Dispatches from Fabu-lachia: Why we still need Pride

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If you’ve ever wanted to meet a bearded bear of a rugged country singer, a band of banjo-playing crust-punk baby dykes, or a troupe of honkytonk drag queens fanning themselves with vinyl records in the June heat, you should have been at Pride Week in Charleston, West Virginia.

A small but vibrant celebration of Pride took place earlier this month in West Virginia’s capital city and attracted residents from all over the Mountain State. With a population of a little more than 50,000, Charleston is the state’s largest city and is home to NPR’s Mountain Stage program, and more recently, the MTV series Buckwild.

Despite the state’s fiercely conservative nature, celebrations of LGBT culture could be found thanks to community organizations such as Rainbow Pride of West Virginia.

Pride Week in Charleston was characterized by some of the more campy displays of LGBT Pride you’d find in a major, gay-friendly city, but for the most part, a visitor more accustomed to festivities taking place this month in New York or San Francisco might be struck by how family-centric and low-key the majority of the events were.

There were plenty of adults with small children in tow, as well as older folks who were there representing their LGBT-friendly church or social organization. In addition to multiple drag shows and other performances, there was a senior meet-and-greet and a well-attended interfaith worship service.

Acting as the Grand Marshals of the 2013 West Virginia Pride Parade were Rev. Rose Edington and Rev. Mel Hoover, ministers at Charleston’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

There is a spectrum of opinions on Pride, with some asking in recent years whether Pride parades and festivals are necessary anymore. Haven’t we already reached tremendous levels of acceptance since the days of Stonewall, Harvey Milk, and emergence of the Gay Liberation movement of the 1970’s? How can we ask for affirmation from the country’s majority culture when we continue to make such a spectacle of ourselves in the streets?

Some critics have argued that Pride has become obsolete in today’s post-gay cultural atmosphere, even venturing to say that Pride is setting the queer community back, and that we’d gain more from assimilating into the mainstream culture than from behaving like a flashy separatist group. I humbly disagree.

If anything, increasing attention to LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, and non-discrimination legislation, have all caused Pride to become more important than it has ever been. Though great strides have been made even in my own lifetime, progress has not been uniformly distributed, and those who are ready to see Pride disappear are neglecting the importance of Pride for those who live far from Boystown and the Castro.

This country is certainly a more welcoming place for queer folks than it used to be, but what about the role Pride plays in introducing new generations of queer kids to the LGBT community as they come of age? It’s hardly fair to deny those who live in rural or conservative environments where one wouldn’t ordinarily find many positive representations of LGBT people.

For a young person without much exposure to the big gay world or knowledge about the community resources that might be available to them, or for anyone who lives in a sparsely-populated rural area and might have to make a substantial effort to find other LGBT folks, events like WV Pride are incredibly important. And besides, who doesn’t want to hear a burly country singer perform tender acoustic covers of Cyndi Lauper hits?

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