Yesterday, I attended the Atlanta Pride Parade. Oh wait. Did I say ‘attended’? I meant marched in. It was a mile and a half of unreasonably hot and sticky weather, complete with floats, trucks, banners, rainbow-wearing people with not a whole lot of clothing on, flags, and the tallest pair of glittery platform boots I have ever seen.
It was also a mile and a half of thoroughly eye-opening experience.
In a cross country race, I run more than twice that distance in under half an hour, and somehow every race feels the same. But this? This mile and a half walk may have changed my life.
It’s not one of those big TV-Reveal sorts of things. It’s more of a “oh hey, the world can look very, very different from the way I usually see it,” sorts of things.
I’m a straight, cisgender female. I don’t exactly deal with a lot of discrimination for who or what I am on a day-to-day basis. So, I tend to see the world in a slightly toned-down way. I am an observer. I live life on the periphery, very seldom in the direct crosshairs of any conflict.
After yesterday, though, it’s like someone took my watercolor world and turned up the color saturation.
I’ve seen a lot that I sometimes wish I hadn’t, but much of the time I ignore it. And that has to stop. Because there were so many people out there sharing stories, holding up signs. Those stories were ones of hardship. And it’s just a small sampling of the stories out there. I’ve known that. But I don’t think it really it home for me until yesterday, and there are a couple of specific reasons why.
- The pride parade is a protest. It’s easy to forget that, because it’s bright and festive, and it’s full of people rejoicing in who they are. But it’s one day, out of a whole year, that they get the opportunity to do that. A lot of people take their freedom of self-expression for granted, but you know what? As much as it should be a human right, love seems not to be. And even on this day, the one day when being expressive is guaranteed, people still show up to shut these people down.
Yeah, that’s right. You can even read that sentence again if you need to. People showed up to protest our protest.
We were marching, with our signs and banners and flags, and just as we turned a corner, we ran into a group of people on the sidelines, holding up giant squares of cardboard, declaring that equality is wrong, and that God loves some people more than others, and who the hell even knows what. My point is that they showed up for no reason other than to try and disrupt the event.
The incredible part is what happened next. People from the parade stopped marching and walked over to the sidelines, where the protest-protesters were. And then they pulled out giant cardboard flowers, mounted them on tall rods, and held them up in front of the offensive signs, so that they could not be seen. They did not say anything, they did not shout or yell, or make a scene. They just quietly sent a very, very powerful message, just by holding up a few flowers.
- The community represented was much more diverse than I ever really considered. I saw a sign being held up a few people over that said “Soy Gay, Soy Cristiano, y Dios me ama,” which in Spanish translates to “I’m gay, I’m a Christian, and God loves me.”
I ended up speaking with the man and woman holding up the sign. Neither of them spoke much English, so the conversation was entirely in Spanish. I learned that they live together, and he is a chef at one of the restaurants that lines the road. And he’s bisexual, and has suffered a lot for it in his very Christian community. Neither of them spoke enough English to know exactly what was going on with the pride parade, but as she put it, “Vi el desfile y los colores, y no supe nada, pero supe que quise escribir estas palabras, y caminar con ellos. Y él los vió también, y lo quiso también,” or, “I saw the parade, and all I knew was that I wanted to write these words and march with them, and he saw what was going on too, and wanted to walk with them as well.”
I think that I, and probably many others, tend to think about LGBTQA prosecution as something endemic to the US, because that’s where we live, and those are the people with whom we interact. But I realized yesterday just how widespread an issue it is. But it’s also a widespread community. That conversation I had with that woman could never have happened anywhere else. The reason it happened at all is because we were all there for very similar reasons, and that was what mattered. Not language, not skin color, not sexual orientation, not gender, not religion. Just the fact that we all wanted to stand up for someone else or for ourselves.
- I noticed something else, something tiny.
The Shakespeare Tavern is a fairly nice theater in Atlanta. I’ve been there a lot of times to go and see a lot of Shakespeare shows. And it’s looked the same from the outside every time. I’m kind of used to it, as just a part of the scenery. But as we were marching, and we passed by it, something was very different from the way I usually see it. A group of the actors who work there were all gathered at one of the second-floor windows, holding out a sign that read, “This above all” To thine own self be true.”
To be fair, this quote meant something very different in Elizabethan times. But if I’m willing to forget that for the moment, which I am, i think there’s something extraordinary about it.
I’m used to seeing places like the Shakespeare Tavern as safe havens, simply because when I go there, I am there to be unapologetically literary, and I’m usually there with friends.
Now I see it as a place where people can just be, unapologetically anything.
It might not show a whole lot outwardly, but after marching yesterday, I am a different person. I see my city in a different way. Part of the purpose of the parade is to give people an opportunity to be themselves, as loudly and colorfully as they want. I wasn’t there to do that for myself. But even so. I think that just being around so many people who are, whether for one day or for their whole lives, just comfortable in their own skins, taught me something. I would love to rock that level of confidence. I’d probably go about it in a different way, just because dyeing my whole head of hair bright purple, stripping down to my underwear, and wearing seven-inch rainbow stilletos isn’t my style. But I am, without a doubt, inspired by these amazing people who are willing to do what they do with such pride.
They live their lives with the color and brightness turned all the way up, and if I had to sum up what makes the pride parade so extraordinary, that would be it.