All Politics is Loco: What does Pride Mean to you?

by Sean Kosofsky

The following is an abridged version of a speech given by Sean Kosofsky at a recent conference for Pride organizers from around the country.

What does pride mean to you?

When a 14-year-old boy in Rochester Hills is quiet in class, quiet at home or quiet in church because he knows the sound of his voice might give him away. When that same boy tells his guidance counselor that he wants to be a doctor or a lawyer, but in his journal he writes that what he really wants to do is dance. When that boy sees a flyer at his local coffee shop for a Pride celebration and keeps that flyer under his bed... for months, you know what Pride means to him. And on Pride day, when he puts on his most comfortable shoes, jeans and the cute new shirt he has been waiting to wear since April, you know what Pride means to him. As he leaves his house on one side of town to find his home on another, you know what Pride means to him. It means freedom.

When a 68-year-old woman in Harper Woods, whose husband passed just last year, pulls out a shoebox from her basement and blows off the dust. When that same woman curiously searches for an old picture of her friend, the friend she loved so many years ago, and starts to cry.

When she sighs and remembers her beautiful soulmate from those summers up north, she wonders what might have been and how many years she may have wasted not being true to herself. When she puts the picture in her pocket on the morning of Pride, determined that TODAY she will try to find her old friend. Today, she will know what Pride means to her... Hope. Connection. Completion.

When a forty-something police officer in Detroit with a wife and kids decides to stop hiding who he really is. When he pulls out his favorite dress that he keeps hidden under his old high school football jersey and heads to the bathroom to change. And while her family is at the market, she applies her makeup and leaves a note for her family that she is heading out for some "fresh air," we know that what this annual pilgrimage means for her and her self-esteem. It means telling the truth.

For many in our community, Pride is a party. A day to see old friends, meet new friends, and check out the most gorgeous and gaudy our community has to offer. For others it is like a vice releasing its grip. For one day they can be a little closer to truth. A little closer to passion. A little closer to community, and a little closer to free. Free to be, free to buy, free to be BI and free to let their hair down or their guard down. It's a chance to slow down, or dance and throw down. Whether they come to get a tan or help end the ban... they come.

In 2007 being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is a political act. Coming out is an act of rebellion. Having pride in who we are in a world that wants to shame us is an act of protest. Celebrating Pride in June, the same month of the Stonewall Rebellion, is a constant reminder that police abuse is still immoral and that we must never forget our history.

We should no longer have to hide in the shadows. We have the right to demand that police and political officials SERVE us.

As LGBT Americans we cannot pretend that we only want the right to be left alone. At least I hope that isn't all we want. I think we want it all.

We want the right to be as public about our relationships as Brad and Angelina, Tom and Katie and every other couple we are subjected to, ad nauseum, on the red carpet.

We want the right to gather peacefully without protesters screaming at PFLAG moms. We are not there yet. Pride IS political because right-wing hate mongers make it that way.

If we gather and it threatens them, it is political. The fact that anyone would try to oppose our God-given right to wear glitter and shop for rainbow dreamcatchers is ridiculous.

Because we contribute to our country all year round and have the audacity to ask for one day, one day to be together with radiant, fabulous Pride.

Pride is a vehicle. Some people allow it to take them away from a place of loneliness and directly out of the closet. Some people use Pride as a way to educate our men and women and all those in between about how to have safe sex. For some, Pride is about dressing up or dressing down or just being able to wear a dress. Pride has never been anything but political.

That doesn't mean that Pride has to involve candidate forums or long speeches, but we should invite office holders and office seekers to our party.

And when they come to our Pride events we should ask them what Pride means to them. Is it a campaign stop or just a photo op? Do they just want to shake hands or will they stay and listen to the band? We mustn't be shy about why we produce Pride events. It is because we want a better world...soon.

Is it political to ask for a world where we don't get sneered at for holding our partner's hand? No. That is just common sense. Is it political to want a world where we don't have to worry about getting beaten over the head with a metal pipe in Detroit or strung up on a fence in Laramie? No, that's just common sense.

Is it political to wear a t-shirt that says "The Christian Right is neither?" Is it political to crack jokes at the President, especially since gay marriage is now more popular than he is? Is it political to seek permits and licenses and approval from city council for the right to exist?

Why are we afraid of politics? Are we afraid of offending someone? Just by being gay we are offending the religious right. Just by surviving the hate and the discrimination and the violence that they spew at us we offend them. So who are we trying to keep happy? Our own community? That's garbage.

Our community wants visibility. Our community wants safety. Our community wants to educate the public. Our community wants inclusion, acceptance, respect, unity and complete validation from our religious and political leaders.

We speak with one voice of the fact that we want all that we have coming to us, so why are we afraid to use Pride to demand it?

Gone are the days when the struggle for civil rights brought people out of their homes on freezing winter nights with a coat, a candle and a cause. Have we become so complacent that we have forgotten the Stonewall Rebellion? Have we forgotten that with every passing day another queer person commits suicide? Have we forgotten that, every passing month, queer people are executed in countries that the United States does business with?

Have we forgotten that some of the companies trying to throw money at our Pride events use their profits to send us to the political graveyard? Have we forgotten that in most of this country we can still be fired for being thought of as gay and have our children taken from us simply because of whom and how we love?

I ask you. How is that not political? Don't let the rainbows and the glitter and the disco balls fool you. We are in a fight for our lives. Pride is about fun, but fun comes at a price.

If it wasn't for our GLBT political organizations many of our gay bars would still be raided by police. If it wasn't for our outrage at the slaying of Matthew Shepherd there wouldn't be scholarships, plays and movies in his name.

If it wasn't for activism, AIDS would have killed many more before our nation took the threat seriously. If it wasn't for a wave of ballot measures in 28 states many in our community would not have opened their wallets to contribute to the cause of equality.

Who can blame us for wanting just one day to be happy? But what does Pride mean to you, if we don't do all we can from dawn to dusk to leave the world a little bit better. What does Pride mean if we are so scared of petitioners and candidates and politics that come 7 p.m. we have squandered that perfect opportunity to organize?

To me... Pride is all the above. We cannot separate the rallies, marches, festivals and parades into two neat categories, party - or - politics. They are joined.

I'll close with a quote from Elie Wiesel, who survived the holocaust and used the balance of his life as a vehicle to stop oppression in all its forms. While receiving the Nobel Peace Prize he said, "We must take sides. Neutrality only helps the oppressor."

Pride means using your power as leaders to ask for more than we ask for now. We can do better than neutrality.

Sean Kosofsky is Director of Policy for Triangle Foundation

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