A few days ago I was talking with a good friend I haven’t seen since before the pandemic began. We were catching up and the topic landed on Pride. Neither of us have any solid plans for Pride, given that the pandemic has disrupted Pride season yet again. My friend told me he was celebrating Pride month by revisiting some queer cinema classics. We compared favorites and discussed the movies that were important to us in the past. For us, these movies were more than entertainment – they were an introduction to the queer community. They showed us that we were not alone and that there were communities and possibilities not present in our small town lives. During the times that these movies came out (pun intended), there was little representation in any media, so we clung to the few movies that were “ours.”
In hindsight, most of these movies are not easy to watch. In the days before marriage equality and inclusiveness and legal rights, queer cinema reflected the often harsh realities of our queer experiences. The characters we identified with were victimized and abandoned by loved ones, all while the AIDS epidemic cast a shadow over their lives. Even the happiest stories were bittersweet, tinted with melancholy and sadness. These stories often celebrated the resilience of queer characters, showing that love and happiness and community are possible, despite an often cruel and intolerant world. Still, the message was clear: there can be no joy without suffering.
So much has changed since the 1980s and ’90s when queer movies were a niche genre – and a lot has stayed the same. Yes, our community has made huge leaps and strives in social and political progress, and we should celebrate these achievements. It’s also true that many queer and questioning people fear losing or damaging their relationships with loved ones by coming out. We also continue to prioritize our safety for fear that we become yet another statistic. In many ways we continue to face the problems of the past, despite all the progress we’ve made.
Now that Pride has entered the mainstream, I feel conflicted about what Pride has become. There was a time when I celebrated and was grateful for any queer representation in media, mostly because even acknowledging our community was deemed risky for our leaders, let alone corporations. Now, it seems that Pride has been appropriated and cleaned up in order to sell anything that is temporarily available with a rainbow on it. While I’m grateful for the increased visibility, I’m also troubled that so much of our history has been glossed over to change the narrative into something more palatable.
This is why I bristle when corporations market to us, telling us that Pride is about love and acceptance. Yes, that’s true, but it’s only part of the picture. In a way it feels like gaslighting because we are being shown ideals that do not represent the majority of the community. The majority of us are not married, and fewer of us have children. We’re shown a queer version of straight life that implies that this is who and what we should strive to be. If we don’t fit this image, we are excluded, and the pain of the past is reborn.
Pride is born of a riot and years of social unrest and inequality. Queerness is inherently political and, despite our progress, there are still those in power who are working to undo decades of our work. We know this, and we feel this. It’s a reminder of what the old queer movies taught us – to seek and make our own happiness in the face of adversity. This means that the work is not yet finished and we must continue to advocate for better, more inclusive representation of our community. We must continue to advocate for the resources we need. Now that our voices are being heard, let’s speak out and take pride in making change.
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.