Reflections on Nashville Pride
A few weeks ago, I attended Nashville Pride, a yearly festival to celebrate LGBT life in Nashville. While the festival and booths and music were fun, one aspect of pride was unexpectedly moving. Before the festival officially began, the organizers of the event kicked off Pride with a short march Saturday morning. While the march itself was only ten minutes long, a two-block radius, and had minimal exposure to actual traffic and other humans, the march was shockingly empowering.
Nearly three years has elapsed since I participated in my first protest march, and in the (probably) hundred protest marches I’ve been apart of, not one of them was related to LGBT/queer anything. This is partially because I do live in the South and the gay rights movement is a slow crawl in these parts and protest marches are not often apart of said slow crawl. I have gone to a few events—a low-key marriage equality rally, a few gay clubs, plenty of Reconciling Ministries events, and so on…but what set the Pride march apart was visibility. I am usually found advocating with other people who are typically experiencing something I myself have never experienced—homelessness, a death or prison sentence, undocumented status, sexual abuse—but this was the first time I was participating in public activism that was entirely about me. And the Pride march didn’t even have a goal; we were simply declaring, “We are here. We exist. We are in the public eye without shame. We are a body of people banding together to proclaim our existence.”
While in the past I have poked fun at the old adage, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” I suddenly understood completely how empowering that statement is in all reality. We’re not in the closets; we’re in the streets. We’re not tucked away in the gay dives on Church Street; we’re owning our space in society right in downtown. We’re confronting the shame that has been thrust upon us. We’re not necessarily championing being queer itself—we’re simply championing ourselves together.
I also felt incredibly vulnerable. While I have been out for over ten years, I had never felt so out as I did when I was walking in a huge crowd of rainbow-clad queers. I saw bystanders on the sidewalk whispering to each other. Some cheering for us. Some not knowing what to make of it. They knew I was gay without a doubt—but for the first time, I didn’t feel endangered. Often when I can tell a judging stranger knows I’m gay, I feel fear. Are they going to approach me? Attack me? Beat me? Rape me? But in this rainbow flood of bright smiling people, the fear was swept away. What can one judging person do to the 200 of us? Besides actual mass violence, the most they could do is boo us. But, they wouldn’t possibly be heard over the din of our cheering and singing and marching band. I had never felt so secure, safe….and proud.
I feel like this weekend is probably a turning point for me. It’s very easy to advocate for other people…but it’s a whole other thing to advocate for yourself. It makes you incredibly vulnerable. It’s pretty scary. But we need each other to feel that safety. We need to stand up and own our spaces in society with one another. And we can be damn fabulous while doing it.