Swallowing my pride

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Photo of Nicholas Clark

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Until 2018, I’d never been to Pride, which, as a gay teenager, was a huge no-no. So it was only a matter of time before my friends peer-pressured me, a mere 17-year-old with little idea about what the point of the event even was, into going to the San Francisco Pride Parade.

At the time, the main consensus among my friends was that Pride was an opportunity to wear rainbow underwear to a queerer version of Coachella — and maybe also run into some Westboro Baptist Church protesters. From my point of view, it was going to be a mixed bag, with an equal chance of encountering a homophobe yelling at me or someone accidentally flashing their butt. Either way, it was bound to be unforgettable.

Fast forward to the day of the event: My friends and I wove through the crowd to find the best place to watch the parade. The parade was like the Superbowl halftime show but for Pride; it was half the reason for going at all. We were able to find a place on the edge of the sidewalk that was close enough to see the action.

But as the usual corporate floats passed by — and as Planned Parenthood handed out rainbow-printed condoms — I noticed something surprising: high-profile Californian politicians. Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi and Gavin Newsom, each in their own cars, were brightly smiling and cheering with the crowd.

Record scratch. Wait, these people were attending? Like actual public servants? 

I was genuinely surprised since, at the time, it seemed the government had turned its back on the LGBTQ+ community. For years, the Trump administration had routinely attacked us. Between the transgender military ban, rescission of various anti-discrimination protections and the general exclusion of LGBTQ+ issues from former president Donald Trump’s political agenda, I’d come to resent the government. In a matter of months, it seemed that 50 years of activism had gone down the toilet. I felt as if I was watching a horror movie: I couldn’t do anything to save the characters or change the ending, and I was forced to watch everything unfold before my eyes.

So truthfully, I did not expect to see prominent political figures such as the current lieutenant governor of California and Democratic members of Congress at Pride. 

Of course, their appearances could have very well been publicity stunts for election campaigns, which irked me a little. The thought of being pandered to sickened me, and standing there watching the politicians’ cars drive by, I could feel my distrust growing once again.

My skepticism about the politicians’ intentions was completely valid. Even today, I still feel doubt about how much politicians from either side care about LGBTQ+ people. Now that Trump has left office, Democratic politicians should be actively rebuilding the government’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community and continuing to fight for equality. 

Still, I recognize that their appearance at that parade in 2018 was very important. They could have skipped this event, but they chose to be there. They seemed to enjoy the company of our community, and I appreciated that. Even the most performative activism still shows support and empathy — they cared enough to show up. 

What made me feel comforted, too, was the presence of straight people. 

Of course, there were LGBTQ+ people there, and I truly saw how big our numbers were. But there was also a surprising number of straight couples who showed up in solidarity. It may have been much easier to ignore us, but they, too, went out of their way to be there at Pride. It really warmed my heart to look among the crowd and see a flood of straight people alongside LGBTQ+ folks: We were not going to be alone in our fight, nor in our celebrations.

As the parade finished, there was this energizing aura in the air. Confetti rained down on me, and the music slowly faded. It felt like true freedom to be in a place emanating with so much positivity and acceptance. I didn’t know everyone at Pride, but it almost felt as if I did. I felt comfortable in their presence. Everybody showed up because they believed in equal rights, even if they wore rainbow jockstraps.

Pride is a political statement. But it’s also more than that. It’s also about surviving against the odds. It’s about celebrating all of the progress made since the Stonewall riots and showing support for the LGBTQ+ community. If it seems like a giant party, that’s because it is: We are genuinely happy to be together. Attending the event made me feel as though I was in a school of fish, a team that worked alongside one another and left no one behind. 

While Pride was canceled last year and will likely remain so this summer, it’s still an important part of the LGBTQ+ community and a place for allies to show their support. I could not have asked for a better experience with Pride, and if you have the chance, I encourage you to go one day. You might even get free condoms.

Nicholas Clark writes the Monday column on LGBTQ+ issues in media and politics. Contact him at [email protected]