I'm a terrible queer activist.
For the first time since I was seventeen years old, I'm living someplace that actually has a Pride celebration, and I went and missed part of it. The night before Portland Maine Pride I was inviting to come photograph the last Portland Fire Show. I say the "last" because the city has changed ordinances in a way that now bans them, although local performers are working hard to change that.
What this meant was that I missed the actual "parade" part of Pride, arriving not long after the Pride celebration at Deering Oaks Park had started. This means I can't comment on the content of the parade, just the Pride festival after it.
There's always great sturm-und-drang in the LGBT community and media around Pride. For a few weeks around early June it becomes virtually impossible to access LGBT media without being inundated by discussions of whether or not Pride has outlived its usefulness, is bad for the community, misrepresents us to straight people, over emphasizes sex, etc. This is almost certainly because when the media says "Pride" what they actually mean is "San Francisco Pride" or "NYC Pride."
A visit to Portland Maine's Pride Festival would be sure to sooth many of those concerns. Our Pride was quite wholesome, which in many ways is perfectly appropriate.
Maine, and Southern Maine in particular, is a place where for the most part, LGBT people live as equal citizens. We have employment and housing protections with regards to both sexual orientation and gender identity/presentation, marriage equality, adoption rights, and hate crime provisions on the basis of sexual orientation, though we're still waiting on gender identity/presentation. Additionally, trans* people born in Maine can have their birth certificates changed, although how Maine does this can be problematic, or at least it was when my boyfriend changed his several years ago.
Altogether, this makes where I live a remarkably positive climate in which to be queer/LGBT; but it sure can make for a dull Pride.
Or at least, that was my first impression as I was wandering amidst booths from local banks, doctors' offices, and other service industries vying for a shot at winning over some local LGBT customers. Not to mention people selling rainbow flags and other Pride paraphernalia to the assembled masses, who other than said paraphernalia, were generally unremarkable. While there were a few people who stood out from the crowd, for the most part, we were quite an ordinary bunch of folks out for a day in the park. I was at once awed by progress we've made as a community, and dispirited by the loss of unbridled expression that I associate with the history of Pride.
And then I saw the teens in the picture at left, and the couple with their baby featured at the top of this post, and realized that I was being a bitchy old queen. I was seeing Pride exclusively through my own lens, and missing what it meant to other people in the community in which I live.
I don't know the young people who posed for my photo, but they just seemed really happy to be at Pride. This is perhaps the most vital role Pride can play in our communities, and one it has played since the very first marches and parades: providing young people with a vision of what it can mean to be queer/LGBT as an adult, while simultaneously letting them be free to chart their own courses for the future.
It has been a long time since I was a queer youth, and regardless, my own experience was overshadowed by the impact of my disability on my teen years. That said, legal protections and all, growing up in Maine is still no cakewalk for queer/LGBT youth. In fact, even as we as a national community continue to make progress in the streets and at the ballot boxes, it's hard to imagine that growing up queer/LGBT is going to get easy any time soon. As long as our youth struggle because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, Pride will continue to play a vital role in growing up queer/LGBT for many young people.
Likewise, I'm not a same-sex parent. Sadly, it is unlikely that children are in the cards for my family, leaving me with no frame of reference. Still, from talking to friends I know that even living in a place largely free from institutionalized discrimination, the experience of being a different sort of family can certainly be draining. I imagine that being a public park on a lovely summer day, surrounded by other families like yours could be an empowering experience.
It is even worth remembering that all the businesses trying to out gay-friendly each other is a positive sign for the local community. I have deeply conflicted feelings about the commercialization of Pride nationwide, but here in Portland, the vast majority of the business booths I saw were local, or represented local branches of nationwide corporations.
While not being blind to the dangers of corporate money getting mixed up with local activism or free speech, it really is nice to know that if my husband and I go to this bank or that doctor's office, we can be sure that we'll be treated fairly and with respect.
Pride shouldn't be a universal experience; not everywhere is NYC or San Francisco, and that's a good thing. Portland Maine Pride took its cues from the character of the community hosting it, as I imagine are the vast majority of Pride celebrations around the country do.
And perhaps that is what should be at the forefront of discussions around Pride in years to come.