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Pride memories and a thank you

On the Bright Side

As I mentioned before, and as you probably know from countless mentions on television and social media, the month of June is Pride Month. It's a month long focus on LGBTQ+ pride and history, but most of the big celebrations are traditionally held on the last Sunday of the month, to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising in 1969.

A little history: In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in New York City, as they had done countless times before. It was "normal" at the time for police to raid gay bars and arrest (and sometimes beat up) patrons for no other reason other than that they were at a gay bar (this was true not just in New York but also all across the country). On this particular night however, patrons of the Inn, led by, among others, transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, and Lesbian Storme DeLaverie, fought back, sparking riots that lead to a number of protests in the area about unfair laws and police practices, thus serving as a catalyst for the gay rights movement not only here in the U.S. but also around the world.

The following year, the first gay pride march – called the Christopher Street Liberation Day – was held in New York City on June 28. Other cities soon joined in and in a few short years, the last Sunday in June became known as Gay Pride Day. In 1999 President Bill Clinton declared June "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month." In 2009 Present Obama declared June to be the more inclusive LGBT Pride Month, and in 2021 President Joe Biden declared June to be the still more inclusive LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

My own personal history: Having just moved to the Bay Area from Oklahoma in 1978, I attended my first gay pride celebration in San Francisco in 1979, along with several hundred thousand other people. I was amazed. I had never been in any kind of crowd that big before in my life, and I had never seen so many happy and carefree gay people. I also had never felt so comfortable and, frankly, so safe and free to be myself in such a large group of people. It was liberating and affirming, and just a very festive experience.

I attended San Francisco Pride every year after that, and in 1985 and 1986 I had the pure unadulterated joy of riding my motorcycle at the front of the parade, with Dykes on Bikes. The first year I tried counting the bikes as we waited to line up and I quit counting at 300 – I have no idea what the final number of just women on motorcycles was but it was a truly thrilling experience for me to be a part of that.

I moved again in 1986 and again experienced culture shock in 1987 when I attended my first gay pride day in Denver: there were maybe a couple dozen of us that met in Cheeseman Park and marched to the capitol that day. But a couple of years later the event had grown exponentially (to hundreds of thousands of people – on its way to becoming one of the largest celebrations in the nation) and I spent two years as a vendor at the huge event. And yes, I also rode my motorcycle at the front of the parade in Denver again when that became a part of the festivities.

Culture shock happened yet again when I moved to Tehachapi in 2000, and there was no celebration of any kind. But even Tehachapi has grown and marks the celebration these days, maybe far from the large gatherings I've been to but significant for our area. The main difference here and now is that there are usually more straight people in attendance than LGTBQ+ people (i.e. PFLAG members and so many wonderful and straight allies).

I love and treasure all my pride day experiences, and I love seeing how the celebrations have evolved through the years. They have always been inclusive, as I've observed from my own experience, but more and more people are feeling free to be their true selves these days, and to join in the celebrations with enthusiasm and joy. The more the merrier!

And I love that so many people who do not identify as Lesbian or Gay or Trans or Bi (or any of the other letters) are so willing to stand up and celebrate (and protest when necessary) with us. "The more the merrier" rings true for me in a number of different ways.

So it is with a very special thank you to my many straight friends and supportive allies here in Tehachapi that I celebrate this year's pride, in spirit with those around the nation, who believe in a world where love wins and everyone has the right to be who and what they are.

© 2022 Mel White/Mel Makaw. Mel, local writer and photographer, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].