To some people, Pride parades might not seem very important. Men in skimpy leather suits, floats with drag queens, lots of rainbow flags —what’s the big deal? In fact, some people even argue that Pride parades are actually hurting the LGBTQ+ rights cause(s) by making them look ridiculous. Drag queens and leather suits, those people argue, are not the image we want representing our community.
And while I personally agree with them about the leather, I am here to tell you why Pride is still valuable — and why you should not only go, but take your kids as well.
Why Pride Matters, Especially for Teens
While each person’s experience is different, and Pride means something special to everyone, I think it’s particularly impactful for kids and teens. After all, middle and high school can be hard places, and one of the cruelest ironies of adolescence is that at a time when teens are realizing who they are — right when we most need to be in a supportive environment, in other words — is the same time when we have so little choice.
Even for teens who are lucky enough to have supportive families and friend groups, communities of LGBTQ+ people are small in most places, meaning that most teens don’t have very many friends “like them.” And as queer kids quickly realize, there’s a surprisingly large difference between being around people who support you and people who are like you.
Since the media is so awful about showing LGBTQ+ people (in the 2012-13 broadcast schedule, only 4.4% of scripted regulars were LGBT), the internet is pretty much the only place to go for many queer kids — the problem with the internet being, of course, that it’s a virtual space, not a physical one.
In that context, it is perhaps more understandable why Pride matters so much for LGBTQ+ youth. For kids whose relationships or gender presentations don’t fit accepted societal norms, Pride is often one of the only places they can be honest about who they are and what they want — holding a partner’s hand, wearing the clothes that fit their gender, or using pronouns that make them feel comfortable, among other things.
Regardless of safety concerns, there is something absolutely magical about standing on a street filled with people and knowing that all of them are either like you, or supportive and accepting of you. It is this aspect of Pride with which I have personal experience, and I can vouch for how important an aspect it is.
Before this year, I had only been to one Pride, a few years ago and for a very short time. I thought it was amazing, but at that time I still identified as straight, so the informational booths and smiling volunteers didn’t have anything to offer me. Flash forward three years, however, and the story is very different.
About three weeks ago, I realized I was bisexual. My coming out story, as coming out stories go, is about as good as it gets: within five days of realizing my “new” sexuality, I had told most of my friends and my immediate family. Just as I’d known they would, every single person I came out to immediately said that they supported me, loved me and that my sexuality had no impact on our relationship. My story is exceptional, and I’m grateful every day for how lucky I am.
Yet at Pride, when a group of people decked out in pink, purple and blue marched down the street holding a Bisexual Pride sign and the largest bisexual flag I’d ever seen, I stopped in my tracks. Ignoring my friends, I screamed louder than I had all day, turning towards the street and watching as the marchers walked by. They didn’t look at the one teenage girl buried amidst all the other Pride-goers on the sidewalk, but I had tears in my eyes by the time they’d passed.
Pride is a celebration: it’s the LGBTQ+ community’s way of telling the world “we’re here, we’re proud, and we’re not going anywhere.” I, for one, think that’s a beautiful thing.
Take Your Kids
Of course, the people at Pride parades are not just those in the LGBTQ+ community. Straight and cisgender allies, especially friends and loved ones of those who identify as LGBTQ+, often come out as well. And while Pride is not aimed at them — the whole point, after all, is that it’s by and for the LGBTQ+ community — it’s nevertheless important that they go. Most important, I would argue, is that they and their kids (as well as everybody else’s kids) experience Pride.
Why is it important that kids go to Pride? Well, for one thing, surely some of the little kids looking cute in their rainbow tutus will one day realize that they’re not just allies but actually part of the LGBTQ+ community. For them, Pride will then become even more important, and the exposure to people of many varying sexualities and gender identities may help them realize what they themselves identify as — because while sexual orientation and gender identity are innate and not learned, it can be hard to realize what yours might be if you have no models to compare yourself to.
Even for kids who are straight and cisgender, though, a trip to Pride is still valuable. After all, the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in the media affects them as well. Being at Pride, seeing people breaking typical gender norms and same-sex couples doing the same things straight couples do, normalizes LGBTQ+ people: our relationships, our identities, our existence. When parents decide to take their kids to Pride, they’re sending a powerful message about the values they want to pass on and the tolerance they want to teach.
That’s why my friends and I smiled at the toddler in the “I <3 My Gay Aunt” t-shirt — not because she was adorable (although she was) but because we knew that long after the sugar high had faded and the shirt was passed on, that girl would hold on to longer-lasting lessons about acceptance and tolerance. “Parenting,” we told each other. “You’re doing it right!”
Of course, Pride is not perfect — although instead of skimpy Speedos, I’m thinking more about the erasure of lesser-known identities, and even racism. At the Pride parade I attended, for example, there were piles and piles of rainbow flags, but no flags for other orientations, and the floats in the parade were almost exclusively “gay and lesbian” with nothing else listed.
But, on balance and compared to what’s currently available the other 51 weekends of the year, I’d say that Pride is an amazing event, and one that I’d encourage everyone, of all ages, to experience.