Supporting a Cause That Isn't Ours
by Rebecca Clemmons, Staff Writer
Illustrated by Pepper Pieroni
I can vividly remember the feeling I had while watching the Pride parade in San Francisco the summer of 2017. I remember the tears welling up in my eyes, the contagious smile spread across everyone’s faces, and the overwhelming feeling of unity and acceptance encompassing me. My two friends and I went on a whim - we woke up early and painted little rainbow flags on our cheeks, and bundled up because it was a typical San Francisco windtunnel of a day. The most impactful memory though, was not the preparation; it was standing on Market Street watching thousands of people parade in front of us. Streaming past me were women, children, men, and everyone in between - so proud, so strong, and so unbreakably happy. That moment was truly one of the happiest in my life.
The next summer I attended San Francisco Pride was drastically different.
It was a gorgeous day. We still got up early and painted our faces. But we dressed in the least amount of clothes possible, took shots in between our breakfast, and walked alongside the parade the entire time, without stopping to watch for more than a few minutes. We made our way to City Hall, where all the stages, food trucks, company tents sat. We got fanny packs from Smirnoff. We got free stickers and temporary tattoos. We danced with a bunch of drunk people. I definitely did have fun, but this sort of fun was nowhere near the same feeling I’d had the summer before.
Almost a month later, I’m still trying to answer one question: why was this summer so starkly different from my last summer? I have come to the conclusion that it was probably a combination of a few things. I went with a different group of friends who drank this year (I didn’t really, because I was feeling sick). We took a copious amount of photos, we saw more of the commercial side of the event, we were dressed differently, we didn’t watch the parade as much, and we spent most of the time “partying.”
While all of these factors contributed the difference in my experience, I felt there was one overarching element that made my two times at SF pride so contrasting: the fact that I was so hyper-aware that we were celebrating something that wasn’t ours to celebrate.
Last summer I attended with my best friend (who is bisexual) and one of her family friends. My friend and I were raised in a relatively conservative community for the Bay Area. Our high school made fun of cross-dressing at school rallies, kids tore down signs from the Gender Sexuality Alliance, the school wouldn’t let our Women’s Empowerment Club advertise our tampon drive, and the school was even covered by the news for racist bathroom graffiti. There were definitely those at our school who were unaccepting of my friend’s identity. However the majority of our classmates were plainly discrediting of it. She, and many of our queer friends, were all too familiar with phrases such as: “You’re not (insert queer identity), you’re just confused. This is temporary - just a phase.”
Yet last year at SF Pride, where my friend could be wholly, unapologetically herself, the look on her face was undeniably moving. As a person who couldn’t possibly understand how it feels not to be accepted by your family or community, to have so many people view you as undesirable or wrong, even evil, I learned something that day from my friend who had experienced those things. I saw something blossom within the friend I had loved for years, long before I knew her identity at all. I saw sheer pride in her..
I attended Pride this summer with three of my straight girl friends. While the whole point of Pride is to celebrate being equal, being proud no matter your sexuality, I felt awkward. I felt almost guilty. It has taken me awhile to figure out why this is, but I think that I’ve just about pinned it.
I have come to the conclusion that Pride is not for allies. While allies are by all means welcomed to come celebrate, to an extent, we are supposed to feel left out. We are supposed to feel a little awkward. We do not experience the struggles of queer individuals, so we cannot fully experience the liberation and the celebration that they are able to feel at Pride. We can (and should!) stand with them at these events, support them throughout their lives, and celebrate on their behalf. However, the manner in which many straight people act during Pride is detrimental to and invalidating of the queer community and their longstanding struggle to celebrate who they truly are.
I saw countless Instagram posts after Pride from friends and acquaintances who I knew are straight. I posted, too. And I know that we should be able to post whatever pleases us on social media. But with issues like this, we need to do so with sensitivity. I tried to craft the best caption I could to clarify that I went to support - that I understand that this is not my fight, so it cannot be my victory. Even that came off to some people as attention-seeking, as trying to include myself in something I didn’t belong in. I kept it up, because anyone who knew me also knew my intentions and my purpose. Even still, it is such a sensitive topic, and so much can be misconstrued on social media. Be careful what you post, and think about your intentions. Ask yourself: are you posting because it’s a cute picture and your butt looks good, or are you posting to show your support, to spread the word, and to let any potential queer followers know that you’re a safe space? Another thing to keep in mind is to be careful not to post anything that could potentially out a closeted queer friend. Coming out is one of the most intimidating and monumental parts of a queer individual’s life, and having that power taken out of their hands is not only extremely unfair, but it is potentially dangerous. Be thoughtful and be considerate.
Even more concerning than the social media use were some of the things I overheard: while walking by a boy surrounded by a crowd, breakdancing and moving his hips (fabulously, and better than I could, might I add), I heard a few girls walk past and mutter, “that’s so gay.” I thought to myself, Yes? And? Did you forget you’re at Gay Pride? It was absolutely beyond me that someone would go to Pride and use the word “gay” derogatorily. Many individuals do attend Pride to make fun of it. I suppose they do so to laugh at the naked people on the streets, take photos of people without their consent, and maybe even to make themselves feel superior. Yet, I rack my brain and still cannot find an answer to this simple question: if you don’t support the queer community, why the fuck are you there? You’re wasting your time, you’re contributing to the problem, and frankly, you’re on the wrong side of history.
Luckily, the majority of the people who attend Pride do support the queer community. But as I mentioned earlier, straight individuals who go must understand how to celebrate respectfully. This means do not kiss your best girl friends because it’s “the thing to do,” or you’re “spreading the love.” Don’t make your voice sound more stereotypically “gay,” don’t refer to your friends as your “lesbian lovers.” The identities you are celebrating are not a trend. And even more, they are not the stereotypes that are often projected by straight individuals, harmfully intended or not. Don’t act like you’re gay because that’s what’s being celebrated, or because it’s the majority at that event. You are the minority. Own it.
Additionally, either remember or educate yourself on the origination of the Pride - which lands on the anniversary of the Stonewall Inn police raid of 1969, where police forced residents out of the bathrooms to verify their genders, arresting those found cross-dressing. This raid sparked a series of riots that essentially started the gay liberation movement. Remember those who fought and rioted when you’re getting your free, branded apparel and applauding huge, problematic companies who march in the parade.
Even beyond that - don’t let attending Pride be the only thing you do the whole year for the queer community. Support year round. Get involved in their issues that are still so pertinent. Remember, same-sex marriage was just recently legalized. Especially with the recent change within the Supreme Court, this could very well be reversed. Trans people still often cannot use the bathroom they feel comfortable in. Queer individuals are still persecuted, imprisoned in reformative institutions, and exiled from their families. And all of this simply for loving someone or for being themselves.
So, not to be all, “Dear Straight People, listen to me because I am so woke and holier-than-thou,” but please listen and consider the issues mentioned. Reflect on if/when you’ve done any of these (I know and I hate that I have). Apologize to who you may have affected, or simply acknowledge that it was ignorant or disrespectful and work to be better. We are all learning, growing, and trying to navigate the issues we don’t have the experience to understand. Your minor discomfort at occasions like Pride doesn’t compare to the discomfort queer individuals face every other day of the year, and alternatively, the privilege you get to live with those days.
Support, appreciate, and of course, love on. But most importantly, take pride in your identity as an ally - don’t pretend to be anything else.