As we look back at the last month we’ve had of pride celebrations around the world, a question comes to mind that has been a topic of debate for many for quite a long time now. The question of whether or not pride parades are still relevant is a divisive one; there are those who think pride festivals are no longer relevant and should be abolished altogether, while others think they should not only continue to exist but should become more militant and political than they are now.
I had the chance to participate in the pride festivities here in West Hollywood a few weeks ago. It was an emotional experience for me, sitting there on the street corner with my rainbow bracelet on my wrist, looking around to see all the members of the LGBT community gathered together as brothers and sisters. I have to admit that I even got a little emotional. I had tears in my eyes, thinking about how far we’d come and how proud I was to be a gay man.
Although I understand the arguments of those who say that we have come a long way, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to be proud and outspoken about who we are. We are still told by a large segment of society that it is wrong to be too honest and upfront about who you are.
There is still a stigma when it comes to expression of gay sexuality, as evidenced by the controversy surrounding Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend on TV after he was selected for the NFL draft. Writer Grady Smith recently said that as a gay Christian, he has chosen to remain celibate since God wouldn’t want him to have sex with other men. By saying that, he is sending a message to the gay youth of our country that there are reasons to be ashamed, to feel that the love they feel for members of the same sex is less healthy and less pure than that of their straight peers. The truth is that there is nothing Christian about what Mr. Smith is espousing. It just makes me sad.
Pride parades send the message that there is no shame in being out. I will say, however, as much as I loved watching the L.A. parade, that there is a place for a bit more politics within the festivities. I would have loved to see some more chanting, some more political signs, and contingents of people marching for specific rights or specific causes. We still have so much to fight for, and it’s important for the youth standing out there to know that as they watch the parade go by, so we can keep the movement alive.
Many people are cynical about pride. The truth is that cynicism has never gotten us anywhere. What helps us make progress is idealism, and hope — the same idealism and hope that inspired the protesters Stonewall to believe they could make a difference, the same idealism and hope that inspired the HIV/AIDS activists of the 1980s to stand up and demand action from their government. We need more of that idealism and hope today; if we can harness that once again, I have no doubt that we’ll have a wonderful future.
JAMES DUKE MASON is a contributing writer to The Advocate and a political activist in West Hollywood. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDukeMason.