It's been 49 years since the first-ever Pride parade, but before Pride came to be, there were the Stonewall Riots, a moment in history where the LGBTQ+ community fought back against police brutality and legal oppression. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
“The Stonewall Riots began June 28, 1969, and led to three days of protest and violent conflict with law enforcement outside the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City,” explains LGBTQ+ community leader, Fernando Z. Lopez, executive director for San Diego Pride. “These events are often-considered the birth of and catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States.”
Today, more than 1,000 Pride events are held in cities across the globe as a testament to the LGBTQ+ communities' continued efforts against oppression and intolerance. While there’s been progress, homophobia and transphobia still a systemic issue in the United States and around the globe.
In the last five years, we’ve witnessed the deadly violence on LGBTQ+ folks in the United States:
- the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in 2016
- transgender folks banned from the military under President Trump’s administration
- at least 26 trans folks murdered in 2018, the majority of whom were black women, with at least 10 transgender deaths in so far in 2019
- a Trump-Pence plan to eliminate LGBTQ nondiscrimination protection in healthcare
That’s why Lopez says: “This 50th anniversary is an important milestone for the LGBTQ+ community and given the recent and current attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, it’s as important as it’s ever been.” So during Pride this year, people will march to celebrate and also fight — against violence and workplace discrimination, for the right to serve openly in the military and access healthcare, and for increased acceptance, overall.
Pride is changing… here’s what you need to consider
“20 years ago, Pride was a weekend for LGBTQ+ folks and our best friends. It was a really fantastic party, and a chance to celebrate and be who you are in an environment that felt safe,” says FUSE Marketing Group president and LGBTQ+ advocate, Stephen Brown. “Now, Pride looks different.”
As Pride events grow, there have been folks outside of the LGBTQ+ community attending — and sometimes, for less well-meaning reasons, such as an excuse to party and drink or simply to people-watch.
“Pride events are not put on for straight, cisgender folks. Unlike most spaces and events they move within and through, Pride is not centered [on] or catered towards straight cisgender people and their experiences,” says Amy Boyajian, co-founder and CEO of Wild Flower, an online sex toy boutique that recently released the first gender-free vibrator, Enby.
While Pride is not for straight cisgender folks, LGBTQA+ allies are certainly welcome. “I want everyone to go to Pride. LGBTQ+ folks and straight allies alike,” says J.R. Gray, an author of queer romance based in Miami, Florida. “I want our allies to come celebrate with us. Come show us you respect and love who we are.”
But, they need to follow what he calls the “number-one rule” of Pride: “Respect all people of all sexualities and genders in attendance.”
What does that mean and look like in practice? Use this 10-step guide to help you be a respectful and supportive ally when attending Pride—the ally the LGBTQ+ community needs and deserves.
1. Ask yourself why you’re attending
Pride isn’t a place to gawk and people-watch. Nor, is it a place to glean content for an Instagram story (that can end up being objectifying). As Boyajian says, “I think straight, cisgendered folks should ask themselves a few questions before attending.”
Questions to ask:
- Am I going to pride to use queer people as a source for my entertainment?
- Am I familiar with the history of Pride and why this celebration is important to the queer community?
- Am I genuinely an ally of the LGBTQ+ community?
“These questions can help folks reflect on their intentions so that they can be certain that they’re entering the Pride space mindfully and intentionally,” says Boyajian.
If you’re going to Pride to show your support and you’re able to enter the space with an understanding of what Pride is and why it’s important to queer folks, you’re welcome!
2. Google before you go and save questions for later
Do you have a question about gender, sexuality, or Pride? Google it before you go. It is not the queer community's job to be educators, especially at Pride. It can come off as insensitive and intrusive to ask someone about say, the logistics of queer sex, in the middle of a parade (and also any other time).
So it's important for straight allies to do their own research instead of simply relying on their queer friend to answer all of their questions about LGBTQ+ history, gender, and sexuality, says Boyajian.
“Coming to the table having done your research reflect an investment in LGBTQ+, one that extends beyond Pride,” Boyajian notes. There are resources available to those interested in learning, including your local LGBTQ+ resource centers, year-round-events and the internet. The below Healthline articles are a good place to start:
LGBTQ+ reading before attending Pride:
As Lopez says, “It’s okay to ask for help and guidance, but to expect a LGBTQ friend/acquaintance to know everything and be willing to teach you is inconsiderate.” One solution is to hold off on asking the bulk of your questions until post-Pride.
“For many of us, Pride can be a moment of freedom where we don’t have to explain or hide certain elements of ourselves. Life is hard, even dangerous for queer people, so Pride can feel like a relief from that pain. Having to explain yourself and your identity or others identities at Pride to others is counterproductive to the freedom the day represents,” Boyajian says.
3. Photograph mindfully — or just don’t at all
Although you may want to capture the moment, it’s important to be careful when taking photos of other people and Pride attendees. While the parade and other Pride events may seem like a great photo op, not everyone wants to be photographed.
Consider the following: Why am I taking this photo? Am I doing it to make a spectacle or joke out of someone and/or what they’re wearing? Is taking and posting this photo consensual? Could my taking and posting this photo potentially “out” someone or affect their employment status, safety, or health?
Just because someone is attending Pride, it doesn’t mean they feel comfortable sharing that with the world. They could be attending in secret, and photos could put them at risk.
So if you’re going to take photos of someone always ask for their consent first, or simply don’t take photos of others at all — and enjoy the celebration! Many folks will be more than happy to take a photo with you, or be photographed, but asking ahead of time shows a baseline level of respect.
4. Take a back seat
Pride is about celebrating and empowering the LGBT+ community, not taking away from it. And that means making physical space for the LGBTQ+ folks at Pride to celebrate themselves.
“At Pride, allyship is about lifting LGBTQ+ folks up, making room for us, and not commandeering space. Rather during Pride we ask our allies to make space for us,” says Lopez. That includes physical space, like not taking the front row. Or even the second or third row. Instead, give those prime seats to the LGBTQ+ community.
Make sure to look at event pages before showing up too. “The festival planners are pretty good about outlining what you should expect to see and do at their parades and festivals on their websites and social media pages, as well as who is welcome,” says Gary Costa, executive director with Golden Rainbow, an organization that helps provide housing, education, and direct financial assistance to men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS in Nevada.
Also keep in mind that not all spaces or events during Pride are open to allies. For instance, events that may be called Leather Bars, Dyke Marches, Bear Parties, Trans Marches, Disability Pride Parades, S&M Balls, and QPOC Picnics usually aren’t open for allies. If you ever aren’t sure, just ask an organizer or member of the community if it’s okay for you to attend, and respect their response.
5. Be gracious
To start, that means abandoning the assumption (or fear) that someone who doesn’t identify as heterosexual is going to be attracted to you. “Just the way that not every heterosexual person is attracted to every person of the opposite gender, being near a person attracted to the gender you are does not guarantee is that the person will hit on you,” says LGBTQ+ expert Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW.
That said, some amount of flirting does happen at Pride because it’s a great way for queer folks to meet other queer folks. “If you are on the receiving end of some unwanted affection, respectfully decline like you would with any human you’re not attracted to. Queer attraction, affection, and love is not wrong so don’t treat it as such,” says Boyajian.
Even worse, don’t “hunt” for people who can help you live out your personal fantasies. Pride is not a place for straight couples to find a third wheel. Nor is it a place for straight folks to find a queer couple to watch have sex because “you’ve always been curious.”
6. Introduce yourself with your pronouns
You can’t tell someone’s gender, sexuality, or pronouns simply by looking at them. “It’s best to never assume anyone’s preferred pronouns or identity,” Boyajian explains. If you do, you risk misgendering them which can be very triggering and traumatic.
Instead of assuming, just ask — but make sure you introduce your own pronouns first. This is a way to signal to others that you are indeed an ally, and you respect and honor all gender identities. And after another person states their pronouns, thank them and move on — don’t comment on their pronouns or ask why they use them. This a good habit to be in 365 days a year, but it’s especially important for Pride.
To bring up pronouns, you might say:
- “My name is Gabrielle and I use she/her/hers pronouns.”
- “Nice to meet you, [X]. I’m Gabrielle and my pronouns are she/her/hers. What are yours?”
“Personally, I’m always having to correct people with my pronouns so it makes a big impression when someone introduces themselves with their pronouns included,” Boyajian. “To me, this shows respect and an openness to learn about my identity.”
To that same point, don’t assume that other couples who “look” straight are. Remember that one or both could be bi, pan, transgender, or non-binary. Just basically, don’t assume anything because, well... you know the old saying.
7. Be mindful of your language
At a Pride parade, you may hear folks call themselves and their friends’ words that are considered derogatory, or were previously considered derogatory. That does not mean anyone can shout whatever they want. As an ally, you should never use these words. If you’re still wondering why, here’s an explanation:
Folks in the LGBTQ+ community use these words as a way to reclaim something that was previously used as a hurtful slur against them or the rest of the LGBTQ+ community—this is often considered an act of power.
As an ally, you cannot help reclaim a word used against an identity group you don’t belong to. So allies using these words is considered an act of violence. And if you aren’t sure whether or not a word is okay for you to use, just don’t say it at all.
8. Donate to LGBTQ+ organizations
Beyond attending Pride events, ask yourself what else you are or could be doing for the LGBTQ+ community, suggests Shane. “If you are willing to pay for parking or Uber, wear a rainbow t-shirt or some rainbow beads, and dance along as the floats go by at the parade, I can only encourage that you be equally willing to support that same community even when it's less fun and has less glitter.”
To that point, Lopez says: “We ask our allies to donate to our causes, charities, and groups.”
If you don’t have the financial means to donate, Boyajian suggests thinking about the other ways you can support the community. “That could be attending the parade sober and offering rides to and from spaces for queer folks, protecting queer people from anti-LGBTQ+ protestors and those who are trying to cause us harm at pride events and otherwise, or getting us water.”
This may also include making sure Pride events are accessible for disabled LGBTQ+ folks, elevating the voices of the LGBTQ+ community by retweeting/reposting their content, and shutting down folks making jokes about “Straight Pride” or otherwise mocking/degrading/othering the LGBTQ+ community.
9. Bring your kids
If you’re a parent, you might be wondering, “Should I bring my kid to Pride?” The answer is yes! As long as you are comfortable doing so and you are all ready to bring your enthusiasm and support.
“Pride can be a wonderful learning moment for children and young people,” says Boyajian. “Seeing adults being affectionate is a normal thing and normalizing queer love is important. Showing young ones that being queer can be a positive thing only affirms them to develop into who they want to be without judgement.”
Have a conversation with your kids first, Antioco Carrillo, executive director for Aid for AIDS of Nevada, suggests. “Explain to them how rich and diverse our community is and how unique it is to have an opportunity to go to the event where everyone is truly accepted. Explain it in a way they understand it and remember that there is a chance they may be LGBTQ+ themselves.”
Costa agrees, adding: “As for how to explain to your kids what they’re going to see should be no different than how one would react if the children saw something they hadn’t seen on TV or in a movie before. The message should always be ‘love is beautiful’.”
In your explanation, put Pride into context. Explain the historical significance of and importance of Pride, says Shane. The more information you can give your child beforehand, the better. “While a Pride parade is tons of fun with lots of rainbows and music, if your children don't understand there is more to it than just partying, you are missing an opportunity to provide them with incredibly valuable information,” she says.
10. Enjoy yourself
If you go to Pride, go and enjoy yourself! “Have a good time, dance, scream and cheer, have fun, be amazed by the number of people supporting the LGBTQ+ community and being themselves,” encourages Brown.
“The Pride parade is a celebration of love and acceptance, and different members express that love in different ways,” says Brown. “If you show up it’s of utmost importance to keep that in mind at all times.” And if you do, chances are you’ll be supporting the LGBTQ+ tactfully and respectfully.
Just remember, allies, “We need you all year long. We can’t win this struggle without you. Supporting the LGBTQ community and being a real ally can’t just mean putting on rainbow socks once a year,” says Lopez. “We need you to stand with us and for us all year round. Employ us in your businesses. Elect people who will pass policies that build LGBTQ equity. Support LGBTQ owned businesses. Stop bullying and harassment in its tracks whenever you come across it.”
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She's become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and has eaten, drunk, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.