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Pride 2019 Was Historic, Revelatory, Unforgettable

Photo courtesy of Miguel Angel Reyes

From Pose to WorldPride to Pete Buttigieg on the debate stage, last week was one for the history books.

Last week saw the confluence of three significant signposts that placed sensational snapshots of the LGBTQ community at the epicenter of pop-culture and headline news. Culturally, late Friday, trendy Mashable posted a roaring review for season two of Pose calling it a "joyful celebration of life." Politically, and also on Friday, The Washington Post cited Pete Buttigieg as a winner of the first Democratic presidential debate because of his "humility" and the fact he offered "...bold ideas {that} emphasize realism." Societally, on Sunday, ABC became the first U.S. network to broadcast World Pride. A wonderous, consequential week of three vignettes that flaunted, flashed and floated gratitude and hope.

Cultural bellwethers Rolling Stone, Time, and Vulture have all also added glowing critiques for season two of Pose, variously referring to it as "..hope prevails," "...extraordinary, uncompromising," "...a joyous series." As Pray Tell, might say, "The category is fabulously flaunting and negating norms!" Transgender and HIV/AIDS individuals are usually, and predominately, portrayed as sick, sad, struggling, and sullen, sequestered societies that were proverbially predictable and pessimistic. Yes, those elements are still there, because that's some of the reality. But this clever show presents the enormity of their struggles to today's generation in a thoughtful, purposeful, and "hey I'm trying to be happy just like you" manner. How can anyone not long to know and wish to appreciate the vicariousness, vibrance -- and yes, viciousness of Blanca, Angel, Pray and Elektra.

I came of age during the era of Pose, graduating from college in the late '80s, psychologically and medically petrified of my sexuality, making a secret pact to kill myself if an AIDS diagnosis occurred. How downright cowardly. To watch Pose is to see the beauty and frailties of life, and how to push through it, to be yourself, to survive, to fathom a future, to be honorably happy and live loud. It's astonishingly heroic. And to have this revolutionary television show come of age in late June of 2019, during the 50-year anniversary of Stonewall, and to critical and cultural acclaim? Monumental!

Politically, two other powerhouses The New York Times and USA Today also pronounced Buttigieg a winner of the Democratic debates. That is not an easy feat, by any measure, regardless of who you are. To be in politics is to be judged. Rarely glowingly. Sometimes harshly. Occasionally offensively. Surprisingly revealingly. All by your constituency of critics.

Over two decades ago, I worked for six years for my Congressman from our hardened, blue-collar district in Southwestern Pennsylvania. During one of our re-election bids, the congressman's child out of wedlock was revealed by his opponent. We were fearful that he would hit the campaign trail and be unforgivingly scrutinized. But, men - and women - continually shook his hand and shockingly surmised, "...well, at least you're not a fag." While he digressed, I disintegrated. He won re-election, and I stayed in the closet, never imagining that a gay man would run for president and be called a "winner."

It takes an enormity of courage for anyone, be it a congressman or otherwise, to gather the steel and stand before a crowd. The audience may clap and agree with your policies and prose, but they are looking at and through you. Mayor Pete must feel this continually. He must be constantly reminded of the fact that to many, he is an anomaly, a first, a curiosity, a revelation, and to some, unfortunately, a revulsion. Watching the flash of Mayor Pete brilliantly perform in front of a primary debate record audience of 18 million television viewers last week (a record!), and be declared a winner by major media outlets, was a seminal moment for the LGBTQ community.

Which brings us to the ultimate LGBTQ watershed societal breakpoint, the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and the unforgettable 50thanniversary celebration this past week. In 1994, my first year in New York, Mayor Giuliani participated in what was known as the NYC pride march, and I didn't. It was one of his better days, and certainly one of my worst. I was still desperately fearful of AIDS, still scared beyond pale to come out, and frightened I'd see someone who knew me. But I was paying attention, because any validation of gay acceptance was quietly reassuring. Thus, I don't remember any corporate sponsors, any rainbow flags (outside of the West Village), and certainly wasn't aware of any major celebrities attending. I still felt like an outlier.

Well, 25 years later, it's a divergently different world. Last week preceding the main event, you couldn't walk one block in Manhattan without seeing gay flags blossoming. Times Square, and corporate buildings, bars, banks, bodegas, boutiques, bistros, and billboards, all were lit up in radiantly brilliant rainbows. Add to that the luster of luminaries lending their love. It was resoundingly reassuring.

Then, there was the record crowd of millions who showed up for the gallantry gorgeous, colossally colorful World Pride Parade, with floats and flamboyance that stretched endlessly through Manhattan for hours. And the Grand Marshals? Arguably the hottest A-listers of the moment, the cast of Pose. Proof of the pageantry's platitudes? Scores of headline news stories. Just do a Google search! 152 million results and counting. The day truly capped, and put a begotten bow, on a week that was nothing short of historic and revelatory.

And maybe the revelation derived from each of last week's monographs is that we need to be ever so grateful for all the lessons of the past and confident in all that is to come. During coverage of the parade, ABC's Sam Champion remarked that to a person, everyone he encountered talked about gratitude. Mindful, thankful and hopeful to all those who fought and who fight, who marched and who pride, who hid and who advance, who changed and who shift, who joyed and who delight, who endured and who sustain, who died and who live, who couldn't and who do, who fell and who rise, who suffered and who flourish, who tried and who triumph, who existed and who continue to be.

John Casey is head of PR for a worldwide digital consultancy, and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City. As a contributing columnist his articles have appeared in New York Daily News, Pittsburgh Magazine, Advocate, Ladders and IndieWire.

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