This month my mind has been wandering back to memories of the San Francisco Pride celebrations of the late 1980s and early 1990s. That period in our history was such a radically different time. Then, as now, I worked as a psychotherapist near the Castro with a predominantly gay male clientele. During those years, half of my patients were dying, the other half were caregivers for those who were sick, and some were in both roles. I remember that, every year, as Pride approached, at least one person would ask, almost in a whisper, as if the question couldn’t be spoken too loudly: “What do we have to celebrate?”
But celebrate we did—joyfully, loudly and angrily. To come out for Pride in those days was, in and of itself, an act of defiance—against a federal government that ignored our plight and sneered at our suffering; against a “Christian” culture that told us we deserved to die of AIDS; and against a society in which so many were either indifferent or overtly hostile.
Every June, through the duration of the AIDS crisis, we proclaimed our values and our right to live, and it is a testament to the resilience of our collective spirit that we did manage to find joy in the midst of all that suffering.
Today we live in a world that couldn’t be farther away from that grim and desperate time. The LGBTQ community has emerged stronger, more confident and more powerful than at any time in our history. And yet, this year I find myself remembering those years and feeling, once again, that same sense of foreboding and anger and defiance.
This moment in American history is a time when the forces of irrationality, fear and hatred are on the rise. I’ve never been prouder of my people, or more afraid for my country. We seem to be a civilization that has, for now at least, lost its way.
A significant portion of the American electorate has been conned into voting for its oppressors. The grifter who now occupies the White House rose to power by riding a wave of reaction. Trump’s destructiveness is abetted by a party that has degenerated into a right-wing cult that stands for nothing beyond the enrichment of the one percent. The man’s buffoonery can lull us into forgetting how dangerous and potentially lethal he is. Remember what happened this year, for instance, to the people of Puerto Rico; and as I write, we have only just learned that, in our name, immigrant children are being forcibly stolen from their parents and locked in cages. In a time like this, Pride must once again be defiant.
Trump has, for the second year, refused to proclaim June as Pride Month. It’s just as well. Our celebrations require no blessings from him. It would have been positively bizarre for him to do it anyway, given that the values we celebrate this month are completely foreign to him. We stand for equality; his whole life has been about the domination and exploitation of the vulnerable. We stand for truth over collective delusion; he is indifferent to factual reality. We stand for diversity and inclusion; he is an incarnation of white privilege. We stand against racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and jingoism; these things are the essence of his “policies.” Above all, Pride is about love; Trumpism is fear.
The irony of this moment in our history, then, is that it is we, who were once the despised outsiders, who are actually guardians of the enduring values of western civilization. What we can do that will be most helpful to the country in this dark time is exactly what we do every year—stand collectively and publicly and visibly for who we are and for what and whom we love.
When we bear witness in this way for all to see, we are a living repudiation of all that is Trump; a powerful symbol of hope for what life can be for everyone; and a reminder of the ideals that still live in the hearts of Americans, even in a time when so many have lost sight of them. This year, let us celebrate Pride with joy and with courage.