What it means to have pride
A queer woman’s take on the Straight Pride Parade
This is the clearest memory I have of elementary school: in first grade, a girl in my class kissed her female friend on the cheek and my gym teacher broke them apart, saying it was inappropriate. I had that teacher for my entire elementary school education, but I would never see her that angry again. The image of that teacher is forever burned into my brain; for years, I believed I remembered her so clearly because I loved her class so much. Now I think that it might be because that incident was the first time I was shown that a woman loving another woman was inherently wrong.
It didn’t stop there. Neighborhood parties my family and I frequented were full of happily married husbands and wives boasting about their kids; my favorite books and movies featured young girls lusting after boys; it was decided that I was no longer allowed to have sleepovers with my male friends — my only friends at the time. When I started daydreaming about marrying and raising children with the girls at my middle school, I was scared. Growing up, everything around me told me I was supposed to fall for a boy, and when the idea of gayness was mentioned, it was often as the butt of a joke or rude comment.
I still struggle with my lesbian identity; there is a part of me that feels wrong for being gay. Ever since I came out, I’ve worked towards unlearning all of the self-hate that has been built into me since that day in gym class. I am constantly working and struggling to be proud in my sexual orientation.
There is, however, an institution created with the intent to actively shame queer people for who they love: conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is a practice in which people who are often regarded as mental health professionals use various methods — from physical harm such as electrocuting or drugging patients to emotional harm such as encouraging isolation from friends and family and making patients feel guilty for their same-sex attraction — in an attempt to influence LGBTQIA+ people to adopt heterosexuality.
It is still legal to perform conversion therapy in Ann Arbor, even on minors.
I’ve struggled my entire life to accept myself and be proud with who I am; it baffles me that there are people profiting from making gay people feel dirty and wrong and disgusted with themselves. Nobody makes their living off of shaming straight people for being straight.
But, in August of 2019, several hundred marchers paraded the streets of Boston, carrying signs reading statements such as “Straight Lives Matter,” “Make Normalcy Normal Again,” and “Take Back the Rainbow.” This event was called the Straight Pride Parade.
Preceding this, the organization Super Happy Fun America (SHFA) made a request to fly a straight pride flag they created in a flag raising ceremony at the Boston City Hall. This was one of two flag requests that has been rejected by the city of Boston (the other was a Christian flag), which flew over 280 flags as of October 2019. In response, SHFA organized their Straight Pride event.
“Ever since 2017, we’ve been fighting against the city,” said Samson Racioppi, the Grassroots Organizer at SHFA. “We wanted to demonstrate to the city that we’re not going away. Whether they like us or not, they’re going to have to deal with us.”
In my interview with Racioppi, he expressed how he, as a straight male, feels discriminated against based on his sexuality: queer people are represented in film, the media doesn’t cover attacks that have occured against him, the family unit (one man and one woman raising a child) is being eroded. He believes that “heterosexual values are under attack.”
“When the media fails to report on the fact that we’re being attacked, we have to come up with more creative ways to get their attention,” Racioppi said. “Our way of getting their attention was organizing the straight pride parade.”
The issues Raccioppi faces as a heterosexual in no way compare to the historical and systemic oppression of the LGBTQIA+ community. Queer minors who come out to their parents can face disownment and homelessness, having been kicked out of their homes. An employer can still fire someone based solely on their sexuality or gender identity — equal rights still do not legally apply to queer citizens. Gay people were legally barred from immigrating to the United States until 1990.
“There’s a level of fear that comes with being queer that straight people just can’t understand,” said Sage Iwashyna, the President of CHS’ Queer Straight Alliance (QSA). “They can’t understand what it’s like to be afraid to love someone.”
There are things I have to worry about solely because of my lesbian identity. My options for colleges are limited, as I have to make sure I attend a school where I will be safe. Every time I go in for my yearly check up with my pediatritian, I fill out a questionnaire in which I am asked if I am or think I might be queer, then have to sit through an uncomfortable discussion with my doctor about my sexuality. At the camp where I work in the summer, I worry that, in being openly queer, my campers’ parents will later complain. My attraction to women is often questioned, and I am asked to explain why I’m gay and how I know I’m gay and am I sure I’m gay? There have been times I’ve been the only queer person in a group of people and have been asked to speak for the experiences entire LGBTQIA+ community. I have to worry about my physical safety at all times — there are high rates of violence against the LGBTQIA+ community, which is where gay pride originated from.
On June 12, 1969, police raided The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar. This was relatively common practice at the time; the officer in charge, Seymour Pine, had performed a similar raid at the same bar just four days preceding the Stonewall Riots. At the time, men could be arrested for wearing drag, and women must be wearing at least three pieces of “feminine clothing” to avoid jailing. That summer night, however, is often recognized as a catalyst for the queer movement towards equality because LGBTQIA+ customers fought back.
“[Queer] pride was a protest,” Iwashyna said. “It was a call for justice, a call for people to wake up and understand that queer people are people who need rights and who need to stop being murdered.”
Nearly 50 years following the Stonewall Riots, Omar Saddiqui Mateen of Orlando, FL opened fire in a queer nightclub, Pulse, injuring more than 50 and killing 49. This is the second most deadly mass shooting in all of American history. Half a century of fighting for rights, equality and pride, and there is still widespread violence against queer people.
Straight pride, beyond mocking the significance of LGBTQIA+ pride, is contorted in its name: pride. Throughout my life there has been an endless struggle for pride in my gayness. Until 1991, it was illegal to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community — to be proud and queer was criminal, to be wrong in every aspect of the word. Heterosexuality has never been made so illegitimate. Straight people don’t have to unlearn years of social cues showing them it is perverse and dirty to be proud. There is nothing wrong with having pride in heterosexuality, but to boast about it in such a manner as the Straight Pride Parade is an affront to the hardships of LGBTQIA+ people, who had to fight for their pride.
More than that, Straight Pride takes focus away from the effort of queer people to gain equal rights, which is one of the main purposes of gay pride.
“Straight pride demeans queer people and our movement,” Iwashyna said. “It takes it and it twists it and it creates and feeds into this idea that queer people aren’t actually fighting for rights.”
Everyone deserves the freedom to speak their mind without fear of repercussions. If SHFA wants to fly their straight flag, they should fly it. But they shouldn’t call their movement pride. They should never compare their request to fly a flag being rejected to the violence and systematic discrimination that queer people face. There are more pressing issues than not being allowed to fly a flag — let’s focus on those.