A couple of months ago, I took my friend DeSean to Boston’s Youth Pride Parade. Pride was as new for him as it was for me, except he had an excuse; I didn’t—I am twenty-four; he is sixteen.
I never really gave much attention to Pride. Even as someone who has never attended, I saw the festivities as a strange mix of debauchery and activism, of partying and self-reflection, and of acceptance of those who fit in and rejection of those unlucky to fall outside the stereotypes. Judging from afar, Pride seemed to act as a misnomer—what were people proud of? How much they could drink? How few clothes they could wear? How much they could shake their bodies dancing to Madonna?
Youth Pride in Boston seemed a bit different. As we entered the festive grounds, the five of us (my sister, her boyfriend, my best friend, DeSean, and I) were greeted by people eager to tell us about their services, organizations, and upcoming events. Present were religious institutions—from Christian to Buddhist—health care organizations, support groups, and even a man who lured us all into his delicious candy tent. People of all ages had the opportunity to enter a raffle for an i-Pad if they went through HIV testing.
Against this backdrop of information and activism, the youth danced to Lady Gaga and Rihanna (for next year, I suggest more cultural variation in music and diversity in genres, although DeSean tells me “the music was very cool!”). Taken as a whole, Youth Pride was not only a celebration of youthfulness and queerness, but also of the community we have created, of the services we provide, of the faiths we follow, of the activities we involve ourselves, and of the mouth-watering candy only gays know how to make. For a sixteen year-old, I think Pride was important in helping solidify his identity in a hetero-normative society. It was important in helping him understand that as weird—or queer—as he is, there are others who are even stranger but who are nonetheless proud of their bizarreness. Youth Pride also gave both DeSean and me something else to be proud of: that as an LGBTQ community can take care of our youth, that we have progressed to a more inclusive society, and that we have expanded the support and services for the LGBTQ in Boston. When I asked DeSean what he thought of that day, he said, “Youth Pride was very fun and amazing. All the people there were very cool and entertaining. I enjoyed walking around and seeing all the tables and stands and I learned a lot of the services we have.”
But as proud as I am of my community, I am also cognizant that many others despise the idea of ‘promoting the gay agenda.’ To them—some family members included—a Youth Pride is a way to turn more kids gay or lesbian and a way of spreading immorality and disease. I do not expect to change people’s views in this short posting, but I would like to ask that we consider that LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide than does the general population. Supporting Youth Pride, therefore, is not about coming out in support of gay marriage or accepting the “homosexual lifestyle” (though it can be). Most importantly, youth pride is about being pro-community, of coming out in favor of support systems for a population traditionally marginalized; it’s about affirming to ourselves that in a sea of non-inclusiveness, we can find pockets of acceptance and love. I think we can all relate to these desires.