Shauna Miller is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She is the former managing editor of CityLab.
Etiquette rules don’t fly out the window just because everyone’s wearing feather boas. Here’s how to be respectful, even in your sequined finest.
Full marriage equality in all 50 states has just been declared and it's getting to be LGBTQ Pride Time across the U.S. and beyond. That means rainbow flags, rainbow bunting, rainbow margaritas, and drag queens named Rainbow dressed as rainbows parading down your city's main streets.
Who wouldn’t want to join the party?
In recent years, American Pride marches and related celebrations have been increasingly joined by members of the straight community who identify as allies and want to support queer friends and family. Pride parades have also changed shape in many ways, moving from radical shows of gay and lesbian unity against persecution to a more amorphous celebration of all types of queerness, as well as the rights and protections we have gained.
By all means, throw on some glitter and experience Pride in your city if you are so inclined. But remember that Pride means something deep and historic to the queer community. Here are a few things to consider when Pride rolls through, whether you are a Pride-parading queer, a straight ally, or just happen to live on the parade route.
Navigating the parade
As the slogan goes, "Pride began as a riot." In June of 1969, police raided New York City's Stonewall Inn looking to arrest gay patrons, especially those who dressed in clothing not in line with their sex. Patrons resisted the raid, and it turned into a days-long uprising, with thousands of gays, lesbians, and transgender people converging on Greenwich Village in a show of support. On the anniversary of the raid, the first Gay Pride march happened in New York City. It was still dangerous for gays and lesbians to make themselves so visible at this time. The threat of street violence was real, as were the possibilities of being photographed and recognized—which could compromise one's employment, housing, and family relationships. Marching down the street was radical, defiant act. By 1972, Pride marches were taking place in cities all over the country.
It's been 45 years since that first march, and celebrations look much different now. This month's Pride parade in D.C. featured queer marching bands, a float with gay line dancers, and a mom from Parents of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) holding a sign that read, "I love my gay son (even though he forgets to call)."
So, how should you behave at your city’s parade?
Show your support. It may be 2015, but it still takes guts—and stamina—to walk the long parade route as a group of drag kings. Clap and cheer them on. Tell them they look awesome. Thank them for representing. And taking photos is generally fine, but try to stay off your phone; these people are working hard, so appreciate their efforts.
Be curious. Take the cards and flyers that groups are handing out. Research those organizations when you get home. Learn about the history of the queer community in your city, and see how you might contribute to work being done with vulnerable communities and LGBTQ youth.
Be respectful. Dear straight people: The parade is not an opportunity gawk at queers. It is especially not a place to gather drunk friends to point and laugh at the participants. Don't be That Guy or That Group. This is a hard-won queer space, and you are a guest.
Be thoughtful. If you are straight, consider not going to the parade. Yes, this is a public event, but it is also a queer community space. Every year, it seems that more and more physical space is taken up by "tourists" that queer people could and should be able to comfortably occupy. This is a time for LGBTQ people to be together and celebrate our history and experiences. At the very least, don't push yourself to the front of the action and shove community members to the back of the crowd.
Navigating Pride events
The Pride parade is generally one event in a weekend-long string of LGBTQ-centered events, from pickup soccer games to community festivals to dance parties. These are also public events, but some call for some extra self-reflection and consideration of privilege that you may hold.
Volunteer. A lot of work goes into setting up festivals and well as the parade. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes and fundraising work to be done ahead of the main events, and volunteering is a great way to pitch in and truly show your support to the LGBTQ community.
Educate yourself. Pride is not a time to ask queers to educate you or answer your questions about their appearance, relationships, or gender presentation. Attending the Pride festival is a great way to get information on the queer community in your city and the groups doing work in it. This is generally considered a public and welcoming space, so allies are especially invited to join in.
Feel free to question and explore your own sexuality. But be aware of the tone of the spaces you may be interested in: If are drawn to the military-themed costume party at the local leather bar, know that you will be entering a scene that may seem foreign to you. It may have unspoken rules you are not aware of, and you may receive attention from people of your gender or a fluid, indeterminate gender. If you realize you are uncomfortable or in over your head, you can always say, "Thank you, but I'm just enjoying sitting here." And of course, you can leave at any time.
Respect queer spaces. If you are straight, don’t be the creepy guy who comes to the lesbian or trans party to hit on or—worse—touch people. Ask yourself why you want to enter this space, which has been deliberately carved out be safe for queer people. These parties are also not a place for straight couples to come scope for threesomes. Such behavior is not only rude, it is aggressive and violent. This is good advice for the other 364 days of the year, as well.
Be a real ally. Unfortunately, Pride is also a time when street harassment for queers seems to reach an annual high. It is so discouraging to have one weekend a year carved out for celebration, only to be catcalled, threatened, or outright assaulted when you leave your home. So, don’t contribute to that. And if you witness such an encounter beginning, ask yourself how you can intervene to help stop it. Ask the people being harassed if they are OK or need help. Offer to walk with them. Leave it up to them, though. Do not escalate the situation, because they will be the ones left to deal with it.