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Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the greatest LGBTQ+ ally in history, reflects on the meaning of Pride (exclusive)

Nancy Pelosi San Francisco LGBTQ Pride Parade signing Respect for Marriage act hugging transgender child
Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock; Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, the LGBTQ+ community has been an intellectual, emotional, and political resource, she told The Advocate. She also understands the serious risks at stake for the community in this year’s election.

Is there a bigger LGBTQ+ ally than Nancy Pelosi?

Think about it. She ran for office from a congressional district in San Francisco primarily to help do more in terms of funding and help for HIV/AIDS patients. Since then, she rose through the ranks of the U.S. House leadership, becoming Speaker in 2007 — arguably the most powerful and successful speaker in American history. During her entire career, she has always had the backs of LGBTQ+ people. Always. It’s hard to think of anyone in history who has done more for our community than Madame Speaker.

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Celebrating Pride means not only celebrating queer history but those who made queer history happen. Pelosi no doubt has been a key ally in progressing LGBTQ+ rights. From marriage equality to anti-discrimination laws, she’s been a pivotal influencer.

“Well, my first Pride Parade as a member of Congress, we walked. And we got a lot of press because this was well over 35 years ago and not many members of Congress were in gay pride parades at that time,” Pelosi told The Advocate. “I got calls from all over, with people saying, ‘You stood with us.’ It meant so much for people beyond San Francisco, and the joy that I had marching with my constituents and taking pride. It was one of my first interactions as a member of Congress, and it was done in a very major way with the community that hardship attached to it. It wasn’t just pride, of course it came with the HIV/AIDS crisis.”

For Pelosi being so supportive and so vocal about her support for our community came with a price tag, though.

“I lost some friends over it. You know, people would say, ‘I'm not coming to your house if you're having gay people help with your cooking or anything,’ and I said, ‘Even if I don’t have anyone helping me with my cooking, I don’t want you to come.’”

Pelosi said that during this time, as she has always done, she hosted various groups of constituents in her home, and she wanted to send a particular message when she hosted one of those events. “I said to my friends in the gay community, stand with me at the food table, so when the guests are there, I want them to see both of us dipping into the dip with our chips at the same. It was small, but at the time, it was quite a big gesture.”

Related: Nancy Pelosi has a lot to say about drag, San Francisco, and the GOP

One big gesture that Pelosi helped support was when the AIDS Quilt was first displayed on the National Mall. I told Pelosi about my own experience of seeing it in October of 1987. I was running down the Mall, off to the side so no one would “assume” I was gay by being close to it. I stopped at one point and approached it, and saw the beauty, but also the tears that were being shed.

I jogged away, hid behind a nearby tree, and I began to sob.

“I get emotional every time I think about it,” Pelsoi shared.

She added that there were practical constraints with hosting something that size in that location.

“‘When the idea surfaced, I asserted myself arrogantly as a new member of Congress, not realizing what our limitations were. I just inserted myself to say that we should add the quilt on the Mall, and the Park Service said no, it's going to kill the grass,” she said.

Pelosi said that’s when legendary AIDS activist Cleve Jones, who conceived the AIDS quilt, offered an idea. “He said that he’d have our volunteers pick up the quilt every 20 minutes if that’s what was required to save the grass,” Pelso recalled. “And that’s what happened, and when the helicopters flew over the Mall with the beautiful quilt all spread out we knew we had something spectacular because it was not only beautiful, but it also told the stories of so many people who lost their loved ones to HIV AIDS.”

For this year, the pioneering lawmaker already has plans. Pelosi said that among other events, she will be attending theAnnual Pride Brunch in San Francisco. In its 26th year, the brunch is traditionally held on Pride Saturday, the day before the march, and benefits thePositive Resource Center or PRC, a non-profit organization that helps those affected by HIV/AIDS, substance use, or mental health issues.

“It used to be just some of us coming together for breakfast. And now it's turned into a big event, and really so much a part of the whole experience for us, and it benefits such a worthy cause,” she said.

Pelosi said that while Pride season is a wonderful time to be with family and friends and pay tribute to the community and its history, there was something more urgent on her mind.

“We need to make sure people understand that we have a chance, in this election, to pass the Equality Act. Again,” she explained.

She said that in a matter of months, the opportunity could exist to finally get this piece of legislation enacted into law.

“We need to vote. I know people hear that all the time, but for the community, it’s crucial. We need to make sure that Hakeem Jeffries will be Speaker of the House, and we hopefully hold the Senate and the White House, and then the path should be clear to make the Equality Act a reality.”

Pelosi pointed out that the Equality Act was one of four LGBTQ+ goals she set out to achieve when she first became Speaker.

“One was the hate crimes legislation. Two was to end discrimination in the workplace. Three was the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. And four was to codify gay marriage,” she explained. t While three out of four were won, one goal remains.

Under her leadership, the Equality Act was passed in the House in February of 2021, but failed to get the required 60 votes in the Senate. “We almost got it, but now we have a chance to make it happen, and that's what I think about as we go into Pride weekend, making that last goal a reality, finally.”

President Joe Biden awarded Pelosi the Presidential Medal of Freedom in May. Along with her was an ally in the fight against hate crimes.

Related: Judy Shepard, Nancy Pelosi, and queer scientist Jane Rigby among Medal of Freedom honorees

“It was special for me, because Judy Shepard also received it, and she helped us pass the hate crimes legislation,” she said.

Pelosi knows that hate still exists, and in fact has become prominent because of the extreme right wing of the Republican Party.

“They are trying to stir up trouble, and it’s most unfortunate. So, when we talk about winning elections, it will help answer some of these problems, and stave off some of their negativism,” she said.

Pelosi explained that’s why she flies the trans flag at her offices.

“It’s a constant reminder that we have more to do. “I normally have a US American flag, a California flag, a San Francisco flag, and a rainbow flag but I also have a trans flag outside my office.”

That’s when I had an idea for Pelosi: “Might I suggest that you give Mrs. Alito a call and offer her some suggestions on what flags she should be flying?”

After a laugh, Pelosi responded, “That’s unbelievable, isn’t it? And that fact that he's not recusing himself from anything that has to do with January 6. Can you imagine?”

When it was time to say goodbye, Pelosi wished me a happy Pride. “I know I’ve said this before to you, but The Advocate has been very important to me over all these years. And, you have been so important in helping the community make progress since as far back as I can remember.”

Pelosi is too realistic, and perceptive, to understand the fight isn’t over.

“Progress has been made,” she said, “but you know as well as I do that there's still more work that needs to be done. Pride is one of my favorite times of the year, and one of the reasons is that the community has been an intellectual resource, an emotional resource, and a political resource just in every way. It's been a joy to work with, and I take great pride in that.”

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John Casey

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.