It’s gloomy stepping out my door gazing at the Marina. I board and exit my bus without event, continue down Stockton, and turn on Market for the final block of my morning commute. My music’s blaring as my mind gets started on the day’s work; it’s a typical morning.
But as I make that final turn, something happens. Something’s different. I’m struck by color. I gaze down Market and see flags. So many flags. I smile, endorphins creep up my back, and I start walking. Walking blocks, walking whole neighborhoods, I see more flags.
I reach the edge of the Castro. I see a destination, an expression of love. One massive rainbow flag conquering the neighborhood, now surrounded by so many other smaller heartbeats.
The gloomy day is lit by rainbows. Happiness consumes my body; I feel pride.
June is Pride month. Every day this June I’ve seen those flags on my way to work. As I pass I take a moment to look up and smile. I smile for the present, where I’m at today and who I am; but, I also smile for past, where I’ve been and who I was.
My experience as a gay man has been bookmarked by this annual month of celebration. I came out nearly five years ago and thinking back, I can remember where I was each year as rainbow flags cycled through cities nationwide. In those early years, though, I didn’t know what Pride was. I thought to myself: What are we celebrating? Why is this celebration called Pride?
I’m not sure pride was even a part of my vocabulary back then. The most dominant emotion I felt in the months leading up to my coming out and months or at least year after doing so was shame. I felt guilty for being different. I felt ashamed for the pain I was inflicting on my close family and loved ones. I felt worried not knowing if I’d ever find acceptance.
My darkest days were the ones I spent inside my head: when I felt unworthy of support, of being heard, or of being seen for who I really am. What I learned over time, though, is that the antidote to those days is opening up: reaching out to a friend, loved one, pouring my thoughts into words and ameliorating my shame through expression. By the end of my junior year, I began moving from an environment of shame to acceptance.
I didn’t attend Pride my first two years after coming out for many reasons, but thinking back on it, the most salient explanation is that I wasn’t ready. I didn’t feel pride for my sexuality or for “me.” By junior year, I had my first shot. I marched in the New York Pride parade with one of my closest friends. 24 hours after the Obergefell (gay marriage) Supreme Court decision, it was a day of pure joy. Walking the route, accepting the positive energy of the city, feeling at peace and empowered, I felt pride.
It’s in that moment that it all clicked. It’s a near universal experience in our LGBTQ+ community to feel rejected, unworthy, or invalid. Pride is our collective opportunity to rise up and take ownership of our identities; fighting for the world we all want to live in.
Another thought clicked in that moment, though; one I was far less proud of. Looking around at pride, I see a lack of diversity. Members of our LGBTQ+ community face different, ongoing, and structural challenges to express their true colors. It’s easy to forget this struggle in the ecstasy of celebration. Our community can do a better job ensuring that we are inclusive and fight for those left behind. Only when we rise up together, do we fulfill the vision of Pride.
We all deserve to feel pride, regardless of our sexual orientations. When we stand together with colored hands and colored hearts our message is amplified. It’s in this spirit that Pride lives within us all.
It’s beautiful stepping out my door gazing at the Marina. There is warmth all around. We rendezvous at the parade, exchanging hugs and kisses. We walk up Market, still flanked by flags on either side, but now also surrounded by floods of rainbow colored life. I smile, endorphins creep up my back, and we keep walking.
We reach Civic Center. We see a celebration, an expression of love. The symphony of noises reverberating through musical hearts.
The beautiful day is colored by rainbows. Happiness consumes our bodies; we all feel pride.