9 Activists Share What They Wish They'd Known Before Their First Pride

by Emma McGowan
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When most people think of Pride, they think of rainbow flags. Floats with scantily dressed men bouncing around. Rainbow clothing. Rainbow pins. Rainbow sunglasses. Basically, rainbow everything. And they're not wrong — most Pride parades these days are decked out with a lot of rainbows. But Pride isn't just about rainbows and partying.

The first pride parade was held in Central Park in New York City on June 28, 1970. It was the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which was an uprising at a gay bar in the West Village. The raid on the Stonewall Inn led to six days of riots in the Village. The LGBTQ community was fed up with police harassment, raids, and arrests — and they decided to do something about it. Stonewall is often hailed as the beginning of the gay liberation movement, although the Compton Cafeteria Riot, led by trans women sex workers of color and drag queens, actually took place three years earlier, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.

"I stayed at the head of the march the entire way, and at one point, I climbed onto the base of a light pole and looked back," organizer Fred Sargeant wrote in a 2010 first person account of the New York march in the Village Voice. "I was astonished; we stretched out as far as I could see, thousands of us. There were no floats, no music, no boys in briefs. The cops turned their backs on us to convey their disdain, but the masses of people kept carrying signs and banners, chanting and waving to surprised onlookers."

Since that first march (which, by the way, was called the "Christopher Street Liberation Day March"), Pride has been a combination of politics and celebration. Some years are more political, while some are more about "boys in brief," but it's important to remember where the movement started — and the queer activists who came before us. That's the one thing that a few of the following, contemporary activists said they wish they'd known more about before their first Pride. Find out what else they wish they'd known below.


Chrissy Holman, 35, Queer Demi Intersectional Polyamory Organizer And Network Weaver, NYC

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"I was eight at my first Pride and my two moms and I were hiding in plain sight. Most people thought my moms were sisters. It was the early '90s and it wasn't safe for queer people to be out in public, except for this day because there were so many of us.

There were people throwing bottles at marchers and others screaming slurs. A person behind me wished queers would die from AIDS. I asked my mom what that meant and she said lots of people don't like queer people and when I asked why, she said god considered it a sin. I remained in the closet for another six years because of that first march. So too in our hometown, that same treatment persisted for years. There were death threats, harassment, firecrackers thrown at us and it kept getting worse till we left.

Last weekend I took my 4- and 6-year-olds marching in Brooklyn pride in the neighborhood that saved us for the first time and they had a blast, except when homophobic people emerged from the crowd with hell and repent sinners signs, screaming at us angrily. I walked up to one with my son, looked him in the eyes and I told him I still loved him. My son asked me why I told the angry stranger I loved him and I told him lots of people don't like queer people, but I wanted to show him how humans should be treated. He already knew why people hated queer people, and why he was marching.

I wish I understood what I was seeing at eight, as I'd been told we were going to a parade. This was a protest, and we were there because they were killing us and we had to be brave and stand up for dignity and respect even when it was dangerous. I took that wish and gave my kids a crash course on Stonewall and told them people might harass us and why. I wish I knew what Pride actually was before witnessing it firsthand. I may have felt safer coming out sooner. I may have felt safer in general. I may have taken up activism and advocacy earlier."


Maddy McKenna, 21, Trans Activist

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"What I wish I had known before going to my first Pride was that people who are lumped together with you in those six bold letters may not be marching for you — and some even are oppressing you. That some men and women would judge my choices and my life as a trans person. I was confused because, as a kid of my generation, I googled and learned about Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who were the pioneers of the gay liberation movement. The people who they fought for, told them no, we’re not marching for you. What did Marsha and Sylvia do? They persisted, and they they marched. That’s what Pride is for me."


Allison Turner, 25, Human Rights Campaign, Deputy Press Secretary

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"Pride is all about building community and learning about the issues facing us. If your Pride has a festival where organizations have booths with information — go! It's such a great opportunity to learn about what's happening in your community, and you may even find an organization to volunteer at, donate to or otherwise support!"


Lyra Dunseith, 30, Intersectional Trans Rights And Trans Health Activist

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"Before my first Pride, I wish I had known more about the context I was marching in — I wish I had known the actual history of queer riots and the importance of marching in solidarity with people of color, the trans people, sex workers, who have been fighting for queer rights for decades, only to be pushed back down in the name of assimilation."


Laya Monarez, 35, Human Rights Campaign Operations Coordinator

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"Bring a water bottle with you because it's hot in the summer and the lines can get really long for food and drinks. It's Pride, so be sure to wear rainbows or something really bright and fabulous to celebrate."


Kae Burdo, 29, Queer Activist

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"I honestly can't remember when or where my first Pride was, though it must have been in Burlington (VT) in my teens. Over the years though, one of the things I've found most important to remember is that queer doesn't look any one way. It's easy to make assumptions about people who look "normie" at Pride, or couples that look straight to you, but people in our community come in all shapes, stripes, and styles, and 'passing' doesn't mean 'cishet.' Ace [asexual], aro [aromantic], and bi/pan people in hetero relationships all belong at Pride, and not all of us are comfortable in booty shorts, glitter, and rainbows."


Nick Morrow, 27, Human Rights Campaign, Press Secretary, Southern States

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"I wish I had known my LGBTQ history better before attending my first Pride. Pride started as a protest, and while we can and should celebrate our progress, we have to continue to carry the torch our queer ancestors passed down to us so that we aren't complacent with our victories. Pride is what it is today because of previous generations' struggles and their bold stances against injustice and discrimination. We should have fun at Pride, but we should be aware of why we have the privilege to do so."


Kevin Johnson, 36, Queer And Poly Community Organizer Against Private And State Sponsored Oppressors

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"Before my first Pride, I wish I had a clearer understanding of what being an out bisexual man truly entailed. That is to say that my experiences since have showed that I occupy a liminal space between straight and gay that has often been overlooked on both ends of the sexually spectrum. Had I known, I would have been more vocal, more seen, and less complicit in my own erasure."


Robin Wilson-Beattie, Disability Rights Activist

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"My first Pride was in Memphis, TN, in the 1990s. It was the first Pride parade in Memphis, period, and at that time, the first in the Delta region (an area of TN, smack dab between Arkansas and Mississippi). What do I wish I knew beforehand? I wish I knew to take some pictures to commemorate the experience of being part of the queer community in such a large-scale gathering. I would have loved to have had a lasting memory that captured the strength and support of that day. I wish I had known that protesters would show up, and prepared myself to frame my thoughts and behavior towards people who were screaming that we were unnatural, going to hell, and getting AIDS — I wasn't prepared for all of that. Despite that bit of negativity, the entire experience was an extremely empowering first."

Whether it's your first Pride or your fifteenth, get out there this year. Wear those rainbows. Bring water. And remember everything it took to get you there.