By Buddy Early, April 2019 Issue.
Gather ‘round, children. I’m going to tell you about a time when we had to walk three miles, around the mountain, in the middle of summer just to get to a Pride festival.
Well, at least I did. It was the mid-’90s and the first Pride event I ever attended. It was at least 105 degrees on that June day. The festival was in a very inconvenient place for many people — tucked back behind Tempe Buttes between the I-10 freeway and 48th Street. Back in those days, Phoenix’s transit service was awful, particularly on weekends; I had no idea what bus I could catch, or where, or when. So, I walked from my house near the ASU campus to this event I knew nothing about except that it existed.
The handful of gay people I knew were mere acquaintances, not anyone I could accompany to the festival. So, I was there alone in my jorts, my tucked-in t-shirt and my braided belt. For all of 45 minutes.
It was a very confusing and intimidating, albeit eye-opening, 45 minutes. Although I probably uttered two words to anyone my entire time there, I took it all in. I was taken aback at the amount of HIV/AIDS information available and it was the beginning of me letting go of some of the ideas and notions I had about the disease. In the years since I would come to know, love, work with and for many PWAs.
I remember seeing the Echo Magazine booth, but certainly did not imagine I would someday serve as its Managing Editor for five years (and 25 years later would still be writing for it). I stopped briefly at the entertainment tent to look at the drag queens with makeup dripping down their faces, performing their hearts out to hits of the 70s, 80s and today … err, that day. Little did I figure I would eventually know most of those drag queens in and out of face.
I didn’t purchase any food, as I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t have anything to drink, as 100+ degree heat and alcohol are a recipe for disaster for me. Later, I didn’t tell my roommates where I had been, and I didn’t talk about my experience to my friends the following week. (I was out to most people, and by no means had I been rejected by any friends or family; I just never really discussed my “gayness” with anyone.)
If all this makes it sound like I had a dreadful time, I can assure you that is far from the truth. This brief introduction to Pride — the concept and the event — was illuminating and gave me the courage to explore my sexuality and my community.
Two-and-a-half decades later there still are people who don’t understand the concept of Pride. I still find myself explaining to straight people that Pride is about celebrating your true self. Pride is being able to stand in a place where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are not only accepted but are the majority. Pride is the reaffirmation that everything we have been taught in our schools, everything we have been fed from the media, and everything we have been judged for by society, is utter bullshit.
Attending Pride, whether it’s your first or your 21st, is an act of coming out without having to actually come out. Let’s face it, most of us have been coming out since the first time we did it, and we will be doing it for the rest of our lives. Every new work environment, every new neighborhood, every new mommy group, study group, high school reunion and social event ultimately leads to a coming out, because people are presumed heterosexual until proven otherwise.
“There should be a Straight Pride,” say some straight people, acting like nothing cleverer has ever been articulated. I used to take time responding that straight people never had to spend the first two decades or more of their lives suppressing their true identity, being told they can’t love who they love, facing a world where they have to fight for basic equality and fear being attacked verbally and physically because of their sexual orientation. I used to try to make them understand. But in 2019 it’s no longer my job to educate the ignorant. Now I simply tell people to kindly fuck off with their Straight Pride.
Everyone should try it.