — particularly when you set foot into a gay nightclub to dance your sorrows away — empowers you, and connects you with everyone in that space. That music makes you a community, linked by sound and emotional fury. Hell, RuPaul even sent two drag queens home on RuPaul's Drag Race this season for not knowing the lyrics to Gaynor's "I Will Survive." When you're gay, music and celebration go hand in hand with survival, proclaiming to the rest of the world that you exist, that you are worthy of love.
Around makeshift vigils for Orlando, floats that honored the memories of those fallen, and the news that a gunman might have descended upon Los Angeles's celebration as well, the city danced. Our tears were enough of a flood that the rain never needed to come. Carly Rae Jepsen took the main stage to perform her disco-tinged pop songs from her latest album, E•MO•TION. Jepsen, whose music embraces heartache and self-acceptance, has become a queer icon in her own right. Wearing a gold pantsuit and a cape as if she were a superhero delivered to save us from our tears, Jepsen let the audience know that she was devastated as well. "I’m heartbroken. I love you all, and I’m so proud of you for being here tonight. But this is Pride and it's about hope. So let's party," Jepsen said before launching into her song "Making the Most of the Night," with its inspiring and prescient lyrics: "I know you've had a rough time / But here I come to hijack you / I love you / I'm making the most of the night." Living in this world is often hard and difficult, but on some occasions you get to run away with love, and Jepsen understands that better than anyone.
As the night dwindled to a close, Big Freedia brought her style of New Orleans bounce music to Pride on an adjoining stage, performing to Beyoncé's "Formation" (which she is featured on). In that moment, the song became a call to arms for queer men and women to continue to love one another with public displays of affection. "Formation" ends with, "Girl, I hear some thunder, golly, look at that water, boy, oh lord," from the 2008 Hurricane Katrina documentary Trouble the Water. The storm that was coming, foretold by the clouds that covered Los Angeles, was one of determination to fight, and to not succumb to the fear and hatred the country thrives on directing at us. But to paraphrase 1990's Paris Is Burning, why y'all gagging, though? At nightclubs like Pulse and all of our Pride celebrations and every other place where gay men and women dare not to be afraid, we bring it to you every weekend.