June is Pride Month. Let me clarify. June is LGBT Pride Month.
June was established as the official month to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, but its significance and meaning to the queer community has since broadened dramatically. One of the most prominent elements of this celebratory month is the pride events that are thrown in major cities all across the country. These pride events, which I shall refer to as prides for short, are the manifestation of our community's inherent existence and a tool of empowerment to increase our visibility. The plethora of free condoms and resources isn't too bad, either.
When I think of pride, I think of a mass congregation of people whose varying, diverse identities do not fall under the conventionality of cisgender or heterosexual. These gatherings hold a particularly cherished importance to me, as a queer 18-year-old; to be around strangers who have fought my battle, strangers who have walked in my shoes, is invariably refreshing.
Every year, however, I notice that prides are attracting larger and larger crowds of cisgender, straight people. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate straight and cisgender allies who show their support while recognizing their own privilege, but I'm inclined to get fairly upset when a surprisingly large portion of these people trivialize our community's once-a-year celebrations to mere glittery pools from which to pick out their next gay best friend.
Obviously, my intent is not to generalize the entire ally population. For example, my younger sister has been an avid supporter of LGBT rights since I came out to her almost two years ago. She has since become a leader of her high school's gay-straight alliance and an intern for the Spectrum Center at the University of Michigan. This year, she signed up to volunteer with GLSEN at Motor City Pride. When straight allies show their support in progressive ways like volunteering and putting in countless hours toward establishing safer schools, inclusive human rights ordinances, and a more accepting society, I welcome their efforts with open arms.
Recently, one of my close straight friends messaged me excitedly on Facebook: "I can't wait for NYC Pride! I'm gonna meet sooo many gay guys and make them my BFF." There were so many things wrong with that statement that I had to pause for a little bit and stop myself from cussing her out. Perhaps a little too irritated, I messaged back rather hurriedly, "And that is why non-LGBT folk do not belong at pride."
What followed was a very heated argument that touched on the roots of pride, its mission, and its meaning. My friend was specifically upset at my assumption that most straight people who attend pride go there for no other reason than for kicks, while I was upset at her objectification of LGBT individuals and the vulgarization of our special event. Hurt, she informed me that she would like to go there to support our movement. I couldn't help but groan a little at this statement, because I encounter the same complaints from straight and cisgender people every year: "Actually, everybody should be able to go. Isn't that the point? INCLUSIVENESS?!"
The answer is quite simple: If you are a cisgender, heterosexual individual, then pride is not about you. Pride is not your chance to share with us that pivotal moment during your lunch break when you yelled at a coworker for using the word "fag," or to tell us, in considerable detail, how much you admire our plight. Pride is not your opportunity to rain on one of the only safe havens that certain LGBT individuals treasure.
While I do agree that pride should be as safe a place as possible for all sorts of people, I only question the extent to which some people should participate. It's certainly easy for LGBT folk to sound like they harbor some uppity sense of entitlement to pride events, or like they are trying to discourage inclusiveness. This is simply not the case. Straight people do not need pride in the same way that white people do not need a white history month. Straight people do not need pride in the same way that men did not need a suffrage movement. Straight people do not need pride because straight people have never needed to fight persecution for their right to exist. Straight people do not need pride because there exists no civil rights battle for straight and cisgender people. Consequently, the entire concept of LGBT pride does not exactly include being "proud" of standing as privileged as ever at the top of the social pyramid. Rather, it's meant to uphold solidarity, for the rest of us, who are still struggling. These pride events remind us that we hold a particular relevance in the world that refuses to be diminished no matter how minute our physical presence in our hometowns. These prides events remind us to remain proud despite all the obstacles we encounter. And only we can empower ourselves to fight the systematic heterosexist and cissexist discrimination that hinders us as parents, workers, students, citizens, and individuals.
If you are a straight, cis person who wants to watch a pride event, then go for it. If you support our movement, then we appreciate it. Feel free to buy the rainbow flags, check out the drag show, and indulge in the overpriced drinks. But please, do not invalidate the space we have worked for. Please, recognize the meaning of pride. What may appear to you as a golden pot for an eccentric Instagram picture spree, is to us a profound celebration of our identities, a remembrance of our progress, and a vivid beacon for solidarity.