The latest CU Pride Fest will occur this weekend, September 15th - 17th, in downtown Champaign. Undertaken by the UP Center of Champaign County, along with countless volunteers, Pride Fest is a celebration of the LGBTQ identity. As we approach this year's event, it hit home, more than ever this year for some reason, how important occasions such as this are.
First, one might wonder why there is pride in something like sexual orientation, or gender fluidity, especially when it has been argued that people are born this way? Why, indeed. For some, that question will never have an adequate answer. For those more open-minded and empathetic, they can understand that pride comes from the condition of having been a marginalized minority.
Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender has often come with a stigma attached. And that's putting it mildly. Bullying, harassment, mental and emotional damage, legal inequality, and even death have been part & parcel with one being open about who they are. And so being open and honest about oneself takes courage, as there can be so many potential pitfalls that come with it. That is where much of the pride comes from. Not only are you simply being who you are, but being who you are comes with risks. It's saying that you think enough of yourself that you are willing to stand up and be counted.
Besides, if people can take pride in being, say, the fan of a sports team -- which I see all the time -- then surely folks can be proud of their sexuality? People are proud of a lot of things. LGBTQ people shouldn't have to defend pride in their sexuality.
But haven't things gotten better over the years? Gay people can get married now right? I hear those questions sometimes, and read them all too often online, and while there are rings of truth to them (advancements have definitely been made, look no further than the great corporate and local sponsors for CU's Pride Fest), we still have a long way to go. Gays, lesbians, and transgender persons are still threatened verbally, physically assaulted, and murdered simply because of who they are, and all sorts of other discrimination. Lack of understanding of bisexuality is still a thing for a lot of people. The list goes on. So, yes, progress has been made, but there's still a lot out there.
It is heartening, however, to live in a community that is so loving and accepting. We have our detractors, certainly, but if this weekend is good for anything, it is a reminder of how much support there is for the LGBTQ community here in C-U. I hope it helps those in the closet, or who are out but facing scrutiny, or who feel isolated and alone. I know what that's like, and it isn't a good place to be. That's why I am appreciative of the friends, colleagues and family who are loving and supportive, and who will be participating in CU Pride Fest events this year.
We may have some ways yet to go, but we've definitely come so far. Weekends like CU Pride Fest prove that, and the resulting kindness, love and togetherness helps things immeasurably.