This weekend we celebrate Pride here in New York. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how vital Pride is because I live just steps away from Stonewall, the epicenter of where the gay rights movement began. It’s not because I’m unaware of the persecution against LGBTQ+ folks—I’ve lived through my share of hardships because of my sexual identity. But amid the comings and goings of everyday life, it’s sometimes too easy to become comfortable.
Not everyone is so lucky to live in such an accepting place. Although I’ve lived in Greenwich VIllager for most of my life, I was not raised in such an accepting environment. In spite of that, a lot of my work over the years has been about the love I have for my homeland in rural Georgia. Yet it was the place that turned me away when I came out of the closet. I lost friends and family and the sense of safety that comes with the word “home.” Using my art to look back at my roots comes out of a desire to reclaim those roots on my own terms. It’s a way of saying, “This place. These people. This heritage belongs to me just as much as anybody else.”
The same thing applies in the context of Pride. Stonewall and Greenwich Village around it represents a shared heritage for all LGBTQ+ people, no matter where you are from. Our history didn’t begin at Stonewall, though. Our history is as old as humanity. Stonewall is simply the point where we took a stand and fought back against centuries of persecution. That’s why, as joyous at it may seem on the surface, Pride isn’t just a celebration. Pride is a protest. Pride is activism. Pride is honoring who we are and taking a stand for equality. There are too many people out there that, even today, fight to strip us of our rights, or even want us dead, conservative politicians and fundamentalist Christians chief among them. The LGBTQ+ community combats that hatred every day, and at times, it’s daunting. Pride may, in fact, be one of the few times some people can be out of the closet without fear of their friends rejecting them, family disowning then, or governments denying their rights.
Pride takes many forms. Last year I published my exam(i)nation book of poetry around the idea that Pride and patriotism go hand in hand. Both are forms of protest against those who wish to silence us. Other work I’ve done includes the Pushcart-nominated Kissing Hedwig essay, where I wrote about my own coming out story. Even my speak of the dead video explores how I do (or don’t) fit into the context of my broader family history as a queer person. And earlier this year, I published an essay about the movie The Crying Game, which is an early example of acceptance even in a society and culture where non-straight, non-cisgender people are not the norm.
All of these activities are forms of Pride. It’s essential to take our stories into the world like this—both on Pride weekend as well as throughout the year. When we stand up and tell the world who we are, it’s much more difficult for anyone—whether our friends and families, colleagues and corporations, or politicians and presidents—to deny our existence.
We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it!
The other day I took an evening stroll around the neighborhood, which is something I like to do as much as I can this time of year now that I am thoroughly thawed out from the winter. As I neared Gay Street, I noticed a bunch of people gathered around. They were posing for photos and admiring the new street signs that had been installed by the city! My eyes teared up at the sight of it. It was so moving. All of the history here—right outside my own doorstep—came sweeping over me. This. This is home.
Happy Pride to each and every one of you.