Wilson Hood is a student activst and a political science major and social and economic justice and sexuality studies minor at The Unversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For most people, talking about LGBT Pride Month conjures up a wave of images: brightly colored rainbow flags hanging from windows, loud pop music echoing through city streets, or even half-dressed folks dancing on parade floats usually come to mind.
These were lots of the same images of Pride I carried with me as a closeted high school student in my small hometown in North Carolina. At night, after my parents had gone to bed, I often would turn on the TV and watch stories about attractive LGBT people living hip lives in faraway worlds like New York and Los Angeles.
These people, with their convertibles and expensive cocktails and million-dollar outfits, seemed to truly have it all. For an impressionable, self-conscious gay boy in the South, these images took on a sort of dream-like quality- the Gay American Dream, actually. Any time I heard a homophobic slur in the hallway of my high school or a nasty comment from a member of my Baptist church, I would mentally whisk myself away to this fantasy, a world where life was simple, people were perfect, and living a queer life was as easy as breathing.
In my mind, the images of the Gay American Dream and Pride were almost synonymous. Indeed, with its rampant consumption, vibrant energy, and flawless people, Pride was almost the realization of the Gay American Dream. There was no hate violence or bullying on Pride days. In fact, homelessness, racism, transphobia, and other social ills were absent from my Pride as well, leaving instead designer-brand rainbow shirts and exquisitely marketed liquors in their wake.
It wasn’t until college that I learned that Pride is traditionally celebrated in June, marking the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. Contrary to the false narratives of simplicity I had internalized, I learned that Pride has its roots in struggle rather than ease, owing its origins to the brave actions of LGBT people (and especially queer and transwomen of color) against discriminatory police action rather than the donations of corporate sponsors.
Learning about its radical history destabilized my narrow view of Pride. Where was the façade of merriment I had believed in for so long? Why were political and social concerns at the heart of an institution I was slowly realizing I knew almost nothing about? And what was I going to do about it?
I took advantage of my relative freedom in the university setting and did as much reading on LGBT history, culture, and politics as I could, and the more I read, the more I realized how exclusionary the neatly-wrapped image of Pride I had bought into was. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much Pride, in its current position in the popular imagination, relies on access to wealth, access to whiteness, and access to trendy urban centers with lots of bars and cafes.
Where were the low-income folks, the youth experiencing homelessness, the people of color, and the seniors in my Pride? Where were the radicals and the revolutionaries who had the nerve to stand up and fight back against institutionalized homophobia and transphobia at Stonewall? In short, where were the people who planted the seeds of Pride in the first place?
Now, as an out college student, I’ve realized that although my dream of Pride was nothing more than the frivolous oasis many LGBT people retreat to, Pride is very much alive and real. However, today, you won’t find the spirit of Pride at fabulous parades or gigantic parties. Instead, I believe, you will find the spirit of Pride in the small acts of resistance LGBT folks enact every single day in spite of a culture that oppresses and delegitimizes their lives and experiences.
While the calendar might say otherwise, Pride does not begin or end with the month of June. In fact, Pride transcends constraints of time or location, showing up anywhere from the glitter-lined streets of San Francisco to the small rural towns of the Bible Belt. Pride always has and always will be about defiance, about courage, and about the guts it takes to stand up and live honestly in a toxic world.
So let’s start dreaming new dreams about Pride this year. Instead of focusing on parade floats and pricey drinks, let’s work to create an image of Pride that reflects the diversity, struggles, and courage of LGBT people and our history, affirming that together we truly are a movement, not a market. Let’s dream a new dream for all of those youth struggling for a representation of themselves out there, inviting them in to the creation of a world that will ensure the health, well-being, and happiness of every person, not just the ones whose identities fit neatly into our parade snapshots.
I’m ready to start dreaming again. Are you?