Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hampton Roads Pridefest

I went to LGBTQ Pride last weekend for the first time and it was awesome. First off, Hampton Roads Pridefest is apparently the only Pride event in America that does its parade on the water. (Having lived on the peninsula for two years and become familiar with the sheer amount of water everywhere, this did not surprise me.)

Boats floated past us dressed up with rainbows, giant high heels, waving drag queens, and all sorts of other joyful paraphernalia and exuberance.

While our Pridefest is on the smaller side (this is the South, after all), they managed to cram a good amount of booths and people into the park that had been cordoned off for the event. Hampton Roads museums had set up a forest of photos, with captions about the lives of the queers who came before us, both activists and everyday humans. A quilt over thirty feet long was spread across the grass nearby, each large panel celebrating an individual in the community who lost their life to AIDS.

I was impressed and overjoyed that four different churches had booths there, dishing out rainbow-painted fans, hugs, and invitations to those interested to church picnics and events.

The HRC (Human Rights Campaign), despite being the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in America, wasn't doing much beyond getting people to join up, but I chatted with them anyway. Everyone was friendly--everyone. It was like a fair (fried food included), but everyone was kind and congenial toward everyone else.

I was a little sad when I saw that only two other booths advertised advocacy opportunities. But maybe this year was a year to relax: we gained marriage equality only the day before! I cried when I heard the news: didn't think I would, but I did. So did all my queer friends, even though most of us are married. Winning recognition in those last 13 states as equal human beings (at least when it comes to marriage) was a big deal.

Those are bi, ace, and trans flags in the background. We
recognize all the letters!

There's a lot still to do: few states have anti-discrimination laws for housing, employment, etc., and even fewer have anti-discrimination laws that apply to transgender folks. That's the other reason we have Pride. On the one hand, we celebrate what's been accomplished; on the other, we get together to work on securing the rest of our rights.

Pride is a chance for everyone to get together and be encouraged by being around people who are similar. I've rarely been in a place where I felt so accepted. I felt like I wasn't going to be judged by anyone and I could be myself fully and completely.

Or I could be Captain America. I like being
the Cap. Bisexual superheroes for the win!

It was also a relief to finally be surrounded by true diversity. The South is so stratified, with each place and micro-community extremely homogeneous: black or white, straight or queer, male or female. Pride was a melting pot of races, relationships, and gender expressions.

It was a relief to be surrounded by an accurate make-up of my diverse city.

Since some people don't know much about Pride events, let me clear up a few things: nobody walked around nude. Nobody talked about sex or handed dildoes to kids. (There was a single booth that anything to do with sex, and it was completely screened to protect the many rainbow-clad children running around.) PDA included hand-holding and kisses on the cheek, the level you'd see at most fairs. There was no rampant hitting on each other.

There were lots of gals with pixie haircuts (myself included!) and one man in a kilt. Lots of people smiling and chatting and making new friends. Lots of rainbows--did I mention that yet? As well as an inordinate amount of people with t-shirts that read, "I'm not gay, my [wife/husband] is."

There are some people who bemoan the number of straight cis folks going to Pride these days, but to be honest, you couldn't really tell. And with bi and pan folks, you really can't tell.

A bi pride flag.

At the risk of pissing those bemoaners off, I'd like to offer a suggestion. If you're a straight cis person who has a friend or family member who's queer, or you're simply curious, or if you find yourself feeling nervous about Pride, I propose you attend your city's Pride next year. Find a brave friend, or wear dark sunglasses and a wig, and come join us. Seriously, be around us.

You'll discover something really amazing: we are nearly indistinguishable from you.

Word count: 744.

Full disclosure: the author of this article is a bisexual feminist who typically finds rainbows mildly upsetting--all those bright colors clashing together. But sometimes being proud is a stronger feeling than dislike. And sometimes colors you think will clash actually don't.