A Celebration of Community: What Pride Means to Me23 June, 2019
A Celebration of Community: What Pride Means to Me
I’m not entirely sure when I first became aware of the existence of Pride Month, but it certainly wasn’t while growing up in Toledo, Ohio, and probably not until some point in my college career. It doesn’t take much research to figure out that the Toledo Pride Parade wasn’t exactly leading the way for parades across the country back in the 2000’s and, though a liberal enclave of education, East Lansing wasn’t hosting a parade for the few dozen students in addition to myself still in town during the month of June. In fact, it would actually take almost 5 years after coming out for me to end up anywhere near the route of a Pride parade or festival. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even until year 5 that I even made it to a gay bar or any type of queer space for the first time.
Now my friends and family who read this might say, ‘Well…duh. Jake is a homebody with the social drive of a house plant’ and they aren’t too far off from the truth. But what I found in these five years was a pretty small, tight knit group of friends who were also out or incredibly supportive allies that taught me the importance of community, ranging from my freshman year Resident Assistant, to high school friends from home who I started to come out to during those first few breaks back from college. Once I moved to Chicago and settled into the city, I realized the value of these friendships as I sought out community here. A coworker got me involved in an LGBT flag football league, then I joined a tennis league, and started to play other sports that solidified these new friendships, which ultimately turned into stronger friendships.
I was lucky that the process of finding myself was pretty easy and uneventful. Sure, I had my own personal challenges, but the community I had built around me shielded me from much of the harm the world around me could cause. Friends who knew I needed to get out more helped to pull me out of my shell to get more involved. Coworkers and bosses who saw I needed the space to figure myself out, gave me as much space as I needed and were always there when I strayed too far. My brother even married the woman that I had come out to two months before they were even dating. I had my community. I had my people. I had my chosen family.
That’s what Pride means to me. It means being surrounded by people who matter to me, celebrating those relationships and leaving space at the party for anyone else who might need that community, even if only for one day at the end of June each year. In recent years, we were lucky to live in an apartment right near the start of the parade, making it easy for people to spend the day going to and from the parade, stopping in for a drink and meeting new people from other areas of our lives that we might otherwise not meet. Just last year, it became especially clear when one friend remarked “it’s a true testament that the people who come to this party don’t see each other during the rest of the year, but they’re old friends as soon as they walk in.”
That’s the community that Pride brings out, even if for a day, as we celebrate how far we’ve come in a year. It’s an annual marker to see how far we’ve come in our relationships, as a community, and as a society, while commemorating how and what got us here. It’s a reminder that we’ve kept going in a society that has told us we shouldn’t and couldn’t, and celebrating that we did.
Wishing an incredibly Happy Pride to your chosen family and the community that has chosen you.