During the pandemic, one of my 8-year-old’s biggest disappointments was missing the Philly Pride parade two years in a row.
Before COVID-19, I took her to all-ages performances by Martha Graham Cracker, and the Drag Diva Brunch in Fishtown. But her favorite LGBTQ event, by far, was the last Philly Pride parade, in June 2019, when she was 5.
The weather was perfect — one of the very few “just right” days we get in Philly all year. I don’t remember a single cloud, bug, or hint of humidity.
The timing of the parade was ideal for someone who goes to bed at 7:30 — it kicked off around 11 a.m., and wrapped midafternoon. Everyone around her was smiling, dancing, cheering, and wearing brightly colored clothes. She got free necklaces, T-shirts, and treats from marchers, who tossed them into the crowd. My daughter jumped up and down as if she were at a One Direction show, hooting and hollering with the people around us as each group glided past in the parade. We waved to people we knew. We high-fived Gritty.
She had never heard the Rihanna song “We Found Love” that seemed to throb from every other float as it passed by, and it remains one of her favorites three years later. To this day, she still talks about “the rainbow parade.”
Yes, there were people with barely any clothing on, and some adult props she had never seen before. But what she noticed was the music, the smiling, the dancing, and the celebration. It was a great party.
But to me, Pride is much more than a party.
At their core, Pride events are a celebration of life. More specifically, a celebration of each individual life — a chance for all of us to tell each other: “I see you and celebrate you, just as you are.” At its best, it’s beautiful.
But Philly Pride hasn’t always had an inclusive ethos. Last year’s celebration was canceled after the former organizing group dissolved following criticism of its treatment of Black, brown, and trans members of its own community.
This year aims to be different. It’s the 50th anniversary of Philly Pride, a new organization is in charge, and the entire day has been reinvented. No pay-only parties; it’s free and open to the public, with fewer branding opportunities for companies, who seemed to dominate the 2019 festivities. There’s even specific programming for families, including age-appropriate content provided by local groups such as the Attic Youth Center.
We will be there.
I’m not gay, so I’m sure some people wonder why I take my kid to Pride. But that’s exactly the point. I take her because I want to show her that the world is full of all kinds of different people, including many who don’t look or act or live the way we do, and there’s room for all of us. I want her to see that even if you don’t have a personal stake in an issue, it’s important to be an ally, to show up and show your support.
Pride is a day when we let people be exactly who they are, and love them for it. I need her to see that, and to see me celebrate that. I want my daughter to know that the world can make space for her, whoever she is.
It’s one thing to tell your kids “I love you, no matter what.” It’s another thing to show them. I take my daughter to Pride to show her that I give her permission to become who she is. I — and many other people — will be happy to smile and dance and wear bright colors alongside her.
This felt important in 2019, but it feels even more so three years later, as many in Pennsylvania and beyond aim to squash conversations about difference. Recently, Central Bucks School District has faced criticism for removing Pride flags from classrooms, canceling the production of Rent (which includes queer relationships), and suspending a favorite teacher and key LGBTQ ally. And the coming years — and conservative Supreme Court — don’t hold much promise for LGBTQ rights.
As a parent, an American, and a human being, I am scared by this. Blocking children’s access to positive LGBTQ messaging won’t stop them from being gay or trans; it will stop them from feeling OK about it. And we’re in a childhood mental health crisis: During part of 2020, emergency visits due to mental health conditions increased 24% among 5-to-11-year-olds, compared with the year before. Among kids 12 to 17, visits increased by 31%. To me, teaching kids anything other than tolerance, compassion, and love is dangerous.
So on June 5, I will take my daughter to Philly Pride, where we will dance and smile and celebrate with a bunch of strangers. It will be beautiful.