This was my first year working for Savannah Pride, a local LGBT non-profit. We organize the annual Pride Festival in Forsyth Park every year. It’s still hard to believe Savannah has a pride celebration at all. Pride is vigor and energy and sex, and Savannah is a sleepy, picturesque little town on Georgia’s coast — a hamlet of old buildings, cobblestone streets, ancient oak trees, and elegant squares. People move slowly here. No one rushes to do anything. You strike up conversations with people on the sidewalk, wave to strangers, and pour cocktails early in the afternoon.
Our pride event isn’t the loud spectacle of larger cities. It’s a festival with booths and vendors and a little stage where local musicians play. There’s no parade, no march, no sex. But it’s nice. Now that it’s over, I’ll confess that I was wary about getting involved in the beginning.
Last year, I criticized Savannah Pride for putting up a fence and charging admission. That was before I learned how much it costs to rent chairs, pay security, print fliers, hire performers, cover performers’ travel costs, rent their hotel rooms, and so on. After I realized the admission fee was necessary to make this event happen, I was still unsure if pride festivals, in general, are necessary in today’s world.
I went to college the year Grindr hit the app store, the same year “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed. For four years, I’ve watched country after country all over the world legalize same-sex marriage. Since moving to Savannah, a steadily progressive climate is all I’ve known.
All this seemed impossible to me five years ago, so I can’t imagine what my gay elders must think — the many men and women here who lived through the darkest days of the AIDS crisis and now see LGBT characters on mainstream TV.
I grew up on a farm, and my parents worked diligently to keep the outside world away from me and my sister, perhaps believing that the gay impulse would fail to develop if left unaided by secular media. He selected which TV channels we purchased and installed a parental blocker on our dial-up internet that blocked sites according to keywords. No site with “gay” came through.
When I graduated from high school in 2010, I didn’t know about Stonewall or Gay Rights. I didn’t know any of my cultural heritage. I had no idea what a diva was, or what a drag queen was, or what a twink was. I didn’t know that gay sex roles were arranged into top, bottom, and versatile. I didn’t even know gay people existed openly outside of New York and San Francisco and had no clue they’d be everywhere once I got to art college.
Pride festivals began as a movement in New York with the riots that happened at the Stonewall Bar in Greenwich Village. Since then, pride events have spread all over the globe. During my first two years of college, many of my peers, guys in their twenties who grew up surrounded by messages of tolerance and queer freedom, rolled their eyes when the festival came around. “Why do gays have to remind everyone that they exist?” I hadn’t grown up the same way they had — my life before college was a heavily-censored prison — and pride was a big deal to me.
Then it changed. I adjusted to my new life quickly. I wanted to belong and started to agree with them. “We don’t need pride festivals anymore,” they said. “They just reinforce the fact that we’re different and need to show off.”
I came around by speaking to my gay elders and hearing their stories. My pre-college life is exactly why pride events must happen — because visibility is more than a spectacle. It’s a light in the dark for people who may have their internet monitored and their phones checked. Make it loud and bright enough, they might see it and know we’re here.