It’s a Wednesday evening in Denver and a group of fellow LGBTQ+ folk and I meet online. We’ve come together to write about identity and experience and to reflect on what it means to have Pride in a year like 2020. I ask the group to write about the first time they remember experiencing pride and to write about another first that’s connected to their LGBTQ+ identity.
Many of us emerge from this writing exercise with common themes. Pride is in coming out: from our first time to the many times we continue to do so daily. Pride is a physical space: the first place where we felt safe enough to be ourselves. Pride is in being visible, in feeling seen for our queerness. Pride is in action: times where we first participated in a protest, phone bank, canvassing event. Pride is also in everyday survival.
Our memory of history is deeply rooted in our context: our varied complex identities, our lived experiences, our privileges and our disadvantages. As I take pause to reflect on my own experiences I also contemplate the meaning of firsts. Firsts are widely used by historians to place ownership and meaning on events and happenings. In the history of Pride many think of Stonewall in 1969 to be a first, a pivotal moment when “the first brick was thrown” and everything changed.
The thing about firsts, though, is that they’re also rooted in context. From the recognition of many gender identities and sexual identities by Indigenous communities long before the occupation of what we now know as the United States, to the founding of the Society for Human Rights by US Army soldier Henry Gerber in the 1920s; to the establishment of early social clubs like the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis. Folks formed those two clubs in California so they could avoid the regular police raids of bars, and both clubs made their way to Denver in the ’50s and ’60s.
There have always been community members being themselves and doing the work.
And, firsts aren’t just when an event or happening came into being. When we focus on just one first and assume that events and change have only one beginning, or an end, we risk erasing community experience and the ways we all participate in history in the present. Pride Month of 2020 might be over, but pride is nowhere near its end.
The Pride in Physical Space
March 27, 2011. It’s the first time I really remember the feeling of pride. It’s the grand opening of a new LGBTQ+ nightclub, Bubbles, in the southern Colorado town of Colorado Springs. From the time a friend and I make the drive to the wait in a line that’s wrapped its way around the block, the journey there seems to take hours. Making the way there and then being so visible and outside in this small, largely conservative, military town is uncertain and scary. In line we can feel both the excitement at having a space of our own and the anticipation of getting inside. For me, it’s a time of many firsts: my first time at a nightclub, the first time I’m in a space with a lot of other queer folks, the first time I show my ID and my hand is marked by an X.
Bubbles as a nightclub closed shortly after its opening, but the experience of pride I felt there still lives in that empty lot on Fillmore. A first is not an ending. In Denver, Blush & Blu on East Colfax becomes a new and next spot. It’s locally known as a “lesbian Cheers” and is the last lesbian bar in Denver. While being away from community space feels uncertain during COVID-19, and small bars like this one also live in that uncertainty, they’ve reopened and they’ve redecorated and adapted to the change. It’s a space where I know my friends and I can go and continue to experience Pride.
The Pride in Coming Out
National Coming Out Day is celebrated each year on the anniversary of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which took place on October 11, 1987. It encourages LGBTQ+ people to come out and be visible. In addition to coming out often regarding their sexuality, people also come out about their gender identity.
I come out to students every time I work with them because I use gender-neutral titles, my favorite being “Mx.” (As I tell the kiddos, it’s like you’re mixing a bowl of something!) The first time I introduced myself this way, I was assisting at a summer camp in the San Luis Valley. It was a first for me as well as for my students: many have never heard language like this before. It took some time and understanding, but by the end of camp season learners were correcting each other aloud when I was misgendered. We supported and came to the aid of one another’s identities, even if they were a first to us.
The Pride in Action
In the photo to the left, I’m again in Colorado Springs. My friends and I and community members march with One Colorado in the 2012 Pride Parade. The demands we make (and that I appear to be shouting) are for a just and fair Colorado: for LGBTQ+ safety, for adequate healthcare, for the right to have our relationships recognized, for the ability not to be fired for coming out, for the protection of immigrant communities, for the rights of trans community members, to protest the deaths of too many Black trans women murdered. All of these needs and so many more we continue to march for today.
It’s 2020, and friends and community members and I meet again, this time in Cheesman Park in Denver. I meet up with them near The Pavillion. This is the same place where in 1974, the year of Denver’s first Pride, about fifty people gathered and hosted a “gay-in.” Years later, in 2016, we met to hold a memorial for victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Cheesman Park has been host to many events and Prides throughout the years and likely will continue to be so.
This year, we gathered to march with Black Lives Matter for a Pride Liberation March. Black and brown LGBTQ+ bodies are dying daily. In 2020, more than fourteen trans and gender-nonconforming folks have been murdered, the majority of whom have been Black trans women. Just as I know folks who are not members of the LGBTQ+ community marched with me in the above photo, just as trans women of color put their lives on the line at Stonewall and continue to do so, I have a responsibility to show up for Black lives, whether online or not. This is also what Pride is.
The Pride in Everyday
As I reflect on my own personal history with Pride, I must also reflect on myself. How do my varied complex identities, lived experiences, privileges, and disadvantages inform the future actions I take? Pride is not just reflection. Pride is action, pride is living, pride is being.
To conclude our writing experience together in 2020, those in my writing group and I, write love letters to ourselves. We write about what we’re proud of, what we’re looking forward to (even if times are uncertain), and what we love about being ourselves. I would ask you, the reader, to consider the same, regardless of your own context. Are there firsts in your life that you hope someone else will never have to experience? Are there firsts that inform your empathy and a call to action for experiences that aren’t your own?
A first is not an end. Pride has continued even without a parade, and it always will continue. LGBTQ+ folks, we are Pride, our existence is Pride, and Pride 2020 is another example of living history.