It was like stepping into an explosion of color that was nestled in a world of grey. The closer we got to the fest, more colors started appearing before our eyes and more music reached our ears. As we walked around, the street seemed to shine with love and positivity. People were kind, smiling and wishing us “Happy Pride!” as we passed by. Each tent was its own island of resources, information, care and passion. It felt like a whole new world.
Nearly 48 years ago, the first Pride parade was hosted in New York as a protest demanding the equal treatment of LGBTQ+ people. It began almost a year after the famous Stonewall Riots, which caused a great public debate on the abuse and discrimination of LGBTQ+ people at the hands of the police. These riots have long been considered the spark that ignited the flame of the gay rights movement. Though some aspects of social justice still remain, the meaning of Pride has changed in today’s world. The Human Rights Campaign describes the origins of Pride as "a political demonstration to voice LGBTQ+ demands for equal rights and protections….It was not until 1991 that Pride began to resemble what it is today: a celebration of queer life and sexuality in addition to a political and social demonstration.”
When I first arrived in Providence, I was struck by how much diversity I found. However, even these past months spent in this city did not prepare me for the welcoming and bright community that we found at Rhode Island Pride. Everywhere you went, there were people of all ages, backgrounds, genders, and sexualities who were just so incredibly happy to be there. Earlier that day, as we got ready to leave our apartment, there had been a familiar tension in our shoulders. Parades and demonstrations usually garnered attention, which had instilled worry in some of us that we might find protesters rallying when we arrived.
However, not all of us shared this concern. Andrea Rodriguez, 20, said “I wasn't worried about protesters at all because Providence is very small and I knew that most attendees would be from colleges around the area, which are known for being liberal and progressive. I knew nothing bad would happen. I was scared of going to New York Pride though. A lot of people condensed in one place is an easy target for a hate crime.”
“Since Trump took office I find myself thinking about the worst-case scenarios.”
When we arrived at Rhode Island Pride we found a very peaceful climate, and there were no protesters to be seen or heard. A few things struck me as odd as I looked around the crowd. I had expected to see many people my age, and while there were many, very few were unaccompanied. We saw many parents, grandparents, siblings, and children. Everywhere we looked we could find entire families just gathered together and celebrating their love for each other. Some even brought their pets! It was incredibly touching to see parents with shirts that exclaimed their support for their children, or for the community more generally. Considering the horrible treatment LGBTQ+ kids often get when they “come out”, seeing so many supportive families gave me hope that our society is evolving into a much more supportive and understanding whole.
Coming to Pride for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. I believed that I would just see many people dressed in different colors and dancing, kind of how all the pictures and videos I had seen over the years. Andrea felt similarly: “I had no idea what to expect since this was the first time going to Pride. The only things I expected were colorful clothing and accessories, and lots and lots of happy people.” It was a pleasant surprise to find so many religious institutions, vendors, and companies that were showing their support for the community. Be it by handing out gifts, prizes or informational booklets, every single person in attendance made it clear that they were there to support everyone that needed it. I remember walking down the street, and seeing a Catholic priest smiling and handing out flyers for their church, while blessing everyone and wishing them a “Happy Pride!” That was a grounding moment for me, since I had never thought I would hear such words from someone in that religious position. We stopped to talk to them for a bit, and it was easy to tell that they felt ashamed about how other religious practitioners had treated the community in the past, and how they were working hard to change that.
“God loves all his children.” Hearing that was surreal.
However, not everything was simply a celebration. Many took the opportunity of the Pride parades worldwide to protest for their own causes. One of the most notable lines from these protests was “No Pride for Some of Us, Without Liberation For All of Us!” These signs were typically seen in the hands of people attempting to shed a light on the many injustices suffered by people from the LGBTQ+ community. NewNowNext’s Jeff Taylor said, “With the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, first with the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, followed by a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ+ legislative actions undertaken both by states as well as the federal government under the Trump administration, we are beginning to see a return to the revolutionary roots that started it all.” There has been much turmoil in our political climate since Trump took power, but within the LGBTQ+ community, those tensions have skyrocketed. This community brings together many other communities that are also affected by Trump’s legislative decisions, such as latinx, black & muslim communities. It brings together people from all over the world, who are sick and tired of being oppressed, be it due to their skin color, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or all of the above. It is through these reunions and gatherings that different communities can find strength in each other. As Andrea describes, “Pride is a moment when people can feel safe and embrace who they are. Also, it's a way to tell the world that we are here and there are lot of us, so they can't shut us up or bring us down.”
Everyone has a different reason for going to a Pride parade. Some go to celebrate and praise their identities. Others go to support people they care about, or maybe some even attend to satisfy curiosity. Regardless, the reason for attending is only a small part of the experience. It became evident to me that everyone has something to gain by attending Pride. For Andrea, that gain came in the form of love and self-acceptance. She told me in detail, “I gained a lot of things, honestly. Probably the most valuable thing was understanding myself better. Back home I am 100% open with my identity and sexuality, but in the USA it is different, and I used to not understand why. I realized that the people in the United States have labels for everything, and it scares me when I do not fit the stereotypes for those labels. In Puerto Rico––I just do me, you know? But in the USA I feel a sense of prejudgment that sends me spiraling. After Pride I reflected that I have to start to openly say I'm part of this community, knowing it is just not enough.”
For me, Pride was a wake-up call. It was a visual reminder that this community exists, that it is strong and beautiful. It opened my eyes to both their struggles and their splendor. It was a splash of color and happiness in what used to be gray. Everyone was so welcoming, and made me feel like I belonged, even as just an ally. Pride was an experience that I will never forget, and it has inspired me to be more supportive of those around me. The LGBTQ+ showed me nothing but warmth and love, and I wish for nothing more than to give that back to them as well.