I was once told by a date that I celebrate Pride wrong. He said that Pride was supposed to be drag queens, drinking, and going out dancing at the “definitely not racist” gay bar. Yet, here I was protesting and going to small gatherings with close queer and trans friends. There was only a five-year age difference but I couldn’t help but feel a generational divide, one that would only become more apparent once Gen Zers started gaining more of a collective identity.
There’s no one way to celebrate Pride, but there are certainly wrong ways to organize one. It seems like there is a complacency people have with the spaces in which they celebrate Pride. It’s a casual ignorance that is reinforced with an “I just want to have fun” attitude. But I see it far less in LGBTQ Gen Zers. This is, notably, a generation politized by the Trump Administration and ignited by the Black Lives Matter movement. I do not speak for everyone in this generation, but many of us want change and are willing to take to the streets for it.
In the last few months, many major Pride organizations have been closing up shop and calling it quits. Philly Pride Presents, the organization that organizes both Philly Pride and Outfest, shut down abruptly in June following a Facebook post that butchered the history of Stonewall. Boston Pride disbanded in early July, naming the QTBIPOC community’s concerns with the organization as the reason for the closure. In Pittsburgh, we saw the Delta Foundation, which ran Pittsburgh Pride, dissolve in 2020 after years of mismanagement and controversy. While some mourn these losses, many celebrate them, notably transgender and communities of color who have been left out of so many of these spaces.
I firmly believe these changes are for the better, but beyond this, the closures illustrate something very clear: Pride establishment would rather shut down than transfer power to a younger and more diverse group. They know organizing is difficult enough without this infrastructure and it’s clear there is at least some generational and racial resentment.
This is resentment I feel everywhere in queer spaces. Snide comments from older gays about cancel culture (when the term rarely applies). The gatekeeping that many elders have built around leadership positions in LGBTQ organizations. Being tokenized and used for promotional images at LGBTQ events. We can have the “old way versus new way” debate all day, but when these discussions are fraught with racism, transphobia, and ageism, it makes it hard to have.
I always had a feeling I was being misled about Pride, and it was history that freed me from this. The first Pride wasn’t a march with Walmart, named after a fracking company, to a Nick Jonas concert. It was demanding change, societally and structurally. A movement that was led by Black and Brown queer and trans people. When we march against police brutality we are marching against the same issue.
My first Pride was a protest led by Black trans women and non-binary people. It was stopped by police with rubber bullet guns at the ready. This was my experience as a queer young person coming of age in Pittsburgh. It connects me to the LGBTQ people who came before me more than any bloated, cash-flushed Pride march ever could. I am not “canceling” Pride, I am bringing it back to its roots.