50 Years of Queer Anger: Pride celebration etiquette

Pallas Gutierrez, Assistant Opinion Editor

This is the fourteenth and final column in “50 Years of Queer Anger,” a series examining LGBTQ+ issues in the United States since 1969.

As June draws nearer, some cities, including New York City, have begun their annual Pride celebrations. As I explained in my first 50 Years of Queer Anger, Pride parades and celebrations are an annual commemoration of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Stonewall was a turning point in the American queer liberation movement, as queer people decided they had put up with enough harassment and discrimination and began to demand equality.

This year, Pride is especially important because it is the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall. Because of the significance of Pride, particularly this year, there are several things to keep in mind when attending Pride celebrations.          

Pride is an intensely emotional experience: It can be heartbreaking for those who attended earlier Pride celebrations with friends who have since passed from AIDS, suicide, or other issues that plague the community. It can be enraging, since many protestors show up with homophobic and offensive signs. It can be incredibly empowering for people who have been closeted or isolated from a queer community. There are a lot of possible responses to Pride, which is why it is crucial to respect any and all emotions people express.

Pride is not just a party. It’s a march. It’s a protest. It’s a riot. Pride celebrations are a demand that cisgender heterosexual people allow queer people their rightful place in American society. If you intend to go to Pride to protest with signs, with support, or by simply existing as who you are in a society that represses you, go for it. If you want to go to Pride to be shirtless and drunk in public, go to a music festival or a block party. Pride is not the place for mindless partying. It is a celebration, but it is a protest first.

Queer people are under attack. In American history, queer people have pretty consistently been under attack. In the 1950s and ’60s, police officers raided gay bars, leading to involuntary outings in newspapers. This era was marked by general police harassment of queer people, including shootings. In the 1980s and ’90s, deliberate political inaction worsened the AIDS crisis, resulting in the deaths of more than 700,000 people since the epidemic began. In the 2000s and 2010s, there was a constant back and forth between protecting queer rights and deliberately removing them.

We are still locked in this battle. The current administration’s efforts to remove trans people from the military, strip birthright citizenship from the children of queer Americans born outside the U.S. and removing questions to count queer people from the 2020 Census, among many other actions, show just how important this fight is right now. Being out is dangerous. Pride is dangerous. Queer people know this, and they still show up. It is important that any allies showing up are aware of this danger.

I went to my first Pride celebration in 2016, two weeks after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando killed 49 people and wounded at least an additional 53. At the time, it was the worst mass shooting in recent American history, and impacted a queer community largely composed of people of color. As a young Latinx queer person, I was absolutely terrified.

Four of my friends and I had decided to go months before. We couldn’t back out. More than that, we refused to. Were we afraid? Yes, and angry and sad. But we had to go. I felt a responsibility to put myself out there, to pay homage to all those before me who had celebrated and rioted and marched in the face of violence, ostracization and death. I needed to go.

My experience at Pride was incredible. I was in a community I had been a part of my whole life, but never fully integrated myself with. I took pictures and danced in the street and took a personal moment of silence outside Stonewall Inn and watched the march. I was constantly on alert for something to go wrong. But nothing did.  

The only negative emotion I felt that was justified was anger. I remember seeing floods of young people claiming Pride as their own personal party. They were drunk or high, laughing as they shouted lyrics to classic queer anthems and stripping down to their underwear at their fancy. These same people would bully, mock and exclude me and others like me for being queer, the very identity they claimed to be supporting at Pride. I was infuriated. I felt unsafe. I felt like I didn’t know who was a genuine ally, and who was simply there for a good time.

At the end of the day, Pride celebrations are for queer people. Yes, allies can and should come and celebrate, mourn or protest with the queer community. But they should always defer and listen to the community they are attempting to uplift and respect the people around them. Especially as Pride turns 50, and the community reflects on what has been achieved and what obstacles still remain to conquer, the position of allies is crucial. Our lives can depend on your support and respect.

A. Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication freshman. They can be contacted at pallas2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.