Opinion | Why We Still Need Pride Festivals

I went to my first Pride Parade in L.A. in 1985 (or was it 1986?) It seems a long time ago, now. But I vividly remember sitting on the curb of Santa Monica Blvd. watching Dykes on Bikes roar by, sharing sips of Wild Turkey from a bottle someone passed through the crowd. (It was my first taste of whiskey, too.)

We were deep in the throes of the AIDS Crisis and government indifference to mass death. But the ubiquitous admonition to “Wear your rubbers, boys!” seemed largely irrelevant to my celibate self. I felt fat, ugly, and unlovable; so uncomfortable in my own skin that I wouldn’t have even recognized seduction, much less been able to engage in it.

Murphy head shot
I was terrified. And vulnerable. Very, very vulnerable. But I was embraced by a bunch of perfect strangers who kindly pretended the naïve kid from Orange County wasn’t as young (or dumb!) as he looked. They just cheered the parade and passed the whiskey.People like them kept my 20-year-old self from falling that day, and many days after.

Earlier this year I very publicly criticized Pride St. Louis (Pride STL) for some longstanding problems that I feared, if left unaddressed, would limit the future growth and effectiveness of the organization. They need a more representative board; they need to provide audited financials; and, they need to do more to ensure that words like “transgender” and “lesbian” are as prominent as corporate-sponsor names in their marketing and PR.

We’ve since learned that the situation is worse than feared. Pride STL left PrideFest 2016 about $160, 000 in the red and fundraising over the last year has largely gone to service that debt. As a result, Pride STL enters PrideFest 2017 with little in the bank.

But, whatever our differences, we urgently need to preserve Pride Festivals and Pride Parades for kids like me, who drive into the ‘big city’ for their first Pride, have their eyes opened to life’s possibilities, and get wrapped in the arms of a loving crowd that will keep them from falling until they’re strong enough to walk on their own. In our arguments over the colors on the Pride flag, the letters in the community acronym, the role of the police and corporate sponsorship, we cannot forget that, for some vulnerable kid from the suburbs or the country, their first Pride festival can be an eye-opening, even life-saving, experience. We need to hold space for them until they learn for themselves the political power of queers occupying public space—a right we cannot take for granted in the ‘time of Trump.’

If you’re in STL this weekend, please attend the STL Pride Festival and Sunday’s Grand Pride Parade. Give a few bucks, drink a few beers, eat some BBQ. Wear your pink tutu, sprinkle some pixie dust, flap your angel wings, flounce your rainbow wig, and sissy that walk!

If you're lucky, Dykes on Bikes will roar by to awe-inspire you, too!

Mike Murphy is an Associate Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of Illinois Springfield. He is a graduate of Washington University and has lived in St. Louis since 1995.