People ask us sometimes why we need a Pride Festival. In fact, people asked this from the very beginning.
Some of those asking the question were themselves members of the LGBTQ community.
Somehow, the assumption is that, because Charlottesville is a fairly liberal town, the LGBTQ people who live here should feel so comfortable, so accepted, that the point of Pride has been made moot. You know – similar to how people arrived at the erroneous conclusion that the election of President Obama signaled that America had entered into a “post-racial” era.
Now that you’re done laughing at that irony, let’s consider what those kinds of claims assume. It’s an interesting suggestion, that being out, that having a Pride Festival, is unnecessary; if by ‘interesting’ we mean wishful, ignorant, and avoidant. The sentiment implies that we, the LGBTQ community, has ‘arrived.’ We achieved marriage equality at the national level; what else could we want?
Have We Arrived?
No, and no, not even here in Charlottesville, Virginia.
- Legally, we have not ‘arrived.’ Not only do LGBTQ Americans continue to live without basic legal protections from discrimination in areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations, but trans persons especially face state laws that seek to take away their freedoms in daily activities.
- Culturally and socially, we have not arrived. Especially in rural areas or within religious communities, LGBTQ persons face bias, prejudice, rebuke, harassment, bullying, and violence, the expressions of which range from microaggressions in the bar to slights in the workplace to chastising in religious spaces to being kicked out of families or bullied at recess. Shame, fears of reprisals, and implicit cautions cause people to still stay in the closet (think of the NFL!). Certainly, we have to push for inclusion on school forms, dream about LGBTQ history and literature someday being taught in schools and celebrated in society, put in extra time and effort to make voices and perspectives from the LGBTQ experience finding a mainstream audience.
- Arrived or not, we still exist at the margins of society. Heteronormativity defines and shapes the categories, values, ideals, and conversations that dominate the landscape of our daily interactions on all fronts. Cisgender privilege threatens transgender persons’ agency and access to resources and choices. Gender norms and expectations undermine self-esteem, self-valuation, self-realization, and an equal chance to pursue happiness. And even just this: To be honest and accurate in the most superficial conversations requires the risk-taking activity of coming out.
A Festival, Not a Parade
The Pride Festival is not a Pride Parade. It is not a reenactment or remembrance of the Stonewall riots. It is not a protest. But it IS a festival, a party, a celebration. It’s performance; it’s gay culture, gay artistry, gay music. It’s self-expression, it’s affirmation, it’s being in the center of the social space where usually, out or not, we’re not the norm, not the main, but on the margins, in the shadows, the other. It’s a chance to claim a starring role, to play the protagonist, to serve as heroes for our own lives and each other. It’s where we find family, when our biological families have betrayed us. It’s where we find a voice, when we’ve been silenced. It’s where we assume we are loved instead of guessing at whether or not we’re tolerated. It’s where we relax and stop, for a few hours at least, second-guessing our status, our safety, our worth.
Some people love a parade, and many cities host them. They have a treasured place in our history and culture. But the festival, this Cville Pride Festival, we feel, gives us something different than a march or protest or straight-up political action.
As one kid told us, “The Pride Festival is our Christmas.”
Your Presence is our Present
Please come to the Pride Festival. Show up and show that you do not see our existence as merely political activism. That you understand our need to give LGBTQ youth hope and role models and acceptance. That you applaud the joy of dance and performance we have developed, despite being sidelined and side-swiped our whole lives for being different. Come and share with us our day of happiness.
Your presence, your support – it’s the best Christmas present we could ask for.