This Saturday is Pride in London and there are similar events coinciding across the world. What is Pride all about? It started out as Gay Liberation or Gay Freedom and was focussed on the struggle for human rights. Historically it was celebratory AND serious; participants remembered the Stonewall Riots, friends they’d lost to AIDS and the victims of homophobic assaults, all whilst kitted out in the cocktail of colours that have come to symbolise Pride. These marches and the vocal opposition to inequality were a huge catalyst towards legislative change and increased visibility for LGBT people.
To many young people in 2011, it’s an opportunity to be cushioned in a bubble of acceptance for a day, to drink a few too many over-priced lagers and head home with tired feet and a touch of sunburn. For some, it will be the first time they have been in the majority instead of feeling like the odd one out, and especially for visitors from smaller towns, this is a much needed confidence boost. However, some older LGBT people feel that without the protests and campaigning focus, Pride has become a rather empty display of apparent ‘LGBT culture’ – a culture which resonates little with many people’s day-to-day lives. In this country at least, we’re in a somewhat transitional period between having to force legislative and cultural change into a homophobic world, and having 100%, unblinking acceptance in society. Life for LGBT people is so much better, but we’re not there yet. So how do we now make Pride more than just a day of checking each other out from behind our Ray Bans?
The dictionary definition of ‘pride’ is a feeling of satisfaction derived from one’s own or another’s achievements. A young person asked me recently if I was proud of being gay. I said no. I’m not ashamed of it, but I’m not proud if it, any more than I’m proud of having a double-jointed thumb. I’m proud of the way I have dealt with other people’s reactions to my sexuality, or that I have been through some challenging situations with students, colleagues, family and friends who have struggled with it, but I’m not proud of my sexual orientation as a characteristic. It would just seem weird. I didn’t achieve anything just by being gay. However, I am proud that I am trying to make a difference for LGBT young people by founding Diversity Role Models. I’m proud of some of my sporting achievements. I’m proud of the longevity of many of my friendships and unrelated to me, the achievements and wonderful characters of my friends and family.
My mother was my role model. She certainly wasn’t a ‘diversity role model’ but she was an incredible example as a mother. She died when I was still a teenager and I had only just announced my sapphic ways to her. She struggled as any mother would – she had no gay friends, never had any education around different relationships and ultimately wanted the happiest and most successful life possible for her only daughter – a concept incompatible with ‘the gay lifestyle’. In the few months we had between me telling her, and her death, we went through the usual stages of defensiveness and lack of comprehension. Both of us. Me being ‘one of those’ made little sense to me either. However, regardless of how confused my mother felt, as she lay dying, she held my hand, looked into my eyes and told me how proud she was of me for being who I am. Her sense of pride gave me the freedom to imagine that had she lived, we would’ve made our peace, gossiped on the phone about our irritating partners and perhaps she would even have joined me in a DRM t shirt at Pride this weekend.
Being a lesbian is not who I am, but having a sense of dignity about my place in the world, irrespective of my sexual orientation, is a big part of who I am. Making sure that everybody is allowed the same opportunity to feel dignity is also part of who I am. Some people are driven to save the environment, some to be incredible parents, some to express their artistic or sporting talents and some are good souls who make our lives a little lighter simply by smiling at us on the street on a dark winter’s day. It’s impossible to be a role model for everything, for everybody and at all times. And we can’t feel pride in ourselves for every decision we’ve ever made. However, this Saturday, as a sign of respect towards the people that have fought for our civil and human rights, give a thought to what you are doing to make the world a slightly better place. And be proud!
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