With coronavirus changing the landscape of how we do things, it is not surprising that events like Pride are being canceled. For better or worse, this will be a year without any Pride event for many. Some of us may be left wondering what we can do to show and celebrate this Pride season. I thought, with all the changes, I would take this post to reflect on my first Pride event and ask you to do the same.
I have regaled you with my coming out story and many mentions of the first guy I dated after coming out. He truly was one to open my eyes to a world I didn’t know existed. He was patient and understanding with me as I tripped and flattered along in learning all things gay. The year that we met was probably the most educational for me and it was also the first Pride event I ever went to. That was the summer of 1996 and it was an event to remember.
When Shawn had mentioned that he wanted to take me to Pride, I was both excited and terrified. I would be around more people that were like me and at the same time be noticed among the crowd. It was a lot to take in and to get ready for it I asked him to tell me all he knew about Pride and what it was like. Shawn had gone to school in California in the 80s, so he had already witnessed places like San Francisco for pride. He also had been to New York and a few other big cities. His information was like talking to a guru and I absorbed as much as I possibly could. He also invited my mother and sister to help them along with me coming out to them earlier. We both figured it would be a way to allow them to see that LGBTQ people aren’t any different than out straight counterparts.
Virginia always seems to do their Pride, historically, towards the end of summer and this year it was the last part of August. It had always been held in Wasena Park, which was a notorious cruising spot at nights. Kind of fitting, in some ways. We all pull into the parking lot and I immediately see hundreds, if not thousands, of cars. Rainbows and pink triangles everywhere and at first look I was a bit choked up to be surrounded by so many that were like me.
As we got out of the car and made our way to the park, we passed countless vendor booths that sold everything you can think of with a rainbow or pride on it and, of course, being my first Pride I stocked up on almost anything I could. We wandered around and listened to performers singing and watched several drag shows. My mother was blown away by the number of things going on and what it was like. She had lesbian friends, but they were mostly the stay at home types, and this was just as new to her as it was me.
As the day went on, we were starting to get a bit tired. We grabbed a few snacks and drinks and stood up against the sign that welcomes you to the park. My mother noticed a news van setting up to do a segment about all of the gays out celebrating in public. She was a tad nervous about being seen, so she had us move behind the sign more. I remember thinking I didn’t care if I was filmed and at the same time nervous who might actually see me on the nightly news. The station that was there happened to be the one my father watched each night at 6pm. So, we hid as best we could.
Shortly after that we decided we were ready to head home. I was still in overload at all I had saw and Shawn was taking me in stride. We got back to our place and him and I decide to take a nap. It seemed only a few minutes before our phone was ringing, so Shawn rolled out of bed to answer and then asked me to come into the living room. He told me to turn on the news. Lo and behold, you see just a brief glance of us walking behind the sign and then my feet at the bottom of the sign. Logically, I shouldn’t have been concerned, but all I could think of was that my father would be able to recognize that I was there, and it would be the worst coming out imaginable. My mother was on the phone with Shawn talking about it and she seemed a little nervous, but she managed to talk me down. I remember the next week was excruciating walking around wondering if he would tell me that he saw me at that “faggot parade.” Those words never came and eventually I relaxed a bit.
To say my first Pride event was a whirlwind of emotions might be an understatement. It also would be fair to say that I may have overreacted a tad it. This memory came flooding back to me this year when they announced that Cleveland would not have Pride this year. Not being able to share in the event with the many other attendees is something that I will miss this year. Pride can be a topic of many feelings in our community. Whether you feel it is too over the top or not at it used to be, the feelings can be strong. While Pride in the CLE may be canceled, we still can celebrate the milestones LGBTQ people and legislature we have witnessed. What are some Pride memories you have? What was your first Pride event like? I would love to hear your thoughts and stories.