How D.C. Pride Changed Me Forever
I remember stumbling into Pride. I had just graduated high school and the excitement of my accomplishment still lingered in the Saturday afternoon air. To celebrate, my family and I were on our way to a local fun plex when the honking of nearby cars erupted around us. Amongst the confusion, blocked-off streets, and the redirection of traffic cops, the blockage was made apparent. Today was the Boston Pride Parade. For a moment it felt like all excitement had dissipated from the air and a silence fell on the car as we passed by colorful floats and the waving of rainbow flags. Like many African American households still bound to the “traditional” queerphobic rules of religion and Christianity, there remained an unspoken truth. While LGBTQ+ folks were worthy of love and freedom from harm, their “lifestyle” was wrong and any outward celebration of this community showed an apparent lapse in morality. As we drove by these joyful faces and celebrating families and friends, I felt no deep-seated disdain or eroding disgust, only a feeling of anticipation. Only a feeling of longing.
It would take me years of internal work, moving far from home, and coming out as transgender before I was ready to attend my first Pride. So at age 21, in the summer before my last year at Howard University, I did. I had planned to go with a group of close friends I had met in college, all excited for the parade and almost all queer. With deciding to go, you would think that the hard part was over, but the true challenge was deciding which events to attend. In all my years of being queer and living a sheltered life, I had never researched all the different events and festivities to attend, let alone been in a city so openly queer as DC. From queer poetry nights and drag brunches to Pride parades and Pride concerts, I was happily overwhelmed with the abundance of options. Dwindling it down to the Dupont Circle Pride parade and block party events, I slept with butterflies in my stomach the night before with our determined schedule.
We often think of Pride as a simple celebration. An honoring of identity and a day of fun in the sun. But Pride is so much more than that. It is a commemoration of the many lives lost due to oppression and a reminder of their sacrifice for the present generation. It is a month to recognize the uniqueness, talents, and stories of the LGBTQ+ community and, most importantly, it is a month of creating and memorializing radical queer joy. It is this radical queer joy that I felt looking out on a sea of smiling queer, trans, gay, and LGBTQ+ faces.
For as far as the eye could see, rows and rows of smiling faces danced along to celebratory go-go music, the sound of the city, and popular songs of the day. Cheering, clapping and exclamations of “Happy Pride” filled the air around us. Beyond the onlookers’ joy, the air held excitement from nearby passing floats. Floats full of drag queens, local businesses, health organizations, and advocacy groups cheering on the crowd while also being cheered on. Being celebrated for their continued contributions to community health and political freedoms. Celebrated for their open allyship and support. Celebrated for their audacity to be boldly, bravely, and beautifully themselves.
Amongst the dancing crowds of cheering young folk, it was then that it clicked. For the longest time Pride and aspects of queerness are often painted as something white people do. That communities of Latinx origin, communities of color, and my community – the Black community – don’t “do” Pride. That our communities aren’t inherently queer, trans, gay, and every other identity that is LGBTQ+. But there amongst the smiling Black and Latin faces, I realized that this was a myth. Pride is as Black as it is Queer. It is a space not only there to celebrate the humanity of the LGBTQ+ community, but also the intersections that we exist at. The intersections of being elderly or young, a woman, man, in-between or afar off. To celebrate all aspects of our humanity and the parts of us that are in fact African American, Hispanic, Afro Caribbean, African and more. Many like myself have wondered if the abundance of our Blackness has space in the totality of our queerness, and DC Pride let me know that all of me is not only welcomed but also worthy to be celebrated during Pride.
That liberation and freedom of body are what Pride attendees had been feeling for years and it is what I gained at my first Pride in DC. In that space, we were able to freely exist in the manifestation of what queer Black joy looks like. In many ways we hold the shame and stigma of being LGBTQ+ in our bodies, causing us to bow our heads, lower our gaze, and hide the colors of who we are. Pride created a space where we could not only wear our colors but express those colors through outfits, movement, and celebration.
In the stillness after the events of the day, no longing was left lingering. Instead, an abundance of Pride lay in its place. Pride for the first time allowed me to feel a part of a larger society. Not separate from the main population, but an equal part and representation of what our nation looks like. In notions of “us vs. them,” Pride is a reminder that the LGBTQ+ community is not the other, not a part of the solo “them,” but part of the multitude that is the “us.” That is the “we.” That is the boldness of queerness. That is the uniqueness of gender identity both cis and trans. That is the holiness and sacredness that is sexuality and our shared humanity therein. There at Pride, I found a part of me that was always there but I didn’t know it. Released by the liberation around me, the part of me that held shame slipped away and took on a new attire. An attire of Pride.