Happy Pride Month everyone! If you don’t already know, June is the month where the world highlights, respects, supports and appreciates the LGBTQIA+ community, more than it typically does. Pride Month began after the Stonewall riots and has become more and more celebrated over the years.
As a girl, growing up in Northern NY, I never knew about Pride. It wasn’t something we celebrated in the North Country nor was it something my dad really ever spoke about. When I moved to NYC in 1997 and saw my first Pride celebration on Christopher Street, I was blown away. Whenever you see a group of people come together in any way to support one another, it’s overwhelmingly touching and emotional. I find that even if you aren’t a part of the specific community, you can feel transported into a place of having some sense of understanding of who they are, what they’re celebrating and why the meaning behind it is so powerful. You can be moved by the power of others’ love.
Seeing the NYC Pride celebration in June of ’97 not only reaffirmed my sense of pride for the LGBTQIA community but it also helped my understanding of the community to grow and enabled me to see that as a supporter, I was a part of the community too. The people marching, parading, cheering in this celebration were from all walks of life. They were from all over the world, all ages and all representations imaginable, including people like me who were there to cheer them on, just for the pride they had in being themselves.
Being unique and true to yourself is something that for so many of us, has been underrated and frowned upon. Many, like myself, grew up being taught to conform to society, to fit in, belong. Wear what everyone else is wearing, like the same TV shows or sports, have the same hairstyle. What if we had just been taught to be true to ourselves, that the uniquenesses that set us apart are exactly what makes us each special, unique and oh so valuable? It’s certainly a lot scarier and harder, especially if everyone on the sidelines is telling you that being different isn’t good. Telling you that being different is bad.
The weekend of that NYC pride celebration, I had been moving into my “new” apartment in the West Village on Washington Place, half a block from the festivities. I had chosen the apartment because the west village felt a bit like home to me, even though I’d never lived there before. I had memories of being there with my dad over the years and in the years since he’d passed away, I was always drawn to the village anytime I visited NY.
When my dad died from HIV/AIDS in 1992, he didn’t have a typical funeral. I don’t remember the specifics since I was a young teen but, my guess would be that although raised Catholic, I have a feeling my dad felt like the Catholic community maybe didn’t support him as he’d hoped they might. Also, my dad was a pretty free spirit and sort of went with what felt right to him. He had a memorial after his death on the upper East side at Frank E Campbell funeral chapel. I think he picked it because Judy Garland and Jackie O had their services there. My dad had good taste. Anyway, the day after the memorial service, my dad’s family had followed his wishes to have his ashes scattered under the Verrazano bridge. I don’t remember if it was completely illegal to do this back then but, I remember we definitely weren’t supposed to be doing it. It wasn’t the most gorgeous day on the Narrows. It was chilly, windy, rocky and sad but regardless I have special sweet memories of that day. We were all out there together, under the Verrazano, between the two islands my dad grew up on, miserable, doing something very sketchy and I remember thinking how much my dad would have loved to have seen us all like that. Like that, there and for him.
Since his ashes had been scattered, my dad never had a burial site, or selfishly, my dad never really had anywhere I could go to visit him. Fortunately for me, my dad did have a lot of great friends and family who very much kept his memory alive, far more than they probably know. My dad’s family loved to share photos and old stories of him and it didn’t hurt that they all look and sound just like him. The same half evil laugh. His partner Scott filled in many of the holes for me and has acted like a step father to me over the years, even though he and my dad hadn’t legally been able to marry of course, back then. Scott also went above and beyond to keep my dad’s Kennel, Rizer’s Goldens alive for as long as he could, hence my overwhelming love of anything Golden.
Dad’s friends, many in the show/breeding world also continued his memory by keeping his line of dogs alive and strong for years. Some friends got together and created a piece of the AIDS Quilt and someone, somewhere out there added my dad’s name to a plaque at Saint Veronica’s Church, on Christopher Street.
You know how people talk about passing it forward? Well, whoever gave my dad one of these few spots up in the little balcony of this precious church truly has no idea what a gift you gave to a young girl. A girl who, it would turn out, quite frequently needed a good and quiet place to cry, complain, grieve and talk to her dad who was no longer with her.
And so there I was. Christopher Street in June of 1997, watching this incredible celebration of Pride for the first time ever and feeling so proud, welcome, comfortable and happy to be a part of it all. Knowing that whatever all of these people had been through to get to the point they were at, where they were able to celebrate themselves for who they are, not for what society thinks they should be or should have been, was something so amazing to be a part of, so poignantly worth celebrating.
When I think back to my dad and the battles he had to go through to get to the point where he was able to be free, be who he truly was and not worry about what society thought of him, it really makes me so sad. Sure, I am grateful that he and my mom married and that my sister and I were born, of course I am. But, I have such mixed feelings about it all. Julia and I are only here because my dad wasn’t able to be/wasn’t comfortable being who he truly was. He was told that who he was, wasn’t right. That he wasn’t good enough, that he had to be someone else. And so, for years and years he was. He tried to conform, tried to be who society told him to be, until he couldn’t anymore.
The idea for me of watching anyone struggle to try to fit the mold of who other people think they should be angers me deeply. It disturbs me, frustrates me and it makes me very sad. To know that today, there are still little kids and adults, being told that they aren’t who they know they are, that who they are isn’t right, people being told that they aren’t good enough, it burns a fire through my soul.
We are all on this earth for a limited amount of time and we as a world need to shine as beautifully and brightly as the celebrations of Pride do. We’re all different people, we’re all unique, all living our own special journey through this life and that is why I honor Pride this month and always.
The best gift we can give this world is being our own unique selves, true to who we are in our hearts. Pride.