On June 1 at 6pm, the rainbow flag rose to the top of Providence City Hall for the official kickoff to Pride month. This June, the beautiful spectrum of colors flies as a signal to all whom it shelters. It is a call to start the party, to celebrate life with like-minded loved ones and friends, and, most importantly, to step out and take Pride in who you are. It’s also a signal of awareness, of awakening and of reflection, and is a strong call to action. In a country where the narrative of social justice has become a twisted elastic band, being Louder and Prouder is not just important, it’s intrinsically necessary.
The 43rd annual Rhode Island PrideFest and New England’s Only Illuminated Night Parade is set for Saturday, June 16. Not only will you find some lovely queens, such as the fabulous Monet X Change of RuPaul’s Season 10, and Season 8 alumni, Gloucester, Mass, native, Laila McQueen, this year, RI Pride went the distance in the name of inclusivity.
As stated by president of RI Pride, Joe Lazzerini, on behalf of the RI Pride board, “For the first time ever we engaged the community in selecting the 2018 Pride theme. We solicited ideas from the community and then we put those ideas out to a vote. The community selected Louder and Prouder in huge numbers. To us and the LGBTQ+ community across Rhode Island, this theme is personal and means speaking out when we see injustices in our communities. It also means being proud of who we are, who we love and where we come from. We have accomplished a lot over the years as a community, but we still need to speak up and be loud. Speak up for those who can’t, and be proud and celebrate who we are and our diversity as a community.”
Reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community at large is a smart move on the part of RI Pride. Enter Justice Gaines, the new coordinator of the Queer Justice Program at Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM) whose focus is to confront housing instability for queer people of color.
When asked about Pride, Gaines said, “In a lot of ways, it’s become a show. It’s become a show that doesn’t really have a specific political point behind it other than ‘be ourselves’ and I think, for me, something that’s lost is the idea that Pride wasn’t about queer people just being ourselves. It was specifically about challenging the system so that (change) could actually happen … trans people of color are being murdered at astronomical rates, especially trans women — even (during) this year. Hate crimes against queer people have skyrocketed since Trump got in office … protections are being stripped away one at a time. So at this point, to me, there is no longer a space for Pride to pretend it is neutral or to pretend that it’s not political or that it wasn’t political to begin with.”
Pride does have a reputation for being a party, a very colorful party filled with individuals who have been given the space to be themselves. Lazzerini shared his own thoughts, “I am most excited about seeing our community come together for the weekend to celebrate love, diversity and community. It’s been very tough for queer people, especially trans folx and queer people of color, and I feel like Pride is a great place to come to be ourselves, let loose and remember where we come from and where we need to go in the future.”
This sentiment was loosely echoed by Gaines, who had a more skeptical view of the festivities — a cautious view, born from today’s uncertain, ever-changing world. “I am excited to see a point where Pride does feel more like a rally. Does feel more like a protest again. Where we can be both joyous and righteously angry. I think there is space for both of these things, and I don’t quite know if we are there. I think, right now, it’s mostly just about acceptance. I love the idea that I can wear whatever I want to at Pride. I love that. I love the idea that we can just have fun. But I also think we need to be paying attention.”
Pride is also a gathering, an opportunity for like-minded individuals to learn from one another and organize. This year’s grand marshal is a shining example of this spirit of activism. Ashley Delgado, Miss Lesbian Rhode Island 2017, used her platform to actively work on creating positive change by advocating for a unanimously approved Rhode Island bill to ban licensed professionals who treat children and adolescents through conversion therapy — a practice aimed at changing the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender behaviors of an individual.
With more than 75,000 people expected to attend from all over the US and beyond, this gathering could yield some interesting networking and awareness opportunities. As Gaines said, “(Pride should be) a space to bring queer and trans folx into the movement. It’s not just the movement of being proud, but a movement of being active, in actually banding together to stand up for ourselves.”
You may have your own reasons for attending Pride this year. Maybe you’ll go to feel free, maybe you’ll go to have a good time, or maybe you’ll go to remember who you are and who you care about. Or maybe you’ll go to find your voice, a loud, proud outside voice, one that needs and deserves to be heard.
One final note from Joe Lazzerini: Pride is for everyone. All are welcome. But for our straight allies, I’d like to remind everyone to be respectful of our spaces and keep an open mind when you’re attending our parade and festival and the nighttime block parties. To get the most out of Pride, I encourage people to volunteer and get involved. That’s where the real fun is at. More info at prideri.org/volunteer