Every summer, cities around the world fill with rainbows for Pride month. Pride flags are unfurled, sometimes spanning entire blocks, and costumed paraders take to the streets in support of the LGBTQ+ community. In cities like San Francisco and New York City, Pride has become a can’t-miss event for both those who identify as LGBTQ+ and those who identify as allies.
For straight and cisgender attendees, however, it’s important to remember that Pride is more than just a party. Keep these six things in mind to ensure that lending your support and enjoying the festivities doesn’t translate to exploiting the LGBTQ community.
1. The first Pride was a police riot
Pride occurs each summer to commemorate the Stonewall Riots that happened in New York City in 1969. Most states had laws at the time banning LGBTQ people from assembling in groups. The mob opened LGBTQ+ bars where people could gather that broke these laws in order to profit off of the open discrimination of our community. The bars were the only safe spaces for LGBTQ people and were frequently raided by police officers looking for bribes or else they would shut the bar down. Tired of harassment and discrimination, patrons of The Stonewall protested and began a series of actions that turned into several days of riots. At its peak, more than 1,000 people took to the streets of Greenwich Village in one of the first organized modern LGBTQ+ protests. Transgender patrons of color at The Stonewall are largely credited with starting the LGBTQ civil rights movement.
So, although you’ll see sequins, rainbows, parade floats, and pool parties sponsored by liquor brands and banks, understand that Pride is equal parts celebration, protest, and community-building. It’s the one time a year when we can come together and be surrounded by the family we choose. Because our bodies and our identities are still policed by the government, religious groups, and even the people we love, we reserve Pride as the opportunity to express ourselves in an authentic way. Sometimes that’s by drunkenly singing Robyn songs at the top of our lungs, and sometimes it’s by crying during the eulogy for our murdered trans sisters. We’re allowed to have multiple feelings simultaneously as we celebrate our wins and mourn our losses as a community.
2. A lesbian bar during Pride is not the place to look for your unicorn
As a femme-presenting queer woman, I’ve been hit on by cisgender men and straight couples in queer settings more times than I can count. Some queer women are attracted to men, some aren’t. We go to LGBTQ+ spaces to be around other LGBTQ+ people and celebrate our identity. Sure, there may be people who are interested in your advances, but there will also be people who will be offended and made to feel unsafe. Pride should first and foremost be a safe space for LGBTQ+ people. Keep this in mind, and don’t treat Pride like a venue for arranging a ménage à trois.
3. Don’t take pictures of us without permission
You’re going to see folks in leather, drag performers, transgender people, non-binary people, nakedness, gender-bending getups, and some wild outfits. We’re not here to be a spectacle for you. We’re here to celebrate with folks who are like us. Don’t post photos of us on social media as a way to be edgy or to show your superior open-mindedness, and don’t make fun of us on the internet. We don’t exist for your amusement.
4. If your thought process is “Gays are okay, but I don’t get the whole trans thing”
Don’t come to Pride.
5. Pride is not the appropriate venue for your girl’s night or your bachelorette party
Lots of straight women have told me that they love going to gay bars because they can dance and celebrate without the presence of come-ons from men. I’ve seen drunken sorority girls climb on stage and attempt to make the show about them. I’ve seen women get a bit too intoxicated and attempt to make out with or grope gay men. LGBTQ+ spaces should, by definition, be safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people. If you attend Pride as a straight ally, remember what, and who, the event is about and lend your support appropriately.
6. You’re a guest in our space. Act accordingly.
The important takeaway here is not that LGBTQ people hate straight or cis folks. It’s not even about the presence of straight and cis folks at Pride in general. It’s about when straight and cis folks behave in inappropriate and culturally insensitive ways that threaten or dampen the experiences of LGBTQ people at events that are made for us in the first place. Straight and cis folks can go to any party and feel comfortable dancing, holding hands, and making out with their significant other, or even a stranger, without feeling like they could be in danger because of their identity. LGBTQ people do not always have that luxury. If you choose to go to Pride, be a supportive observer and participate in activities, but don’t try to be the focus of the event.