I’ll leave it to others to discuss whether Pride celebrations still serve a purpose besides an excuse for extravagant parties these days, or to argue the wisdom of parades that combine the poignant, the political, and the dubiously tasteful. I know there is ample debate there, and for every friend I have who looks forward to Pride Week here in NYC all year long, I have another who will do anything to avoid it, and lament that it makes them ashamed to be associated with the community. But regardless of one’s take on the festivities, I’d like to see Pride taken as a call to action, to make our community one to be proud of.
It’s easy to declare one’s pride, much as it’s easy to wave a flag and proclaim one’s self a patriot. But I’m not any more interested in “my LGBT community right or wrong” any more than I am in “my country, right or wrong.” Real pride, like real patriotism, requires a willingness to not only see the good in something, but also the flaws. More importantly, it demands doing something to make good those flaws.
In that spirit, the advocacy around Pride should not just be about demanding rights from others – it should also be demanding action from ourselves. Not just action in the service of protesting and petitioning for full equal treatment, but also action in the service of making sure we, as a community, take care of our brothers and sisters. That we help give each other, and ourselves, a community to be proud of.
There are countless ways to do this. LGBT youth are at a far greater risk of homelessness, and all the dangers that entails, than any other demographic. Yet there are few programs and places, such as AliForneyCenter here in NYC, that care for them and help to give them a chance to grow into proud contributors to the LGBT community. How can we be truly proud when there are LGBT youths forced into homelessness, prostitution, and worse because of uncaring families, if we do not stand up to take care of them in a caring way?
As for my own effort to start a new-media outreach to combat the resurgence of HIV? Well, part of why I’m doing that is because looking back, I’m amazed by – and proud of – what the LGBT community managed to accomplish in combating HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Whether it was caring for those sickened by the virus, or making condoms de rigueur for any hookup, or forcing the government to take action, there’s no denying we accomplished a lot.
But how can I be proud if we let those advances slip away, simply because some people feel its “been done,” or if some of the organizations we founded that once led the way have experienced such mission creep they’ve been rendered ineffective in stalling a return to the bad old days? Can I be proud when I hear a teenager declare that he’s comfortable having unprotected sex with his partner of one week because “he doesn’t look sick,” or “they have pills for it, anyways?” Or when he betrays the influence of unscrupulous bareback porn producers, proclaiming unprotected sex is just “so much hotter” than that depicted by studios who actually take care of their community and their performers?
I can’t. But I am proud of who I am. I’m proud of many people in my community, past and present. I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve made, and the progress we’ve seen. And because I’m proud of that, I consider it my duty this Pride season, to do what I can to make our community better, to treat my LGBT brothers and sisters with respect and care, and make sure that the achievements of the past are not lost, and that we have many more in the future to celebrate – with pride.