By Liz Massey, April 2016 Issue.
It’s time for Echo’s annual Pride preview issue, and even if you haven’t marched in the parade or set foot inside the festival grounds in years, you can still be glad that our city has such a robust organization to run the event.
My history in the Valley is intertwined with Pride. I had just moved to town when Arizona Central Pride announced they would host a rally/parade (the first in years) in late March 1997. A couple of months later, I was introduced to my spouse for the first time at the Pride Festival held near Tempe Diablo Stadium – predictably, we met because we physically collided with one another in front of the LGBTQ bookstore booth. Just a few years after that, I was riding down Central Avenue myself, dressed like a cop and prancing around on the back of a flatbed truck to the Village People’s tune “YMCA,” as part of the Echo Magazine float.
Phoenix’s Pride history mirrors the evolution of Pride celebrations nationally. The earliest Pride parades were actually marches aimed at commemorating Stonewall and protesting near-universal legal discrimination and social rejection. It took courage to take to the streets in those days – one could get fired or lose custody of one’s children just for being present. Gradually, we filled the streets with drag queens, leather tops, dykes on bikes, go-go boys, marching bands and every kind of social club imaginable as our community came out of the closet. We needed that mix of playfulness and fierceness in the 1980s and 1990s, as we found our tribe battling the horrors of AIDS and dealing with round after round of vicious anti-LGBTQ legislation.
Since the year 2000, Phoenix Pride, like many other organizations across the country, has gotten bigger, more professional and taken on the management of other events and programs. With so much change, it’s easy to get disoriented about the true meaning of Pride. Is it political? Self-affirmation? Communal?
When considering what the essence of Pride might be, I was reminded of one book almost every journalist has in his or her library: The Elements of Style. Less than 100 pages long, the words of authors William Strunk and E.B. White have stood the test of time because they stuck to the basics and did not try to focus on issues that were particular to the times in which they lived.
Pride appears to be a permanent fixture – an event (or season, if you consider how many local festivals are held around the country) – that is synonymous with who we are and how we live our lives. With that in mind, I offer these principles as the essential, can’t-do-without Elements of Pride:
Pride is Serious.
We should never forget that Pride events commemorate a riot that protested police brutality and corruption directed at queer people. We still have a long way to go before we achieve complete equality, and before every one of our community members and our allies are safe.
Pride is Fun.
Our community has always dealt with oppression and stigma by making fun of it, and by celebrating how awesome it is to be ourselves. That’s irreplaceable part of the LGBTQ community spirit – one I hope never gets lost!
Pride is Open to All.
Our party is open to everyone who wants to support us and learn more about us. Ideally, every letter of our beautiful “alphabet soup” is represented at Pride through floats, booths, on-stage presentations, etc.
Pride is Self-Organizing.
Heaven forbid we should ever seek to have another entity outside our community put on a Pride event for us. We thrive when we take care of our own and are accountable to each other.
Pride is Outrageous!
We didn’t get this far as a movement by making our parades and festivals into a plea for assimilation. Boundary-defying displays of sequins, boas, leather and latex show off our community’s more colorful side – and remind others that some of our greatest contributions have come from being different, and not exact duplicates of our cis/hetero peers.
Since Pride has evolved in such interesting ways in the 46 years since the first event in 1970, I can only speculate about what Pride events will look like on the 75th or 100th anniversary of Stonewall. I hope that Pride – both in Phoenix and around the world – will retain its distinctive queer style. And I hope that style remains true to the definition that Orson Welles gave for it: “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.”