Dear Kelsey, I'm a closeted bisexual, living in an amazingly homophobic African country. I’m going to be in London during Pride and I wanted to go to the parade and express myself, for once. The only problem is I have absolutely no one to go with. Zilch. Nada. Should I go alone? Would that be weird? Would I still have fun? Sincerely, Alone & Scared
Dear Alone & Scared, It would be easy for me to just say, “You have nothing to be scared of! And you won’t be alone! Go!” Because, when I think of Pride, I think of something so joyous and so actively inclusive that anyone attending can’t help but have a great time. But, of course, that’s coming from me: a straight, cis, white female from New York. If I want to see a rainbow flag, I just have to lean out my window. I have never experienced the particular prejudice you deal with. Though I feel an overwhelming anger on your behalf when I think of what it must be like to navigate your life in such a culture, I would never presume that I could step into your shoes. Still, my advice remains the same: Yes, you should go to Pride. Alone or in a group, you should go. And, I got some backup from someone who knows better than I what it means to be a first-timer at this event. My old pal Nick Adams is now an award-winning performer and activist whom you may know from his roles in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Wicked, or Go-Go Boy Interrupted. (You may also know him as the dreamiest dude on the AIDS Walk poster.) Adam has even been featured in the Pride parade — but years ago, he was a newbie like you. “My first pride experience was the summer before I went away to college. It was the first time I was truly on my own and able to explore myself,” says Adams. “I was incredibly excited but also nervous to surrender my insecurities about being gay. What I took away the most was feeling the energy of an incredibly inclusive community. It opened my eyes to a world that I had been curious about for so many years.” Adams did have some gay, out friends to go with, and he adds that it always helps to go with a group, if only to ease any anxiety. “But remember, it's a celebration,” he says. “There are no requirements. Come as you are and make new friends. Have an open mind. Be safe. It's all about having fun.”
When in doubt, remember the origins of Pride itself. Today, it really does feel like a rollicking celebration, but in the early days, Pride was also a roaring cry for justice and recognition. Before it was a parade, it was a march. The first one was held on June 28, 1970, marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — a watershed moment in the fight for LGBTQ rights. “Before Stonewall, gay leaders had primarily promoted silent vigils and polite pickets,” said organizer Fred Sargeant. “We were supposed to be unthreatening.” The timbre changed with this new event, and marchers chanted in the streets: Say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud. In the following years, Pride grew exponentially. It became an international event, and eventually, June was declared Pride Month. Some now complain that Pride has lost its political intent, and indeed, it feels much more like a party than a protest. Perhaps the critics are right — again, it’s certainly not for me to speak for the LGBTQ community. But I think that Pride at least serves a reminder of the battle it was borne of. And that reminder matters because, as you well know, the battle is not yet won. “It was only after the march that these gay pioneers realized what might be possible,” said Sargeant. It’s been almost 50 years, but there are still pioneers in many parts of the world. That’s why Pride matters, and that’s why I’d say you should go, with or without friends. It might be a blast or it might be boring, but it will show you that you do indeed have a community and an unassailable right to be yourself — safely, proudly. I don’t mean to say you’re obligated to go to Pride, because, of course, you’re not. But what you will always be at Pride is welcome. Sincerely, Kelsey Welcome to Unprofessional Advice: a column to help you handle problems of all kinds. With zero professional experience and a complete lack of credentials, I will take on your issues with compassion and humor (and I'll keep it anonymous). Got a question? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.