Today I overheard a comment I’ve heard a few times before about the concept of Pride March. It is basically: “it’s so weird to have people cheer you for just walking down the street.”
This comment always rocks me back on my heels.
Just walking down the street?
I don’t know which kind of privilege it demonstrates more: the straight privilege of people who claim the queer label but who haven’t really understood how far their apparent heterosexuality gets them, or the privilege of queer folk who have inherited a world made safe for them by the generation(s) of queer people before them who took the brunt of the bashings, hate and discrimination – those who would have marched – if they had the opportunity in the first place – in an environment where doing so would have been tantamount to being sentenced to jail, a mental asylum, or the gallows.
I actually think it’s a combination of the two. Although there are some places in the world where it is mostly safe for GLBTIQ people to be visible and live as they choose freely under the same kind of legal protection afforded to straight citizens, these places are few and far between. Even in the US, in Canada, in Europe, in Australia – the ‘first’ world, or the ‘western’ world, or ‘the world that thinks itself enlightened’ – GLBTIQ people cannot assume such freedom or protection. If they do, it is usually in defiance or the norm, rather than in compliance with it. And it is usually, still, dangerous. Look at how few places allow same-sex or otherwise queer couples to marry or to adopt children or even to visit each other in hospital if one is incapacitated. Is this a world where we ever just ‘walk down the street’?
It’s not like we haven’t gained some ground. Around the developed world – and even in some places in the developing world – queer visibility means a degree of acceptance, or at the very least, tolerance. This doesn’t mean we won’t be discriminated against or that we won’t have violence done to us or our property, but it does mean that more straight people will be angry about it and that more of their number will actually attempt to help us, stand by us as allies, or at least be sympathetic to us. This is a massive move forward, even if it isn’t full equality.
I think a lot of us on the borderline of queerness – by which I mean people who still present as heterosexual no matter what our actual orientation may be – take the general increase in the social acceptability of queerness (or, let’s be honest here, the increased acceptability of gays and lesbians – the ‘BITQ’ bit of the spectrum seems to become invisible when it’s convenient – but that’s another rant for another day)and combine it with the heterosexual privilege we have access to whether we like it or not, and conclude that everything is just peachy.
Every time there is a Pride march anywhere in the world, people are coming out and saying that they belong to or support a group of people who are routinely marginalized by the mainstream population and the government. They are saying, yes we know you think we are less than you, but fuck you and your privilege. Not only have we survived your hate, we’ve done it in style and we have every right to be proud of it and to be cheered in the streets for it.
Yes, Pride is a celebration of queer culture, but it has a serious side too. People today are still taking risks. What for some people may just be a fun little stroll down the street is still a big deal to many. There are still people who don’t or won’t or can’t participate because of their work or their friends or their family or their community. There are those that participate because they have a cause to promote, or because they want others like them to see them and know they’re not alone. There are those who participate because they want to be seen and counted, who participate because they want to honor the memory and work of those who have marched before as well as those who will never get the chance or will be harassed, discriminated against, attacked, bashed, and murdered for being who they are in the face of hate.
That is what those people in the crowd are cheering.