Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Lee Suckling: Does gay pride still matter?

Two women kiss in front of a rainbow flag, the symbol of the gay rights movement, during the Gay Pride parade. Photo / AP
Two women kiss in front of a rainbow flag, the symbol of the gay rights movement, during the Gay Pride parade. Photo / AP

Throughout the last month, gay pride weeks have shone brightly across the northern hemisphere.

These mid-summer celebrations (that's why Auckland Pride is in February) have featured on streets from Hawaii to London, New York to Madrid, and bring together a group of people who once had to hide who they were.

Few outside of the gay community and its friends, families and supporters will have experienced Pride (with a capital P). Full of feathers and fantasy, these celebrations are the peaceful product of the Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York which kicked off the gay liberation movement in the United States.

Forty-five years on, and Pride has had its ups and downs. The HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s - initially referred to as GRID: Gay Related Immune Deficiency - tore Pride apart (then sewed it back together again). Since then, scholars, journalists, advocates and critics have debated the modern need for Pride; notably in 1999 when gay US media personality Dan Savage questioned its relevance for the 21st century noting it as borrowed "from the women's and black power movements' playbooks".

After Elton and Ellen, Michael Sam and Macklemore, Pride has continued to struggle for relevance. New Zealand has had particular trouble sustaining Pride celebrations - there was more than a decade's gap between the final Hero Parade and the first Auckland Pride in 2012.

Arguably, we don't need Pride anymore. Gay liberation has come leaps and bounds in just my lifetime: homosexuality was illegal the year I was born, for example, and now I can get married to another man. LGBTs in New Zealand have equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal societal recognition. So begs the question: why does Pride still matter?

Earlier this month (and entirely unrelated to Dan Savage's 1999 essay), in an article titled Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture in her school's newspaper University of Mississippi student Sierra Mannie wrote "black women... cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality". The story was republished by TIME magazine and has sent bigoted shockwaves across the globe.

It's 2014, and indeed, Pride still matters. It matters not to show how far the gay community has come. It matters not to fight for those who couldn't. It matters because people like Ms Mannie still exist.

The naivety of this pedestrian opinion is strongly presented in use of the word "hide"- suggesting gayness is something that can be concealed from the general public so we don't offend them. Unfortunately for Ms Mannie, there's an entire population of gay people in Russia who had their faces slammed against brick walls by police and passers-by this year, and they'd all vehemently disagree their sexuality is something they can - or should - hide to protect their safety.

In recent weeks, social media feeds have been full of Pride goodness. The most fun of which was seemingly in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where thousands upon thousands of homosexuals descended upon a preppy community to mingle with heterosexual families; bringing everyone together in unity amongst a glorious Cape Cod background. I must admit; I've been envious of this particular celebration. Not just because of its setting in the glorious New England summertime, but because it's a true representation of Pride's goals.

Pride exists so two men or two women can walk down the street hand-in-hand, and kids passing by won't think to ask their parents why. Pride exists to let gay people - for one day, or one week of the year - feel not part of any minority. Pride exists to exhibit and enjoy every part of modern gay culture and all of its humour, sentiment and style. And, I must point out to Sierra Mannie: such was heralded into gay society by Oscar Wilde, Edward Carpenter, and James Baldwin, not Beyonce and Nicki Minaj.

Pride sends a message: there is no shame in being gay, out, and indeed proud of it. It lets the Sierra Mannies of the world know that in cultural concord and shared cultural ideas across communities, we find strength. We, the gay community, continue to be visible because we hark back to those who were proudest - despite the ramifications. LGBT liberation needs air to stay alive, and Pride, for just a short period each year, is a proverbial walk in the park that re-fills our lungs with oxygen.

Perhaps most importantly, Pride matters because there are young LGBT people out there feeling lost, alone, and devoid of a culture or community of their own. Pride tells them that, bigotry and politics aside, the world can be a safe and supportive place for them to be alive. Surely that, dear Sierra, is worth a little booty shaking.

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Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Writer Lee Suckling pens his opinionated thoughts every Wednesday, covering issues surrounding Generation Y, New Zealand's gay community, and the ethical dilemmas presented every day to those living in a tech-centric modern world. Outside of the New Zealand Herald, Lee writes for a range of magazines and newspapers across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

Read more by Lee Suckling

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