Generations of Pride: What Does Pride Mean, Then and Now?

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No matter what our age or where we come from, everyone's experience of being LGBT is different. Likewise, we each have our own distinct relationship to annual Pride celebrations -- and the notion of Pride itself. For some, a Pride parade was the first time they felt comfortable being themselves as LGBT people. Others find Pride events alienating, and prefer to cultivate pride in close-knit community groups.

We asked LGBT people of all ages, throughout the U.S., what Pride means to them today -- and what it meant to their own generation at the time they first became aware that Pride celebrations existed. Feel free to share your own experience -- or your generation's -- in the Comments section of this page.

Jasan M. Ward; New York City

I truly became aware of Pride Month and the nationwide celebrations during my sophomore year at Cornell University. At this time in 1992, I was still in the beginning stages of my journey to embrace myself as a gay man. I was out to a few close friends, but mainly kept my sexuality hidden from the larger campus community.

Someone in my inner circle suggested we go to NYC for Pride and walk in the parade with the "Queer Ivies." After a few debates, discussing why we needed to do this, I caved in and we drove to the city. Being in NYC for Pride was one of the best experiences in my life. For the first time, I felt free. Having grown up in a small suburb outside of Albany, N.Y., I had never been around so many people, in all their glorious colors, shapes and sizes, who were like me: "GAY." It was like my coming out party that I shared with thousands of other people.

Pride to me then, as it does now, represented a sense of belonging and connection to others, who have fought and struggled, not only to feel accepted by others, but to accept themselves as well.

Nelson Vergel; Houston, Texas

I first witnessed a Pride parade when I moved to the United States from Venezuela as I was coming out in the early '80s. I could not believe that gay people could be so out in public on one of the main roads in Houston during plain daylight! This was something I could not even imagine in the culture I grew up in.

Little did I know that our pride would be tested beyond a parade when we soon started hearing about gay men dying of a weird disease. Being visible was about to become even more important.

I am glad that a lot of good things have happened since I celebrated my first Pride as a young immigrant who was about to find out he had the virus. I have witnessed sweeping changes in laws that give us protection not only as gay but as HIV+. Most of us can now survive this virus to witness what is yet to come as progress happens in GLBT rights, but also in the HIV cure field.

Justin B. Terry-Smith; Laurel, Md.

Black Pride, to me, means celebrating who you are. Any Pride, to me, means celebrating who you are. Whether it be Puerto Rican Pride Festival in New York, whether it be the Jamaican Pride Festival, or the Irish Pride Festival -- it's just celebrating your culture, and I think that it gives that community a sense of pride in who they are -- and yes, I'm proud to be a black, gay, married father and leatherman who happens to know his HIV status!

Certain major parts of me are being celebrated. And I think it's important that we expand upon that and acknowledge that.

Christopher Stansfield; New York City

My coming out process was a long one. It took a long time for me to find a sense of community. And I think when I first moved to New York and became aware of Gay Pride, there was a lot of ambivalence. Especially being somebody who works with words for a living; you know, you parse that word pride: If this is something that is innate in you and you didn't do anything to achieve it, what are you proud about? And eventually, you realize: What you did is that you're being open about it and you're facing the scrutiny of others, and that is something to be proud about.

But it took me a long time to become comfortable with the notion of Gay Pride as a thing. I'm almost embarrassed to admit, but this will be the first year that I ever march in the Pride Parade. And that will be with, you know, Gay Geeks of New York. So it all comes back down to community and how you feel in it.

Josh Robbins; Nashville, Tenn.

Gosh! I guess I was a latecomer to the Pride party, as I have only been going to a Pride festival in Nashville for the past four years -- I'm 30.

In Music City, our Pride festival is downtown (yes, next to the Honky-Tonk bars and all). This year, the event really will mean more to me because of the strides we as a niche demographic have made this year to become more equal. And I believe that is not only worth fighting toward, but it's worth celebrating. Yes, maybe I was late to the Pride party, but trust me on this one -- "ain't nobody gonna hold me down." Let the glitter fall in my cowboy boots. It's Pride time in Nashville, Tennessee.

Fyodor Pavlov; New York City

I'm actually such a huge introvert that for me, marching in the heat of summer was always sort of a terrifying prospect. I've been to a couple of Pride parades.

What moves me about them is not even the parade itself, but the notion of there being a place and a right for it to exist. Because I come from Russia, where there have been two attempts at a Pride parade, both of which were broken up by religious laymen and police, coming together to beat up the people attempting to march, and then arrest them.

So to me, what's significant about it is not so much my participation in it as the fact that there is the freedom, at least in this country, at least in this state, for it to happen. And that's what it means to me. Again, it's not the exercising of the right, but the fact that it exists, and that there is a place for people who wish to participate to go ahead and do so.

Maria T. Mejia; Miami, Fla.

The meaning of "PRIDE" for me is being proud of who you are and coming to terms with who you are. I believe pride is something we should have all year round (not just a month).

My wife Lisa and I don't go to every Pride parade ... but when we do go it is to be around our community and share and celebrate our love and our friends. It is wonderful to also be in a place where we can hold hands and just be like the normal couple that we are!

Pride is about Lisa and our love! How blessed we are to be in a country where we have some type of freedom to love each other. I do not agree with people marching and screaming and getting in people's faces to have them understand our love; I believe in educating them and leading by example. Our love is like any true love. :) We are just like any couple with life's ups and downs.

I hope one day we can just continue to celebrate each other, and have no need of any types of parades to be heard because we will just be seen as what we are: a committed, loving couple that hopes to grow old together.

Jason McDonald; Knoxville, Tenn.

In 2003, I had vaguely heard of Pride before, but had never been a part of it, nor did I think too much about it. In my mind Pride was about just that: pride in one's community, pride to be free in who you are, pride expressed in a "good" way, as opposed to the biblical idea of "pride = sin." To me, the upcoming Pride event was an opportunity to take a deep breath, let my hair down, and spend some time getting in touch with myself again. To me, Pride meant freedom, openness and hope. ... My feelings about Pride mirrored my feelings of my life at the time.

Throughout the entire weekend at Atlanta Pride ... I danced, I drank, I danced ... at one point I lost my lesbian friends at Backstreets; I lost track of time and danced until 6 a.m., just in enough time to get back to the hotel room and get ready for the next day's adventures. Needless to say, this was pre-middle age, pre-drug addiction, and pre-HIV, so my energy was as endless as it was innocent.

Patrick Ingram; Northern Virginia

Black Gay Pride, to me, is just a time when we can all come together and just feel as one; feel safe to be in an area together; and it's just a good time to meet new friends, and share stories, and share experiences, and network. I think networking is very important; I think it's something we should all be doing.

Dab Garner; Wilton Manors, Fla.

While I met my first boyfriend in 1977, I did not attend a Pride event until I went to meet him in San Francisco in June of 1979 for one of the largest Pride events in our country.

Gay men were holding hands, kissing and enjoying the celebration of being who they were. Not living in hiding like they did where I lived in Florida. I was like a kid at Disney World for the first time.

Seeing that I was raised in a military, Southern, Catholic family, it was the first time I really felt OK about being gay.

Unfortunately, the next couple of years would bring many trials and tribulations. After I moved to San Francisco to live with my partner in 1980, I also had my best friend and then my first partner lose their battle with AIDS in 1981 before being diagnosed myself in February of 1982.

Luckily, we now have lifesaving HIV medications, AIDS service organizations, activists, HIV publications and other services. But every now and then I think back to the time when Pride meant being there for each other when a person was losing their battle with AIDS and we knew we only had each other to depend on as it was happening.

David Fawcett; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

During my sophomore year in college I was as far from gay and proud as I could be. It was the mid-1970s and, despite a relaxed campus atmosphere, I felt wildly out of place among other students enjoying their first taste of adulthood. I had a deeply-buried secret: I was a homosexual.

As I accepted myself, the energy I had spent suppressing my feelings was released and I blossomed both personally and professionally. My occupational interests turned to healing as my own spirit awakened. My heart slowly opened and then broke as AIDS ravaged my community in the 1980s. Ironically, in that dark time I began to experience a sense of belonging that ignited my own first sparks of Gay Pride.

Today, my Gay Pride is rooted in a balance of giving to our community and receiving the positive energy that comes back to me. That old internalized fear of being devastatingly flawed is gone. I rely less on externals and more on my internal sense of who I am.

Lewd Alfred Douglas; New York City

For my generation, I think Pride is a really important reminder that the struggle goes on. In my generation, and in this city, among other places around the world, there's a sense of complacency and being very jaded. And I think that that is very damaging. I think that you always need to have a sense that there are people who struggle where you are, and people just like you where you are, and in other places around the world; and the fact that you have a Pride parade and have a sense of pride and have a community is really, really important, and that this is not utopia.

We need to keep struggling for it to be better. We can't just be happy with what we have. And we can't take it for granted. And we can't stop struggling. Because it can go away. If you study queer history, there are some places where it has gone away, after being just like the present day. So it is important for us all to defend each other and to support each other.

Robert Breining; Philadelphia, Pa.

After receiving my HIV diagnosis in 2001, I lived in a denial stage for five years. One day, I just said, "Screw it! I can only be the best me that I can be." This not only shifted my thoughts on my HIV status, but also my thoughts about being gay. I discovered that pride is a lot more than just letting the world know you're gay. It is about being proud of who you are and accepting your sexuality.

The purpose of the Pride movement is to remove the feelings of shame or fear that some have about their sexuality or gender identity. It is an event that brings the gay community together to discuss important issues like gay marriage or HIV/AIDS and find out about local events happening in the city. It shows those who attend that they are not alone.

Tree Alexander; Brooklyn, N.Y.

Our society has taught our elders that homosexuality is a lifestyle that a person chooses to purposely be different, like wearing a black wedding gown (which for some means faithful until death). Gay oppression under capitalism, like racism and sexism, serves to divide working-class people from one another in their battles for economic and social justice. Capitalistic conditioning creates the illusion that men and women should lead autonomous sexual lives, yet it simultaneously seeks to impose heterosexual norms on society to secure the maintenance of an economic, ideological and sexual order.

The proof is in the truth that 1 in 4 LGBT youth who come out to their parents are forced to leave home. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year, 44 percent of students reported being physically harassed and 22 percent reported being physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation. We see suicide rates for LGBT youth are estimated to be up to four times higher than their heterosexual peers due to internalized hatred and homophobia.

So as we take the month of June to celebrate our diversity and sexual pride with nudity, partying and alcohol, let's take the time to explore how we have experienced oppression and ways to free the future of our community and society from this depressive cycle of narrow-minded conditioning.

Khafre Abif; Atlanta, Ga.

I was a part of a group of LGBTQ Black college students who decided to go to Washington, D.C., for the Memorial Holiday weekend back in 1989. Then it was a few small gatherings of the "children," and we carried on for filth. At that time I was still so closeted but felt safe with a group of men I called my friends from Florida A&M University. I had no idea nor did we plan for what that holiday would turn out to be years later.

I watched my first Pride parade in New York City. I watched in amazement as thousands of people marched and rode on floats for miles down the middle of Manhattan. This was in 1996; I was already diagnosed with HIV but still in a mental space of bondage. I was married, and my son was almost 3 years old. ... I stood there watching float after float and group after group thinking, "How brave these people are."

It wasn't until 2009 that I marched in a Pride parade. I found my freedom and led the first group to follow the Grand Marshal in Pittsburgh Pride. In 2011 I lent my voice to the Augusta, Georgia PSA. Yes, I am late to the party, but I am here now!