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The spread of COVID-19 has, rightly, led to the cancellation of most big celebrations this summer. Pride marches and gatherings are among the events that have been put on hold. For those of us who still want to mark Pride month, this poses some challenges. And those challenges are even bigger for those people who cannot safely be out due to being stuck at home with unsupportive family. In this piece, we’re going to talk about ways you can celebrate Pride while social distancing, and what to do if you’re living in a space where you can’t be out.
First things first!
As I write this, we are over two weeks into protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, and the painfully endless list of Black people murdered by police.
It’s become almost a platitude to say “The first Pride was a riot.” It wasn’t just any riot, though: Stonewall, and earlier acts of resistance like the Compton Cafeteria riot, arose because of police targeting queer and trans individuals for daring to exist. Those actions were led by queer and trans people of color. Resisting police violence and oppression are at the core of Pride. We forget that, at our peril and to the detriment of the most vulnerable members of the queer community. Pride without intersectionality, without an eye towards justice, dismantling white supremacy, and safety for all of us is a toothless thing, rainbow-coated and hollow.
Which is why, before we get to anything else, I want to share a list of just a few organizations that could use your support right now.
- Trans Women of Color Collective Community Funds
- Black Lives Matter
- Bail funds for protesters
- LGBTQ Freedom Fund
- Living Index of Mutual Aid Funds
What do I do if I’m not out?
It’s a sad fact that many young people are not in a place where it’s safe for them to be out publicly, or even to their friends or family in private. And from what we’re seeing here at Scarleteen, even more people than usual are stuck in that situation, thanks to COVID-19. If you’re a young person in that situation, you still have some options for (quietly) marking Pride month and connecting with a community that loves and affirms who you are.
With these suggestions, remember that you are the expert in how safe it is to do certain things in your living situation. For instance, if the adults in your life monitor your devices or communication, some of the digital Pride events and resources may be off-limits. If you do your own laundry (or the laundry for the household) you may have an easier time sneaking a few pairs of rainbow underwear or socks into the mix. I believe finding ways to celebrate Pride however you can is important, but nothing takes priority over your safety. Remember, this isn’t going to be your forever.
Reading queer fiction is one way to feel connected and seen. If your devices aren’t watched, most libraries have digital databases where you can borrow books and read them on your phone, or borrow them as audiobooks. You can also choose books whose titles don’t give away their content, in case someone happens to spot the cover. Carry On, You Should See Me in a Crown, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secret of the Universe, Lumberjanes, Not Your Sidekick, The Prince and The Dressmaker, and Gideon the Ninth (just to name a few) are all stories where their queerness isn’t immediately obvious to someone looking at them.
Speaking of audio, podcasts and music are a great way to stay connected to queer spaces and stories from the privacy of your earbuds. And there are a growing number of both queer non-fiction and fiction podcasts for you to choose from. If mixtapes are more your speed, we have a list of some killer Pride-themed ones at the end of this article.
You can also find ways to express yourself through your appearance. Color is a major one; even if you can’t wear the flag of your choosing, you can still show its colors. This is a little tricky with the rainbow (we’ll talk about it in a second), but most other flags, such as the bi, trans, ace, or pan pride ones, are only three colors. Three colors that you could, conceivably, put onto your body in the form of clothes, make-up, and accessories. It doesn’t have to be three big things either; got some pink socks, blue nail polish, and a yellow shirt? Congrats, you’re a secret pan pride flag! Got a white shirt, blue hat, and pink shoe-laces? Stealthy trans pride ahoy!
Now, about that rainbow. Remember how I mentioned socks and underwear earlier? Plenty of places offer those things in rainbow colors and, while others can’t always see them, it can help to wear them for your own sake. Tie-dye is also a great option; it’s technically rainbow but doesn’t immediately ping an unsafe person’s “Wait, that’s gay” radar. If you paint your nails, you can sneak the rainbow onto them (toenails may be a safer bet for this, as people look at our hands more than our feet). If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also try putting the full rainbow on your body, one color at a time. If you’ve got an eye for color and style, you can even try your hand at a gradient, starting with red near your head and gradually working through the rainbow until you hit purple at your shoes.
You can also dip into queer history for inspiration. Queer and trans people have been using codes, symbols, and signs for a long time, often with an eye towards avoiding detection by unfriendly people while still letting other queer and trans people know, “Hey, I am one of you.” S. Bear Bergman outlines some options in this excellent piece on celebrating Pride quietly. Wikipedia also has a thorough list of queer and trans symbols, some which are obscure enough that they can let you show your pride without alerting bigoted people to your identity.
Personally, I’m a fan of lavender as a symbol for my own queerness. I first learned about it in the context of the Lavender Scare, an attempt to remove queer people from government jobs (and yes, like the Red Scare around communism, this was Senator McCarthy’s fault). But the connection goes back farther, at least to pre-WWII Germany, with music like “The Lavender Song” that celebrates being queer and trans. You may not be able to wear a “Lavender Menace” t-shirt, but you can still add a lavender accent to your outfit or make-up, or even tuck a sprig of it behind your ear or pin it to your shirt. If anyone asks why you’re wearing it, you can say you find it soothing.
Lastly, I encourage you to seek out online community when you can. You’re always welcome on our direct services–in particular, our message boards are a space where you can come and talk with other queer and trans folks. If you’re looking for other safe spaces, check out:
- Australia: Q Life
- India: Agents of Ishq Resource List (includes hotlines and other digital supports)
- United Kingdom: Switchboard
- United Kingdom: Validation Station
- U.S and Canada: Trans Lifeline: US: 877-565-8860/Canada: 877-330-6366
Celebrating Pride from the Safety of Your Home
If you can safely be out in your living space, there are lots of ways you can celebrate Pride month! From online parties to rainbow cake, here are just a few ideas for how to be out and proud while staying indoors.
Tons of major Pride celebrations are going digital this year. And while it’s a bummer for those of us who like going to the in-person events, there are some major upsides; digital prides are often more accessible for disabled queer and trans folks, and being online means that someone in Nebraska can now take part in and enjoy L.A. Pride without a plane ticket. While I encourage you to check out the big-name Pride celebrations, take some time to also look into any local LGBT centers to see if they’re holding digital celebrations as well. Who knows, you might meet some peers you can hang out with when the pandemic is over.
And if you’re looking for another digital way to celebrate Pride, we’ll be celebrating right here at Scarleteen on Friday, June 26th! Keep your eyes on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!
Consume Queer History and Culture
Pride month is also a great chance to do (or continue) a deep-dive into queer culture and history. A lot of us still get only a sliver—if we get anything at all—of queer history growing up. For instance, did you know Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera founded STAR? Or that there have been nonbinary people in different cultures for centuries? How about the Ashes Action and the Blood Sisters? I was well into my twenties before I learned any of that, and I went to school in a “progressive” area.
Queer history is a vibrant, varied, and fascinating thing, and reading it can help you not only connect to those who came before you; sometimes it can give you tools to help you understand yourself in the present moment.
Queer fiction is equally powerful in helping us feel like our stories and lives matter. Luckily, there’s been a boom in the last few years of queer YA that doesn’t center on trauma and unhappy endings (not that those stories are unimportant, but sometimes you really need to read something where the gays don’t get buried at the end). Whether you’re looking for history, fiction, or both, here are just a few places to start building your reading list.
- 50 Books to Read About LGBTQ History During Pride Month
- LGBT History Month: A Reading List
- 26 LGBTQIA Titles for Teens
- 20 Queer YA Books for Your 2020 TBR
If you’re more of a movie person, you can have your own queer film festival! You can even use Discord and other platforms to watch along with friends for a long-distance movie night. Whip yourself up some multi-colored popcorn and find the flick that’s right for you (if you need one with a happy ending, here are some to try).
Engage in activism and community care
In case I haven’t made the point abundantly clear, there are many groups within the queer community that face extra barriers to accessing everything from Pride celebrations to basic rights. One of the best ways to mark Pride is to, if you’re able, find ways to support other community members from a distance and advocate for a better world for all of us. Here are four ideas to get you started
- Join or start a GSA/QSA: If you’re in high school or middle school, you can use the summer months to research whether your school already has a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) or Queer/Straight Alliance (QSA )and, if it doesn’t, how you can go about creating one. Starting or supporting a QSA is a great way to build a queer space somewhere you spend a lot of your time, and also means you’re creating a safe space for others in the community. And if your school is staying online for the foreseeable future, you still have the option to start a virtual QSA.
- Connect with your local LGBT center to see if they need volunteers: While most LGBT centers are staying online due to COVID-19, some still need volunteers to help with things like fundraising, online events, and even peer support! Volunteering gives you a chance to help out the community while also keeping you connected to other queer people.
- Write to an incarcerated person: Because of greater rates of things like homelessness, queer and trans people end up in prison at a disproportionately high rate. Once there, they’re at greater risk of discrimination and violence (including from guards and other workers within the prisons). Writing to someone who’s queer and incarcerated can make a huge difference to that person. If you’re interested, Black and Pink has the tools to get you started.
- Donate: If you have funds to spare, donating to queer and trans-led and focused organizations is a quick way to help make a big impact. If there is a certain issue that’s important to you, like mental health, access to food, or queer sex ed, you can pick a queer organization that focuses on those issues. I also encourage you to look for organizations working in your state or town, so that you can help make an impact in your own backyard. And if you, like some people I know, are in a situation where your funds are monitored or shared with people who are homophobic or transphobic, you may still have ways to donate. For instance, if you follow artists on places like Instagram or Twitter, many are taking commissions and then putting some or all of the money you pay them towards non-profits, mutual aid funds, or bail funds.
And if you do make the choice to protest on the streets? Make sure you have the tools to be safe about it. We have a general safety guide for those engaging in active protest. Initial findings suggest that the protests have not caused the feared spike in cases, due to factors like many protesters wearing masks and the fact that fresh air seems to dilute the virus, making transmission less likely. Even so, safety is a priority, and there are steps you can take to lessen the risk of contracting or passing the virus during protest. Think of it as yet another way to keep yourself and your community safe during Pride.
The Fun Stuff
Because humans can do and believe multiple things at once, you can use Pride as a time for activism and resistance while also using it as a time to throw a Pride party in your own space!
One of my favorite things about going to a Pride celebration is seeing all the ways that humans express themselves, and having the chance to express myself in the way I’m most comfortable. For some, that means glitter and make-up that would make a bird of paradise proud. For others, it means dad shorts and flip flops with some sunscreen, or a shirt that screams “I’m gay!” or a plain white tank-top. And every variation of expression between, around, and within those groupings.
Right now, since many of us are still staying home as much as possible, it can feel silly to put on anything but your pajama pants or that one t-shirt that’s super-soft. But I’ve noticed that on the days I put on an actual outfit, I feel less like a jellyfish floating in an endless sea of awful. When I dress like I’m going to Pride, it helps me feel a little bit more like myself. So, if you’ve got a favorite Pride look, throw it on!
Decorating for Pride is both a great way to celebrate and liven up a space you have, in all likelihood, been stuck in for months. I’m a fan of DIY decorating, both because limiting trips to the store is still a sound choice, but also because it allows you to customize to your preferred Pride palette.
Outdoor or window decorations have the added benefit of letting other queer people in your area know they’re not alone. Do you have lights that are rainbow, or multiple strands that you can make into Pride colors and hang somewhere? How about some flowers that you can plant into a rainbow? Pride flags are a classic, and if you don’t have or can’t afford a big one, you can get the small hand-held kind that people wave at parades and stick them in the ground.
Queer Your Ears
Need some playlists for when you want to be loud and proud (or when you need to jam your headphones in and be surrounded by people who love you in all your queerness)? I’ve got you covered.
- Scarleteen Mix #10: Pride (Good Trouble Edition)
- Stonwall Was a Riot: A Playlist for Finding Joy in the Struggle
- Damn those Queers are Loud!
- Queer Jazz from the 20s and 30s
- Middle Eastern Queer Music
Nourish Your Body
While we might not be having in-person parties any time soon, food is still a fun (and delicious) way to celebrate the month. Whether you’re cooking for one, for a partner, for a family, or to show off to your friends over the next video chat, here are some recipes to get you started.
- Home: A Queer Cooking Series: These aren’t Pride themed, per se, but this is an awesome series where queer cooks share their favorite comfort recipes.
- Rainbow Pride Cake: Because some days, we could all use a slice of rainbow cake.
- Fruit and veggie platter: It’s rainbow and good for you!
- BUST’s Pride Party Guide: Cakes and drinks for Pride, including a vegan option!
I hope this has given you some ideas on how to celebrate Pride this year, both the fun parts and the hard, necessary parts. I hope by this time next year we can be out in parks and streets again, basking in each other’s company. I hope that if you’re one of the folks who has to celebrate in secret, you know that I’m thinking of you, rooting for you, and wishing you the strength to hold out for the day where you can be out safely.
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This essay is not about her, though.
It’s about me: a parent, “the mom.”
One year, I went to an LGBTQ synagogue for the holidays because it was the closest one to my apartment. The rabbi told a funny story in their sermon about parenting. The punchline was, “Don’t assume you know everything about your kids. One of them might turn out to be straight!” I thought it was quite funny at the time.
Fast forward about 15 or so years. My kid comes home from 7th grade and tells me that she’s queer. She likes girls, has always liked girls, and now so many things made sense to her about 5th grade – why she didn’t join the conversations about crushes on boys, why she didn’t like pink or frills or painting her nails, why she never liked sleepovers.
My response in the moment was, “Wonderful. Thanks for sharing. It’s a good thing to know about yourself.”
Wondering what I did next? I had lunch with my favorite gay friend and asked him one question, “Did you know you were gay at 13?” He said, “Hell yeah, but I didn’t tell anyone.” He also told me how lucky my daughter was to have me as a mom.
The easy part was over. (Thanks, Steve.) Here were other people’s reactions that I had to deal with as the mom, but that I didn’t count on:
My spouse: “It’s just a phase.” My work was clearly cut out for me here after hearing his knee-jerk reaction.
My in-laws: They were just completely oblivious. To this day. More on that below.
Other parents: There were no queer kids in our friends’ circle Now, there was just an unspoken secret.
My mother: “She looks just like Sibby (one of her cousins who was a lesbian). All good.”
Cisgender, straight male partners: My husband is cool. I wouldn’t have married him otherwise. I was surprised at how ingrained his initial reaction was – to discount our daughter’s identity. The good news is that it’s completely normal for parents of teenagers to doubt their children’s stated identity as a phase, based on popular trends and fads. This is part of a parent’s coming to terms with our kids’ separation from us. However, because this was about my child’s queer identity, I couldn’t leave it at that. Which is why I told my husband about my conversation with Steve, and how LGBTQ kids know, deep in their hearts, about their sexual and gender identity at an early age.
The lessons: Queerness is not something your child will grow out of, not something a young person can or should be talked out of, and not something that you or they have the power to change. Talking this through with my spouse helped to remind me how lucky we were that our daughter communicated what she was feeling so clearly. Sexual identity is part of normal adolescent development of a child’s own identity separate from parents/caretakers, and that includes queer identities.
Grandparents: My in-laws are post-Mormon WASPs, posing as Unitarians. They were never able to see their own children as separate from themselves, so there didn’t seem to be any point to convincing them to make a leap with their grandchildren. Grampie is a nonconsensual lip-kisser, in a Mad Men kinda way; I taught my daughter to turn her head so he’d get her cheek. Our daughter said she did not want to do a “coming out” with her grandparents. We’re pretty sure that they know now, as she wears suits to formal family events.
The lessons: You don’t need to outright tell everyone in your family early on. Focus on your child and their needs and be supportive of whatever decision they make around coming out to family members. As a nuclear family, we made our own decision to spend less time with the in-laws; we see them at large gatherings and don’t leave our daughter alone with them. My husband talks to them from his office to stay in touch as they age. If your extended family members are younger, they may be more open to listening and learning. As parents of a queer child, you can pave the way by starting an adult conversation to gauge the possibilities, and if they are open, bring your child into the conversation afterward.
Other parents: Here’s where the big surprise came for me. Some of the parents in our elementary school group were queer couples. Some were with same-gender partners and then had children with an “opposite” gender partner. Some broke up heterosexual marriages in order to be with same gender partners. Liberal Accepting all the way, right? Wrong. Our daughter and our family was ostracized as she hit puberty. The teasing started among the kids, and when we approached the parents, they supported their own kids over their outward liberal values. We had quite a few family conversations about next steps, which we decided was to hunker down together and remove ourselves from long-standing family friend groups.
The lessons: Kindness trumps bullies. Stand together as a family and support your child. Become a vocal advocate among heteronormative communities to not use derogatory terms for LGBTQ kids, and to be kind and inclusive of all. No more bystanding.
My mother: It was kinda great when my mother said that my daughter looked like Sibby. We realized that there were a lot of lesbian and gay members of the older cousins group. My mom pulled out photos from our annual summer cousins’ picnic and showed my daughter who had same-sex partners, telling stories about their lives and how different it was to be gay in the 40s and 50s.
The lessons: It felt great to be able to find ways to help my daughter fit in and to know that there were role models, right in our own extended family. Depending on who your kid is, you can look for role models in history, in your community, in your family, and within fictional stories and movies. Show them that they have always been a part of communities, and embrace them into your own family story.
One last thing: After my daughter told me she was queer and got a positive maternal response, she thought everyone would be cool with it. Remember, she was 13. I had to specifically call this out for her, and how some kids define themselves by being hurtful to other kids. Some adults are in this camp too, remaining stunted in their bigotry by being mean to anyone they don’t know and understand. I taught my daughter about how to identify safe spaces, and trusting her gut. I told her that if she was in a new club or group of kids, and she didn’t feel comfortable with them just yet, she didn’t have to share her identity right off the bat. It was her information about herself that she could share with whomever, whenever she wanted to. As for the middle school bullies out there, it was always okay to leave ‘em guessing.
My daughter is 18 now and just finished her first year of college. She wrote an amazing essay about LGBTQ scientists and how they have influenced the field, despite their history of invisibility. She is strong and proud, a budding scientist and a community leader. Her confidence intact, she is off in the world, making it a better place for everyone.