I HAVE LIVED IN CITIES WITH PRIDE celebrations for many years, and I had never attended. It always seemed like a party that was meant for a group of people to which I, a straight man, did not belong. But a couple of years ago, I moved to Asbury Park, a small town on the Jersey Shore with an active LGBT community, which happens to be the town that annually hosts the New Jersey Pride celebration. So this year, for the first time, I went to Pride.
Pride celebrations in 2016 are less marginalized and more commercialized than they have been in previous decades, but for someone as separated from the LGBT community as myself, it was still an incredibly powerful experience. I am white, male, straight, and cis. I was raised in a conservative place where homophobia was the norm. So seeing such an open display of bravery, tolerance, and (of course) pride was deeply moving.
Pride is not a celebration that needs to be co-opted by straight people. It should always belong to the LGBT community (Meg Ten Eyck broke down how straight allies should behave at pride for us last week). But that doesn’t mean straight people shouldn’t attend. Here are a few reasons you should go to the next Pride celebration near you.
In Asbury Park, at least, Pride was basically the same as any other local festival — there’s a parade, there are food and drinks and music, there are politicians glad-handing constituents, and there are kiosks set up for local businesses and organizations. Festivals is always fun regardless of the occasion. As a straight guy, I imagined that Pride was going to be more politically charged and defiant, and while those elements were there, at the end of the day, the New Jersey Pride was more fun than anything else.
I haven’t regularly attended church since I was a kid, and I was raised Catholic. So in my mind, religion has always been conflated with homophobia and intolerance. But while the parade passed us by, I started noticing just how many churches and faith groups were in the procession.
The next thing I noticed was just how many large brands and smaller local businesses took part in the parade. I generally hate advertising, but for some reason, seeing the brands in the Pride parade was comforting: it was a sign that we’d reached a tipping point where being LGBT-friendly was seen as beingprofitable for businesses. That may not be the most principled reason to be open-minded, but it’s a sign of a larger trend in America. Regardless, seeing so many local institutions openly supporting the movement gave me a lot more respect for my community as a whole.
It’s easy enough to follow the LGBT movement on a national level — there are plenty of people reporting on Supreme Court cases and on the boycotts of homophobic companies like Chik-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby — but local reporting on more marginalized groups isn’t always easy to find.
While at New Jersey Pride, I stopped at a few of the local activist booths. It was there I heard about Laurel Hester — a police officer in a nearby town who, ten years earlier, had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and then tried to transfer her pension over to her domestic partner. The local Republican freeholders tried to stop her (citing the “sanctity of marriage”), but eventually gave in. Hester (who has since passed away) was the subject of the 2007 short documentary Freeheld, which won an Academy Award, and a 2015 movie starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page.
I’d had no idea that this all happened in my backyard. Events like Pride are more than just a celebration and a political statement: they’re a place where you can connect with the movement and learn about what small battles are happening in your corner of the world.
There’s a reason Pride is a thing. As we saw this weekend, it’s still dangerous to be lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and out. Pride is essentially an act of bravery: it’s a marginalized group declaring that they exist, and they are unapologetic about it. If there weren’t straight (sometimes closeted) people that were terrible and violent assholes to people in the LGBT community, then Pride and the entire gay rights movement would never have been necessary.
As a member of the group that’s in the privileged position, you’re the one that has to do the changing. You’re the one who has to accept the LGBT community into the larger community. Pride is not about straight people. But it is (in part) directed at straight people. It’s something we need to witness if we ever want to change.
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