How To Participate In Pride Without Making It About You
Pride weekend is upon us, and while for many people, it's the culmination of a month-long celebration of the LGBTQ community, for others, it inspires anxiety. If you're reasonably committed to good allyship, you may see queer folks playfully dunking on straight people all over social media and wonder how to participate in Pride without making it about you — or whether that's even possible. The good news is, being straight during Pride is not actually illegal, despite what the memes may tell you; straight folks just have to put in some work to decenter themselves at Pride. This mostly comes down to policing your own identity in space, so that others don't have to, which can result in queer-identified but straight-passing folks feeling unwelcome in their own community. In other words, be mindful of the space you want to be in, who it's intended for, and how you can best support that group, even if it disrupts your good time.
But this advice isn't just for straight people! Queers, too, can do the work of looking out for marginalized people in our own communities — are you supporting events that are accessible to low-income queers, who are disproportionately black, brown, and trans? Are you choosing accessible venues for your own parties to be inclusive of disabled queers who may wish to attend? Are you carving out time to do community outreach with queer sex workers, queer homeless youth, or incarcerated queers, as well as partying this month? Even though Pride is a celebration of us, it's important to always be doing the work of making more space for our own.
Here are a few ways for everyone to celebrate more harmoniously this Pride.
1. Know Your History (And Your Herstory, Too)
There's a reason all your queer friends keep posting "The first Pride was a riot." It's because a shocking number of people who celebrate Pride don't know its history. Pride commemorates the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village which, like most gay bars of the era, was subjected to constant raids, frequently resulting in the brutal beating and rape of queer folks at the hands of police. It marks a moment in history when queers fought back against police violence and successfully chased off a hateful, oppressive police force, inspiring a literal and figurative movement toward queer liberation. It was spontaneous. It was violent. And it was a riot.
In other words, corporations who build lavish floats and drape their signage with rainbows during the month of June did not invent Pride. Queer people did, and their contributions (and continuing struggles) are frequently overlooked so that straight people can take credit for a fun party that essentially objectifies queerness. Pride doesn't exist without the tireless work of activists who continue doing the work of queer liberation, which is very, very far from over. Celebrating Pride while remaining ignorant to their contributions — or worse, judgmental of their necessary tactics to disrupt the status quo — is straight up disrespectful.
Similarly, bringing an "I don't see gender, I see people" attitude to Pride, especially for cisgender pansexual or heteroflexible folks, can be just as invalidating of the queer experience as claiming "I don't see race." It's not that being sexually fluid isn't a valid way to move through the world; it is! But it's important to recognize and respect that queer bodies carry the death and trauma of queer identities. Claiming that we're post-gender or post-sexual identity ignores the realities of a queer communal history of trauma.
2. Don't Take Up Space At The Expense Of A Marginalized Person
Whether you live in a big city with crowded Pride events or a city with smaller events but a thriving queer population, Pride festivities can be overflowing with attendees. If you're a straight, cisgender person at a party that's filled to capacity and there's a line of queers at the door waiting to get in, then you can be a good ally in a very simple way: leave! Give your space to a queer person! In social justice spaces, we often talk about how privileged people need to be more mindful of how they "take up space," centering their own experience instead of listening to marginalized people. This is the literal, physical version of that.
By occupying a spot at a party meant to be one of the few safe and celebratory spaces for queer folks while an actual queer person has to wait outside, you're literally taking up queer space as a straight person. Consider leaving and going to a less crowded party, coming back at a less busy hour, or just finding something else to do. Straight people can party safely anywhere. Let queer people enjoy the spaces they've carved out for themselves this weekend.
Similarly, if you're a white queer and you spot an advertised QTPOC (queer/trans people of color) party, skip it unless explicitly invited. Don't force organizers to police identities at the door, potentially putting a white-passing person of color in an awkward situation; police your own presence. QTPOC have the right to curate safer spaces for themselves without worrying about catering to white fragility.
3. Pay More Than The Suggested Entry Price If You Can
Many events outside of Pride that are organized by and for queer people have a sliding scale entry fee to accommodate how financial barriers affect us differently based on our intersectional identities. It's very common to see cover charges that ask white attendees to pay more, with a reduced rate for people of color in attendance, or for a pricing breakdown to reserve the lowest ticket fees for women and trans folks while charging higher fees to cis gay men. It's a simple, caring model to make queer events more accessible to people who face structural economic barriers outside their control, while asking a little bit more from people who benefit from their equally arbitrary privileges.
If you're attending a Pride event — especially one put on by queer organizers, rather than a corporate sponsor — and you don't see a pricing breakdown that includes higher fees for straight folks in attendance, consider paying more and calling it a donation. What you don't see happening behind the scenes is that, within queer community, it's pretty common for folks to reach out to organizers explaining that they wish to attend an event but can't afford the cover fee. Organizers typically plan for this and set aside a number of tickets to give away or discount on an as-needed basis. So you paying more helps offset this cost to an organizer making space for low-income folks. Plus, you're using your privilege as a straight person to help a queer person participate in their own community!
4. Don't Complain About Being Straight-Passing
If you're queer-identified but in a straight-passing relationship, or queer-identified but constantly get mistaken for straight in queer spaces, please reconsider posting your annual social media rant about being made to feel "not queer enough" at Pride. Firstly, no one can "make us" feel anything; and our feelings generally come from our own baggage, in this case, feelings of inadequacy about our own queerness. And secondly, publicly complaining about being straight-passing in queer spaces is just tacky, unthoughtful, and insensitive to queers with less cisheteronormative identities.
There's a massive contingent of queer folks on social media this year who have taken on the challenge of calling in members of their own community, gently reminding them not to police queerness or gate-keep queer identity at Pride. Do your part, too, by recognizing your straight-passing privilege and respecting the struggle of those who can't share in it.
On the flip side...
5. Don't Assume Everyone Is Your Sh*tty Closet Case Ex
If you're a queer person at Pride, don't align the bisexual woman holding her husband's hand with the mean girl from high school who dumped you for a boy because she decided she was "just experimenting." The queer dude with his girlfriend is not your high school tormentor who secretly hooked up with you simply "denying" his gayness. Everyone is on their own path and deserves to be seen as requested. Affirm people where they're at instead of projecting your baggage onto them. Be accountable for your own personal trauma, rather than holding your queer siblings responsible for the people in your past who let you down.
6. Embrace Diversity — Even In Consent Practices
Thanks to the hard work of the #MeToo movement, this past year has been a great one for helping everyone to become more mindful during their sexual encounters and sharpen their consent skills. Pride can feel like the perfect place to trot out your newfound knowledge and practice in the field! But consider this: consent isn't just about securing permission for every single act you want to perform; it's also about discovering what types of consent people prefer. And different queer communities — say cis gay male spaces versus queer women's spaces — have differing cultures of consent, which isn't inherently bad or wrong.
Not everyone wants or needs a barrage of verbal questions about what's OK to feel safe. Some people prefer flirtatious or erotically-charged encounters to unfold organically. Consider, asking at the outset of the encounter "How do you like to practice consent?" instead of checking in during every "Can I kiss you?" or "Is the way I'm touching you OK?" moment.
Celebrating queerness is all about celebrating diversity without judgement — expand that idea to include diversity in types of consent. People may have consent preferences you never even imagined!
Ultimately, decentering yourself at Pride is all about striking a balance between taking personal accountability and making room for others with humility, grace, kindness, and generosity. When in doubt, just ask the nearest queer how you can support them!