Find­ing pride in PRIDE

GA Voice - - Outspoken - By DAR­IAN AARON daaron@the­gavoice.com

The first time I at­tended a gay pride pa­rade was in the sum­mer of 1999 in New York City. I was fresh off the plane from Mont­gomery, Alabama, and fi­nally free of all the re­stric­tions that were com­mon­place for a queer kid of color raised in the Bi­ble Belt. In the years prior, my sense of com­mu­nity and af­fir­ma­tion as a samegender-lov­ing man con­sisted of char­ac­ters from E. Lynn Harris nov­els and the leg­endary queens from Jen­nie Liv­ingston’s doc­u­men­tary, “Paris Is Burn­ing.” It was the lat­ter that be­gan my in­fat­u­a­tion with New York City and all the prom­ise it held for an openly gay man who longed to ex­ist as his au­then­tic self with­out hav­ing to con­stantly be on the de­fen­sive.

As I ex­ited the sub­way sta­tion and stepped onto Christo­pher Street, the sights and sounds of Pride were over­whelm­ing. For the first time in my life I wasn’t alone. The thing that made me a tar­get for ridicule by schoolyard bul­lies and evoked dis­ap­prov­ing glances from par­ents, in­clud­ing my own, was be­ing cel­e­brated. The eu­pho­ria I felt in that mo­ment as I was en­gulfed in a sea of (mostly white) queer bod­ies, that ap­peared to stretch fur­ther than the hu­man eye could see, was life-af­firm­ing. My gay iden­tity was val­i­dated that day. But even at the ten­der age of 19, I was aware that my dual iden­tity as a same-gen­der-lov­ing man of color was a source of con­flict, a kind of push and pull in pre­dom­i­nantly (white) gay spa­ces where it ap­peared that one part of my iden­tity was ex­pected to be el­e­vated over the other.

I don’t re­call the first time I at­tended At­lanta Black Gay Pride; from be­ing a spec­ta­tor to work­ing as a re­porter to ul­ti­mately serv­ing as an or­ga­nizer of the an­nual State of Black Gay Amer­ica Sum­mit, the years have all run to­gether in my head. But I do re­mem­ber ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a sim­i­lar eu­pho­ria as I stood on Peachtree Street and watched as throngs of beau­ti­ful black gay men stood in line at Bull­dogs or saun­tered about in the park­ing lot, or as thou­sands gath­ered on Sun­day at Pied­mont Park. This was dif­fer­ent from my Christo­pher Street ex­pe­ri­ence. This was home. It was a re­flec­tion of who I was at my core, black and same gen­der lov­ing; two in­ter­sect­ing iden­ti­ties that beck­oned to be cel­e­brated si­mul­ta­ne­ously in the open with­out the iden­tity pol­i­tics that threat­ened to frag­ment my ex­is­tence in other spa­ces. It was beau­ti­ful and nec­es­sary on the sur­face, yet deeply prob­lem­atic un­der­neath.

I’ve al­ways had a love/hate re­la­tion­ship with At­lanta Black Gay Pride. The chis­eled bod­ies, end­less par­ties, and in­flated club ad­mis­sions over La­bor Day week­end that re­main a draw for thou­sands of peo­ple who travel to celebrate Pride in At­lanta have of­ten left me with the re­cur­ring ques­tion: where is the pride in Pride? And be­yond that, what hap­pens in the lives of the men and women who are out and proud and a col­lec­tive force to be reck­oned with over La­bor Day week­end once they re­turn home and the par­ties have ended?

For some, I’m sure the work con­tin­ues. Don’t get me wrong; I un­der­stand the pur­pose of par­ty­ing dur­ing Pride and even the his­tor­i­cal sense of refuge night­clubs have pro­vided LGBT peo­ple in a world that of­fered very few spa­ces where we could be our au­then­tic selves, or the sense of com­mu­nity Pride gives those who may not have ac­cess to gay nightlife and the re­sources that a ma­jor city like At­lanta pro­vides. But if we as a com­mu­nity are the roots of the tree, then we must bear fruit and make a com­mit­ment to in­vest in our col­lec­tive po­lit­i­cal agency. The over­all draw for Pride must move be­yond lin­ing the pock­ets of party pro­mot­ers and het­ero­sex­ual celebrity en­ter­tain­ers over the course of a des­ig­nated week­end.

We must party with a pur­pose. We must be­come fully aware that the very act of show­ing up in our fam­i­lies or at work as our au­then­tic black queer selves, or hold­ing the hand of our part­ner out­side the safety of the “gay­bor­hood” of 10th and Pied­mont, or wor­ship­ping in an LGBT af­firm­ing church, or tak­ing the steps to de­mand re­spect as a bi­sex­ual or trans per­son of color is an act of po­lit­i­cal de­fi­ance to be ex­er­cised daily, not just dur­ing a hol­i­day week­end. Our de­trac­tors who con­tinue to work to marginal­ize our com­mu­nity and deny us a seat at the ta­ble would want noth­ing more than to iso­late our pride to night­clubs and LGBT en­claves.

The eu­pho­ria I felt on Christo­pher Street nearly 20 years ago doesn’t have to be fleet­ing or re­served for a cer­tain seg­ment of the LGBT com­mu­nity. We in the black gay com­mu­nity have the eco­nomic abil­ity and for­ti­tude to cre­ate the kind of world, and yes, even the kind of Black Gay Pride cel­e­bra­tions, that will con­tinue to pro­vide a much-needed es­cape from dual op­pres­sions, but will also give us a rea­son to be proud long af­ter the crowds have dis­persed and we re­turn to face the daily chal­lenges of ex­is­tence as black LGBT peo­ple. Oth­er­wise, we run the real risk of Black Gay Pride be­com­ing a cir­cuit party by another name.

“It was a re­flec­tion of who I was at my core, black and same gen­der lov­ing; two in­ter­sect­ing iden­ti­ties that beck­oned to be cel­e­brated si­mul­ta­ne­ously in the open with­out the iden­tity pol­i­tics that threat­ened to frag­ment my ex­is­tence in other spa­ces. It was beau­ti­ful and nec­es­sary on the sur­face, yet deeply prob­lem­atic un­der­neath.”

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