Happy Pride Month, friends of EROC! June marks a whirlwind of celebration and resistance for the LGBTQ community, who continue to fight so fiercely for basic human rights and respect. Pride is often characterized by all things flamboyant and colorful — rainbow flags, parades, glittery bead garlands. But as queer, transgender and non-binary people know, Pride is about so much more than just the festivities. It symbolizes triumph over persecution. It brings people together in the name of love and acceptance. It also serves as a reminder of how much progress still needs to be made.
So when cisgender heterosexual (cishet) allies with no deep connection to the struggles that LGBTQ people face take part in Pride-related activities, they may be co-opting the occasion for their own pleasure, no matter how well-meaning they may be. Allies, you will be welcome at most events during Pride, but you must accept that this celebration is not meant for you. If you really want to support your LGBTQ friends, family, and neighbors, step back and reflect on your contributions to Pride. Are you being helpful or harmful? Are you allowing people space or taking it away? If you have no idea where you stand, consider whether you do the following:
Before you step foot in a Pride event, do some research to understand the historical context behind the occasion, as well as the ways that LGBTQ people are forced to combat oppression to this day. With a better understanding of what Pride means to LGBTQ folks, you’ll have more respect for all that it embodies. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but also be cognizant of the emotional labor that LGBTQ folks must carry out to teach you (and compensate them for their time if necessary). Take the initiative to look up blogs and social media created by LGBTQ people and share their content across your own networks.
Know when you’re taking up too much physical space.
During Pride in many cities, LGBTQ-friendly bars, restaurants, clubs, and other venues are overrun with revelers. Establishments that have historically catered to an LGBTQ clientele should be serving these folks, who may be seeking a safe place to let loose and enjoy themselves. For LGBTQ people, simply existing can be met with violence, making safe spaces for people to dance with their partners or catch up with their friends all the more important — This definitely isn’t the time to bring your cishet bachelor/bachelorette party crew to a gay bar. And if you find yourself dancing in a club that has a long line of LGBTQ folks trying to get in, it might be time to go elsewhere. Be mindful of the space that you inhabit and gracefully bow out when you have taken up too much.
Open your wallet.
What’s one of the best ways to show your appreciation for all that Pride represents? Money. Sure, you can talk about how much Pride means to you, but when it comes down to demonstrating that you care about the people whose celebration you are enjoying, your money sends a strong message. Provide generous tips to bartenders and servers at LGBTQ establishments. Tip the performers at drag shows and other entertainers. Don’t forget to ask your LGBTQ friends about local charities that need your financial support. LGBTQ-serving homeless shelters, community centers, and other safe spaces will benefit substantially from your contributions. Many LGBTQ youth in particular face poverty because they are subject to discrimination from their families or employers, so donating to organizations that serve them can make a big difference.
Know the difference between being an ally and an expert.
You probably wouldn’t be at Pride if you didn’t have some affinity for the LGBTQ community. Perhaps you took a queer history course in college or you were involved in your high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. That’s wonderful! But unless you’re a queer or trans person yourself, you are not the go-to source of information on all things LGBTQ. Acknowledge when you have inadvertently dominated the conversation and be open to criticism when you slip up. A good ally doesn’t get defensive when they have stepped out of bounds; they are grateful for the opportunity to learn and improve.
Practice good judgment in photography.
Certain Pride-goers, like dancers in a parade or performers at a drag show, are usually fine being photographed. Some people may even want to be tagged in social media to promote their business or organization. But random people simply enjoying themselves? Probably not. Just because people are out in the open doesn’t mean that they want to be featured on your Instagram account under the gauze of a rainbow filter. For many folks, attending Pride events is an act of resistance, and may be part of their coming-out process. You could even be outing someone by taking their picture at a Pride event, jeopardizing their privacy and possibly their safety. When in doubt, stick to selfies with your friends and other people who have clearly consented to being photographed.
Don’t make assumptions.
When you meet someone new, be careful not to make assumptions about their gender identity or sexuality. Remember that it’s impossible to know these things judging by someone’s partner, appearance, or demeanor. Pronouns, whether he, she, they, or ze, are important to respect. If you’re not sure about someone’s pronouns, use gender-neutral terms such as “they” when speaking about someone. When you do meet that person, ask what pronouns they use and offer your own. Always use the pronouns that someone gives you. If you make a mistake, simply apologize and correct yourself.
Keep exclusive spaces exclusive.
As Pride becomes increasingly commercialized and whitewashed, the narratives of people of color and trans folks are often pushed to the side, prompting a greater need for exclusive spaces. This could mean a support group for trans women of color (WOC) survivors, or an organized outing for gay Black men. Don’t be offended if you aren’t welcome at events exclusive to certain groups within the LGBTQ community; these spaces are made to ensure people’s safety and comfort, which will always come before the feelings of cishet allies. Plus, there are plenty of other ways that you can participate in Pride activities. See what volunteer opportunities are available, such as passing out literature for local LGBTQ organizations or cleaning up after events.
Respect people’s boundaries.
Pride, like all other times of the year, should be a safe experience for everyone. It should go without saying, but never touch someone without their consent. If someone doesn’t want to dance with you or chat with you, move along. If you are taking up space that doesn’t belong to you or making people uncomfortable, you need to leave. The bottom line is that someone’s gender identity, sexuality, or appearance is in no way an invitation for harassment. Period.
Be an ally all year long, not just at parades and festivals.
Pride isn’t a one-and-done event. Too many people who call themselves allies use Pride as an excuse to throw on some glitter and party, then pack up the rainbow attire once July 1 rolls around. Don’t be that person. Continue to better yourself, learning what it means to be a good ally. Keep in mind that these guidelines aren’t just for Pride. Throughout the year, you should be working to ensure the safety of LGBTQ folks, whether at work, school, in a health care setting, or walking down the street. Pride is just one opportunity to express solidarity with the LGBTQ community; don’t make it your last.
JULIA HASKINS (pronouns: she/her/hers) is a writer, editor, and reporter dedicated to stamping out sexual assault and shedding light on rape culture. A graduate of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing at Northwestern University, Julia has used her journalism background to inform readers about the issues most important to her. She is especially passionate about media related to health and feminism. Julia's writing has appeared in outlets such as ReadersDigest.com, People.com, Healthline, Parents.com, and more.
You can reach Julia at email@example.com.