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Pride is Not Just About a Parade

Pride is Not Just About a Parade

In honor of Pride month and NYC Pride this Sunday, SheWired contributor Sarah Toce recalls growing up with virtually no gay or lesbian people around and the impact her first, accidental, pride had on her.  

When I was in eighth grade, my Social Studies teacher pulled two photos out of his pocket to show the class.  There had been rumors going around Silas Deane Middle School that Mr. Ciscoe had adopted a baby girl with his wife and, as high school nonsense goes, everyone was curious about the circumstances surrounding the adoption.  Instead of asking for details, they simply gossiped.  Mr. Ciscoe explained to us that he was going to share photos of his pride and joy. As the photos spread around the class from hand to hand, laughter could be heard. I was sitting towards the middle of the last row near the door and finally grasped the glossy images in my hand before I joined in on all of the laughter before me. One image was a photo of a lion ("Pride") and the other was a photo of dish detergent ("Joy"). The joke was on us.

Sarah as a Baby

I had no idea what the word "pride" event meant at that point. I mean, the only gay person I knew growing up was the man who worked at Friendly's Ice Cream and lived down the street from my grandmother in Berlin, Connecticut. At least, that was the only gay person I could pick out in a line-up if instructed. Central Connecticut didn't have a highly-publicized gay pride parade and, if there was one, it was most likely in Hartford or New Haven where I was not allowed to go alone because of over-sensationalized crime stories on NBC News. Oh, there was also my uncle who visited us once every five years from Seattle and wore spandex shorts while cleaning the windows. He always traveled with his best friend from college. They were friends for close to 15 years at that point so I was told that I should call him "Uncle Bill". Funny, I still had no idea that they were a gay couple. We simply did not talk about it (or anything really).

To this day, I am not sure if anyone else in my family is a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered person (although, I do wonder about a few of them). I was raised Catholic-Italian with both sides of my family being originally from Italy. My maternal and paternal grandfathers were boxers and there is even a rumor that they actually fought each other in the ring once. Maybe that is why we have so many different versions of "Rocky" in my family. I'm serious. Here, I will list them for you because I can tell you're skeptical: Rocky Sr, Rocky Jr., Rocco, Rocco II, Rocco III and Rocka. Seriously, a movie needs to be made about my family.

We spent so much time ignoring the obvious and not sharing our feelings, experiences and lives that I grew up feeling very much alone a lot of the time. It seemed like no one else around me could understand me or my feelings. This is probably the reason I wrote all of the time.  While other classmates were gossiping about boys or teachers, I was writing short stories and poetry in my spiral notebook.  I wasn't involved with sports so that categorically didn't signal a red flag for me or those around me. I was further isolated because my father was at the time using drugs, prescription pills and alcohol abusively. My needs, questions and concerns came after everyone else's concerns for him and his OD-status while in one of his many hospital or rehabilitation center stays. Needless to say, I still had no idea what pride meant.  Mental, physical and emotional abuse? Those were subjects I knew all too well. Being gay? I had no idea what that even meant.

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Fast forward to the New York City Pride Parade dancing its way throughout Manhattan on  the last Sunday in June - early 2000. A friend and I had decided to visit the Big Apple for a completely unrelated event.

Our allergies were acting up so we hopped our little asses into a Duane Reade to get some medicine. When we stepped outside of the drug store, there were Secret Service agents huddled in a circular fashion around...something.  Wait, it was someone...We couldn't tell until we inched our way closer that it was actually Hillary Clinton the SSA was enclosing in a protective lair. We looked around.  What was Hillary Clinton doing in the middle of the street in New York City? Then we saw glitter, dildos and men with toilet paper wrapped around their..genitalia.  OH! The Pride Parade! Yes, we somehow were inadvertently jumping into the middle of the Pride Parade on the streets of New York City unbeknownst to us!

We decided to stay and check out the parade. We considered it "meant to be" that we just "happened" to walk into the middle of the parade by accident without knowing it was there and should probably stay. It was my first Pride so all of the colors popped, the outfits were glamorously shocking and the music on the floats had everyone dancing. Pride. Hmm. Dancing, crazy outfits, lots of gay people being out and looking....happy? Was that pride? Over the next few years, I began putting the pieces together in my head and in my heart. I was hooked. I was home.

I decided that pride wasn't all about acting outlandish and colorful.  No, it was about being free, happy, living your own life in the middle of the road, shouting loudly that you're here and not going anywhere and accepting yourself for the person you really are inside regardless of how the message was expressed. There was a community that I had no idea even existed until that day in New York City. My life was changed that day and, going forward, it changed even more.

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I moved to New York City and began fighting for LGBT equality with Marriage Equality New York. I participated in Pride Weekend events, marched across the Brooklyn Bridge shouting for recognition with more than 11,000 people, met many gay and lesbian couples and families and witnessed firsthand the inequality that existed in one of the world's most forward-thinking cities and felt defeated. An advocate was born.

At this point in my life, I refuse to stay quiet and I refuse to let one more LGBT person commit suicide because they feel that they are alone in the world, worthless and cannot be understood. While I know that I cannot prevent what inevitably happens to others, I do have a voice and I intend to use it. Everything in our lives happens for a reason and there are certain things we are not meant to understand at the time when they happen to us and around us. If my childhood had been different, I might not have written in my spiral notebook and it's possible that I might not have become a writer. If I hadn't gone into Duane Reade for allergy medication, I might not have run into the Pride Parade in New York City. Likewise, if I hadn't lived in New York City at all, the person I am today could've been drastically different.

A person's pride is individually their own and there is not one meaning in the world to encompass it for others to copy, borrow or solicit. When I look into my wife's eyes and we talk about having a family and living a life we can both be proud of - that is where I find pride. When I see two beautiful men or women holding hands in public - that is where I find pride. And, when I think of all the impossibilities being thrown at the LGBT community right now by the religious right wing and their cronies - that is where I find pride because nothing is impossible and our community will prevail and be treated as equal human beings one day.  We must all stand up and be seen.

Pride is not just about a parade.

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Sarah Toce