On Saturday, May 4, Oxford will host its fourth annual pride parade. The event brings hundreds of spectators and numerous community organizations from across the region to celebrate and support LGBTQ friends, family and peers.
Pride events are vital to LGBTQ people across the nation. Where, then, do they come from, and why are they special?
On June 28, 1969, the United States was shaken to its core by events unfolding from an unassuming bar in New York City. Police barged into the Stonewall Inn, a well-known center for the LGBTQ community and the literal home of LGBTQ youth living in the streets, and began arresting patrons. Raids of gay bars at this time were common, but, unlike previous raids, patrons at Stonewall pushed back.
The arrests led to six days of clashes between police and protesters, igniting the Stonewall Riots. This event was a crucial turning point for LGBTQ rights activists, and it galvanized support for pro-equality movements that were decades in the making.
To commemorate the riots, activists held a march on June 28, 1970, in New York City, becoming the first pride parade in U.S. history. Pride events quickly spread across the nation and became an annual occurrence. These parades are a space where members of the LGBTQ community express their true selves and reflect on progress made, and they remind us of the tremendous work yet to be done to achieve full equality.
Pride is very personal for me. When I was 14 years old, I came to the realization that I was gay. However, where I come from, there are few three-word phrases that are more dangerous or controversial than “I am gay.” I grew up on a farm in rural, conservative and deeply religious northwest Alabama, a place I still call home. Though the people there are kind, they do not take kindly to people like myself.
I knew that revealing this part of my life was a non-starter, so I did what many LGBTQ individuals are forced to do at some point in their lives: pretend to be someone you are not. Despite my best efforts, I was harassed over my perceived sexuality in high school to the point that I had to move schools.
Being an openly gay person, especially in the Deep South, is tremendously challenging. During my sophomore year of college, however, I realized that hiding my identity was much more harmful and dangerous to myself than living an authentic and open life would be for others.
Pride events allow us to look back and celebrate the numerous advocates who came before us and paved the way for us to express ourselves openly today. While our journey is still difficult, it is made easier due to their efforts.
Most importantly, pride is a beacon of hope. It is an incredible display of love and support. It shows everyone in our community that we are not alone in the fight for full equality and acceptance.
When I was younger, seeing proud, openly queer people gave me hope that I, too, would be able to live openly one day. Today, pride reminds me that if I, the son of a teacher and a manufacturing worker, who grew up wrangling cattle on a farm in rural Alabama, can also be a successful and proud, openly gay man, then there is still tremendous hope for every young queer person to live the life they have always dreamed of living.
As Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, once said, “Hope will never be silent.” For this reason, we march. For this reason, we refuse to apologize for being ourselves. We strive to keep hope alive for the next generation of LGBTQ people, and we will not stop until that hope for a more equitable and accepting future becomes reality.