Saturday dawned bright and beautiful in the nation’s capital, with the promise of hot and humid weather by mid-afternoon when the Capital Pride parade would begin, and continue for nearly three hours. Floats, bands, LGBT employee affinity groups from major corporations, churches, bars, and politicians—all marching in honor of the Pride increasingly felt by LGBT Americans.
And at the same time, some 1,000 miles south of Washington, a man is packing his car and readying himself for a purposeful drive to Orlando.
The feeling on the street was party-like, light-hearted, and happy. Women in halter tops and men going shirtless, trying to stay cool in the heat of a hot summer day. Interestingly, I saw very few same-sex couples holding hands or displaying affection. In days long past, it was a political and rather defiant statement to the oppressive world to kiss one’s boyfriend or girlfriend in public, or to hold their hands. I wondered if the fact that many of these same sex couples are now married made them feel less like they needed to make a statement—political or otherwise—about the love they shared. Rather than kissing and holding hands, some of these couples were pushing a baby stroller and leading a toddler by the hand, holding them up to see the colorful rainbows that abound at a Pride parade.
I attended a party overlooking the parade route. I decided to spend some of my time at the party asking other attendees what Pride means to them, and whether or not such parades were needed any longer in a world so much more accepting of LGBT lives.
The younger LGBT people at the party—some of whom came out in high school or even middle school—tended to see Pride as a party, a celebration of the ability to “be myself and be proud of myself,” and to celebrate how far we’ve come as a community. The older the party-goer, the more political their answers to my question. Some of the older people at the party felt that Pride had become “merely” a party, rather than a sober, appreciative remembrance of the struggles and fights (and sacrificed lives) it took to get where we are today. Some expressed dismay at how ignorant our millennials are about their own gay history, taking for granted the discrimination and violence we experienced in the “bad old days,” and the battles we all fought to make the freedom of today possible. A few wished the younger LGBT members of our community were a bit more political.
And then we all woke up Sunday morning to the news, the tragic and horrifying news, from Orlando. The city known for its Magic Kingdom and Shamu became the city of tragedy and carnage against our community. The shooter’s father later recounted his son’s disgust at seeing two men kissing in public during a recent visit to Miami, and that this father of a 3-year-old became enraged, even obsessed, that his toddler would witness such a thing.
Whatever else we learn about the shooter and his motives, my community will forever remember that it was a gay club he chose for a target, during the month of June, when we celebrate the progress we have made over the last 50 years to be afforded our equal civil rights. It was LGBT people, for the most part, and their friends who were targeted at short range, in a small, crowded club, with an assault rifle designed for use on a battlefield.
Let’s be clear. Every country in the world has unstable people and people whose hearts are filled with hatred toward one group or another. But it is only in America that these people can easily, and without even a background check, obtain a weapon whose sole purpose is to kill as many people as possible, in as short a time as possible. That is wrong, immoral, and insane.
I wish that I could reconvene the group of party-goers I was with Saturday. I wonder what they would say now about the meaning of Pride, and whether or not it had outgrown its meaning and usefulness. I wonder if the events in Orlando refute the notion, held by too many outside and even within the LGBT community itself, that our advocacy work is, for the most part, finished.
If we look back at the long struggle for full and equal civil rights by African-Americans, culminating in the dramatic and often violent events in the ’60s, there is much to be learned about courage, tenacity, and sacrifice for the common good. But the learning I recall today is this: Just because we got Jim Crow laws off the books, it did not mean the end of racism. Laws may have been changed, but many hearts and minds were not.
LGBT people need to learn from our sister movement that just because we can now serve in the military and marry the person we love, it does not mean that everyone’s heart and mind is now accepting of us. Fourty-nine corpses and another 50-plus injured are tragic reminders that animus, hatred and violence against us are alive and well and living in America.
One-half of June remains. Perhaps other cities around the country, who have yet to stage their commemorations of Pride, would do well to add a sober—and yes, political—note to their celebrations. This is not “just” a party. It is not a purposeless parade, and it has not outlived its usefulness. Now, more than ever, we need to walk down the streets of America, heads held high, certain of our worth, steadied by a sense of dignity, filled with appreciation for the part of the journey accomplished, and committed to the journey ahead, no matter what it takes.
That solidarity and commitment would be something rightfully filling us with Pride.
V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, D.C., and the IX Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Follow him on Twitter @BishopGRobinson