Experiencing Pride for the first time

Having lived in the south my entire life, I thought of Pride as this crazy party that all the gay people go to … to, well, be gay. Pride is portrayed as this raunchy and hypersexualized thing that isn’t safe for children. I also thought of Pride as something that was not for me, something for the really "out there” gays.

While there may be some truth in some of that, Pride as I experienced it for the first time just this year was not what it was made out to be. If I had known this earlier, I would have definitely made an effort to go in previous years.

Several factors made this the year, though. Last year, I might have gone except I was on a school trip in Europe during Pride. We actually ended up leaving Paris the day before Paris Pride. Also, at that time, I was only out to about 15 people. In the year since, I have pretty much come out all the way.

On October 11, 2017, I came out at my school, and then March of this year I came out publicly and to my immediate family. Being out and experiencing so many positive reactions from friends and family allowed me to feel more comfortable with being gay and, by extension, with going to Pride.

Up until about the week before Nashville Pride, I hadn't necessarily planned on going, but then I called my friend from my school’s GSA and asked for a ride. I found myself getting more and more excited, until that Friday when it felt like Saturday couldn’t come fast enough.

I was still nervous though. I was afraid I would stand out, because for so long I’ve had to hide who I am to the entire world and have been worried about how the world sees me.

But, when Saturday came, I grabbed my Pride flag, put it in my backpack, and got ready to go. Once I got to Pride, I was still really nervous and afraid to just be me, lest I stand out. Then my friends who brought me dragged me into the parade to march with them.

After about 5 minutes, I realized that I didn't have to be afraid to stand out somewhere where almost everyone stands out, so I got over my fear and joined in in the fun. I wore my Pride flag as a cape, held up my sign, and joined in on the whoops and hollers of the parade as we went by.

As we marched I got more and more comfortable not only with being in the parade but also with just being me. By the end of the parade I was actually sad that it was over, and I wanted to go around again—partly to see more cute dogs that people were marching with, but mainly because it was just a ton of fun.

After the parade, the shy boy afraid of standing out was proudly wearing his cape and much more outgoing. After we went into the actual event, we meandered around for a bit and went to see most of the stalls.

I have to say, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of gay that I saw. I was surprised by some of the businesses that had booths there like Cracker Barrel or Dollar General, because I had never thought of them as especially pro-LGBT businesses. The thing that surprised me more than that, though, was how wrong I was about what Pride is.

Pride wasn’t this wild party or super raunchy thing. While some of those elements where there—some people dressed in very little clothing and there was a booth that had music playing and a dance floor—the majority of Pride is people enjoying life and just chilling out.

Another thing that surprised me in hindsight that I guess really shouldn’t have was that Pride isn’t only for the LGBT community. I ran into some friends from school who are in a straight relationship and neither are LGBT. They were there to enjoy Pride just like me, and just because they weren’t LGBT didn't mean that they couldn’t enjoy pride.

Of course, though, there will always be people who aren’t supportive of the LGBT community and who love to be vocal and make that opinion known. So it wasn’t a surprise when there were the protesters with their megaphones and “Homo Sex is Sin” sign.

What was unexpected for me was the solidarity that I saw in all the people that were counter-protesting. They were obscuring the sight of the protesters with their bodies and flags and also countering their messages of negativity with messages of positivity and also making light of the protesters. There were signs that said “You are valid and loved” and “Free hugs!” countering the message of hate with one of love and acceptance.

It was moving to see the community come together to protect Pride from the hate that those protesters spewed. One of my favorite memories from Pride actually joining the counter- protesters in their chant of “Gay is the way! Gay is the way!”

The point of Pride is to be a place of unconditional love and acceptance, something desperately needed in the South. Having grown up gay in the South, I know how isolating it can be, especially when you aren’t out. It can feel like there is no one else like you, and that you have no one to look up to. You feel as if you are alone and that you can’t be yourself.

What many people not a part of the LGBT community don't understand is how we have to put on different faces for different people. You are a different person around your family than you are with your friends, and you are different still when you are in public. It can wear you down to maintain that. But at Pride, that barrier can come down.

At Pride, I felt relaxed and comfortable with who I am. I didn't have to have a mask on, and I could just be gay me. Pride is a place to remind you that you are valid and there is nothing wrong with you. Pride is a place to be yourself. Pride is a reminder that you aren’t alone. Pride is where you are accepted unconditionally. Pride is a place to be gay or lesbian or trans or bi or whatever. Pride is love, unconditional Love.

Pride is a place where you are able to be proud that you are LGBT and be proud of the person you are, no matter what anyone else says. Pride is beautiful and the place most full of love and joy that I have ever seen.

Garrett Schneider is a student at Williamson County’s Independence High School. Garrett was one of the organizers of this summer’s student demonstration against gun violence on the second anniversary of the Pulse Massacre. These are his reflections on attending his first Pride.

Photo courtesy of Jose Cuervo

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