Last June, at a yearly gathering of like-minded, environmentally conscious, green-living people I was extended an invitation to attend World Pride in NYC later that summer. Lauren, my good friend and roommate for the environmental conference, told me her wife would be working the event and since I was but a bus ride away I should join them for a weekend of celebration. Excited to be able to hang with her again in such a short timeframe and experience pride, I immediately agreed. Plans made, we rocked out to Lizzo before hitting the nightlife in our current city of temporary residence.
As excited as I was, there was also nervousness there. Being straight I had no claim to the culture. The current corporate rainbow wokeness that was on display all over the country was bothering me. These corporations never seemed to care before, but suddenly there they were selling everything from tank tops to air fresheners with “Glad I’m Gay” plastered all over them. I saw it as nothing but a money grab. Afterall, how many LGBTQIA+ people were currently in the boardrooms of these companies? I’d put my paycheck on the number ZERO. And I did not want to be some basic, dumb, white, straight girl at a cultural celebration that meant so much to people who were still fighting for equal rights, representation and respect.
I ended up asking Lauren a million questions leading up to the weekend. I was probably both annoying and stupid:
Can straight people attend?
Should I wear rainbows or is that disrespectful?
Would I be appropriating or performative simply by being there?
Would you rather meet me to hang after the parade?
She ended up laughing and telling me to calm down, “Everyone is welcome at Pride as long as they’re attending in the spirit of love and not being a dick.” I figured I could handle both of those requirements. I’ve never understood the reasons behind hating people who love people….or being a dick.
And so, I found myself walking the streets of NYC in a borrowed rainbow tank and skirt combo, hair in pigtails, excited for all the weekend would bring. You couldn’t have asked for better weather, with a sky set for a movie and a light breeze keeping the hot NYC streets from melting your shoes. I met Lauren at the nicest hotel I’ve ever set foot in and was introduced to her wife who’d been working the stages as part of light and sound crews. Partied out from the evening before, Lauren and I glittered up and headed out for our adventure.
We walked through the parade floats as they put on finishing touches to balloons, streamers and flowers. Our walking carried us to The Stonewall Inn, a place with history that was indescribably important to her. The crowds prevented us from getting too close or even thinking about grabbing a drink inside, but for now it was enough to simply be there 50 years after the Stonewall riots. Returning to the parade path and standing at the front of the crowd we were able to watch the opening of what was to be the most joyful event I have ever had the honor of attending.
The floats were full of color and dancing. Cheers of happiness and love came from all directions. People waved flags, handed out stickers, threw confetti, and gave out free hugs. There were toasts in the street with water and beer. Rainbows and hearts popped out against the crystal blue backdrop the New York City sky provided. It was impossible not to get swept up in the freedom of the moment, to dance with strangers and sing with friends.
Every person there was radiating smiles, joy, love and of course, pride. There was something else there as well, something that I couldn’t identify at the time but now it hits me in the chest and leaves me breathless:
The acceptance to come as you and who you are with no questions or restrictions, creating an energy unlike any other. It needs to be experienced first hand to attempt to understand. The words I’ve clumsily written here will never give you the chills and full heart I received on that day. And, it makes complete sense that I cannot put the correct words to this feeling, energy and event.
I have never had to fight for my right to love someone. Or to simply exist. I’m simply a basic, dumb, straight, white girl so I’ve no clue what this struggle is like.
It’s a year later and people in this country are still fighting for their rights, representation, and respect. Fighting for acceptance. Still fighting because they have never been able to stop. They fight for things many people I grew up with and around never gave a thought.
I thought about those things a lot when I was at World Pride last year. As I looked up from the street I watched people in their apartment windows dancing with a freedom I have never seen. I wished, in that moment, that the entire world could be this happy and free. That we could all dance and sing, hug and encourage another simply in the act of living as ourselves. At that moment in 2019 I wished for it to become a reality.
I can only hope that 2020 will bring that life to us all.
The article Pride 2019: Reflection One Year Later was written by Elizabeth Schap and first appeared on just B more.