For the last few months, I have been working with some amazing people in Westfield to create our little town’s first-ever pride celebration. Growing up with a very close relative who was gay, I saw firsthand some of the damaging opinions and horrific reactions people had towards someone who bravely lived their truth and, due to this, became a fierce LGBTQ+ ally.
As the Westfield pride event began to gain some promotional traction, I was surprised by how many social media posts were met with comments such as ‘Why are we still celebrating pride?’ or ‘Why do we still need pride.’ There seems to be a group of people that believe that having equal marriage rights and slowly bringing attention to transgender issues means that we have moved past the point of requiring a Pride event. Honestly, I absolutely wish this was the case, but unfortunately, we are far from the need for Pride being a distant memory.
The first Pride parade was held in New York in 1969 following the Stonewall riots. The parade began to give a voice to the LGBTQ+ community who had been criminalized, oppressed, violated, and forcefully hidden.
I grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a country and city that was torn apart for 30 years due to a religious civil war. The problem at the time with identifying as anything other than straight was met from both sides of the conflict, with religion (Catholic or Protestant) as the controlling factor, and identifying as LGBTQ+ was seen as a lifestyle choice. In 2005, I took part in a pride parade in Belfast that was poorly attended, poorly funded, and criticized heavily, not only in the press but there was a large, aggressive group, in person, protesting the parade. In 2022, I attended the same Belfast Pride parade. The parade included the local police, large corporations housed in the city, politicians, non-profits, clubs, restaurants, and, of course, many members of the LGBTQ+ community. I couldn’t believe just how much our little parade had turned into an eagerly awaited event. Pride, itself, had given a generation of heavily marginalized LGBTQ+ members the bravery to pave the way for the younger LGBTQ+ youth. As much as I was delighted to see this, I knew from my friends and family in the LGBTQ+ community that much more needs to be done to welcome and support them equally and safely into our cities and countries.
So why do we still need Pride?
Unfortunately, oppression, violence, bullying, and victimization of the LGBTQ+ community are still ongoing. Compared to heterosexual youth, LGBTQ+ youth are five times more likely to have attempted suicide. This is why open support from our community, including figures in high-powered positions such as politicians, mayors, teachers, and other leaders, is so important. Allowing our youth the time to speak freely and live their truth without judgment is critical to allowing them the time to discover who they really are while keeping their mental health intact.
We are also in a time of political instability, and with abortion rights being restricted in Indiana and elsewhere in the US, uncertainty over LGBTQ+ rights is a real concern. Equal marriage and adoption are now legal in all 50 states; however, if those laws were to be overturned, this would leave many families in disarray. Within Westfield itself, there are many families whose lives would change drastically if equal marriage were to be overturned. For example, if a same-sex spouse were to pass away, who would have power of attorney over their children, their belongings, and even the funeral arrangements? All of this would be left open to interpretation and perhaps placed into the hands of a family member who disapproved of the same-sex marriage in the first place.
As a fierce ally, Pride means allowing people to live the lives they were meant to live without judgment, without violence, and without fear, a universal right for us all. Watching how homophobia can affect someone will always be my reason for standing up for LGBTQ+ rights. I will always stand up for my family, friends, and strangers’ rights to live freely, marry freely, and have children freely. Nelson Mandela said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”. Our friends and family in the LGBTQ+ community are here to enhance, diversify, and support the community in its entirety, and being accepting in our own community will bring nothing but progression, compassion, acceptance, and a big load of rainbow fun!
The Westfield Pride Celebration is a family-friendly free event for everyone, taking place on Saturday, 30th September at Asa Bales Park, Westfield, from 2-7 p.m.