Pride and privilege

“What would you do if I told you I liked girls?”

I endured years of lying to myself, parading around my room pretending to be Justin Bieber walking down the red carpet with Selena Gomez on my arm while I played it cool on the other side of the door. Forcing myself into awkward relationships with boys I only liked in the “yeah, I’ll sit next to you in class to make fun of the teacher” kind of way. It took me years to gather up enough courage to ask my mom the question that weighed me down through my childhood. Because I knew what could happen.

I knew I could be bullied at school, or almost worse, I could be the gay friend that no one seems to like except for the diversity I bring to the friend group. I knew how many LGBT kids get kicked out of their homes and abandoned after showing their true selves, who then are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than other youth, according to The Trevor Project. I knew such a freedom could come at a price that would continue to inflate if people around me didn’t understand that freedom warrants action.

The Supreme Court ruled that all states must allow same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015. I was a rising freshman and on a road trip at the time, and when I heard the news I was eating breakfast next to my mom in a dingy hotel lobby somewhere in Colorado. Suddenly, that drab lobby became a technicolor wonderland that absorbed all of my troubles and stress. That, my friends, was the feeling of pride. Soul-shaking, mountain-moving, pure and utter pride.

As a 14-year-old, I didn’t quite understand how the world worked or how people coexisted while not always getting along or agreeing on how to make the world go round. Not that I do now, of course, but at that I age I discovered there were roadblocks. Not being able to marry, adopt children or knowing I could be fired from a job for being gay only fogged my vision more. Once same-sex marriage became legal, the LGBT community went haywire: rainbow explosions on social media, more young activists speaking louder and that same feeling of pride pounding in everyone’s hearts. But that feeling of initial bliss didn’t last long.

After the first week or so following the Supreme Court’s decision came the entourage of straight, cisgender people, (people who identify with their gender assigned at birth,) attending every pride event, applying the rainbow filter to their Facebook profile pictures and an onslaught of half-hearted apologies. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the “I always accepted you but didn’t want to seem gay myself” speech. I memorized the facial expressions of happiness turning into confusion because the spotlight wasn’t shining on the “normal” people for the first time. I could see the envy creeping into my straight friends’ eyes because it was their turn to be the awkward sidekick in a community they couldn’t relate to.

Two years later, that envy took the form of rainbow-themed Instagram posts and Snapchat stories from the pride events in June 2017. Pride is supposed to be a place for LGBT people to celebrate our successes thus far and fight for further rights. Of course, we need allies because it’s hard to advance in society without bridges between people. But there’s a difference between an ally coming to pride and a straight, cis person showing up with rainbow flags and face paint to get a good picture for Instagram. The caption, “Happy Pride, everyone!!!! #proudtobeamerican #lgbt #nohomothough *rainbow emoji* *rainbow emoji*” is all too familiar. Sorry, Becky, but you’ve had all of history to be proud of your heterosexuality. Now, either come to Pride to help LGBT people progress or step aside.

The LGBT community could use allies and their privilege to help with legislation such as bathroom laws and employment rights. And allies to aid in promoting things like LGBT sexual education. Because frankly, the American public would much rather listen to a straight person than someone from the community.

The purpose of Pride is defeated when it takes a straight, cis face on social media platforms. There’s no reason to act like a guardian angel if the main goal is joining the latest trend. If I walked out of my house wrapped in a rainbow flag, I’m afraid I would not be taken seriously until I arrived at Pride because I know people who are close-minded and don’t want to see such a scandalous symbol. According to the True Colors Fund, a foundation dedicated to ending homelessness among LGBT youth, 1.6 million LGBT youth in the US are homeless because their family couldn’t accept them after they came out. Those families don’t want to see a rainbow flag. They don’t want to see LGBT people making societal progress, dancing in the streets together or being happy as they are. Yet, those people don’t seem to have a problem once it’s a straight person clutching a flag that doesn’t belong to them.

I didn’t attend Pride this year. I didn’t attend last year, either. My Pride was that moment of internal reflection in the hotel lobby once I knew my future could be as bright as the next person’s. But each time I am misrepresented by a straight person, my vision blurs a little more and my future gets a little dimmer. Because I still don’t feel LGBT people are speaking for themselves. Because I know we still have a long way to go. So, let’s not make that road longer than it has to be.