I remember so clearly when I went to my first Gay Pride Parade. I was not long after coming out and had yet to celebrate my 21st birthday. I was terrified in case anyone I knew, that didn’t yet know I was gay, might see me. I was still carrying such shame and so the parade was a deeply healing & meaningful experience for me. Seeing so many other LGBT people happy and able to celebrate openly their sexual orientation gave me a sense of hope that I might one day feel similar. After a while, by a process of osmosis of the exuberance from the parade, I got the courage to join in and make my own little statement of personal self-acceptance. I’m so glad I did because it gave me the opportunity to see the smiles and the applause from the crowd gathered watching. Not only was I declaring to myself that I really was a part of the LGBT community and I didn’t want to hide it anymore, but I could see that I didn’t have to feel so ashamed about it either. It was an amazing feeling of liberation within myself, but even at that, it still took many years to heal the legacy of homophobia I had absorbed, as well as to heal the homophobia in my nearest and dearest.
Some voices may be heard stating that we no longer need Gay Pride. I couldn’t disagree more. We really haven’t achieved as many rights as many people feel we have. I have become much less fearful of revealing my sexual orientation, but not fearless. I still don’t have the right to marry my partner in Ireland, and civil partnership is great, but still not equal. So for very good reason, same sex marriage rights are still to be marched for. And I’m not just marching for me anymore. I’m marching for the children I hope to have that they can grow up in a society where having a gay mom is no different to any other mom. I’m marching for every person, young or old, who still feels the fear of coming out & still fears the rejection & judgement from family or friends, or fears hurting them because they know they are still under the veil of homophobia. Until we live in a society where being LGBT is viewed as no different to being straight, then we will have no need for a gay pride march. Gay Pride works by showing that LGBT people are seen as real people: mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Isn’t it funny that we have to put on a show using parades, events, movies, parties and discussions for this to happen? Perhaps we have to exaggerate the caricature to show how ordinary we actually are.
Not to forget that there are still sections of Irish society who have yet to have significant exposure to LGBT people. We all know the extent which denial can keep people blinkered and fearful because they have yet to have ordinary interaction with someone who is gay. How else do we become no different? Gay pride presents an opportunity to introduce this in the most light-hearted and fun way possible. I have some great and moving memories of pride parades marched with proud parents and friends of LGBT, whom without having an LGBT person close to them they would not have had the chance to dissolve their homophobia & fully support their loved one.
In many ways we can afford to be grateful in Ireland for the growing list of rights we have fought for and achieved. However, when I inform people outside of LGBT world that some countries still punish being gay by death or imprisonment – they are horrified & incredulous. So, in our freedom to march and celebrate we are doing so on behalf of those who are still unable. It is about sending a message of support and solidarity to our LGBT family in places like Russia, India or Uganda that have criminalized being gay or doing anything that publicizes the LGBT lifestyle. We cannot forget the battles, the lives lost and the pain suffered that now affords us a growing list of equal rights in Ireland.
This year I will proudly celebrate Pride with my nearest and dearest, some LGBT, some not. None of us will be taking an inventory of that though, we will be too busy having a great time & celebrating life.
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