It’s another year. It’s time again to slice and dice what it means to celebrate Pride. LGBTQ elders might shame younger folks for not knowing how good they have it, while independent queers might shame corporate ones for poisoning our culture. Ultimately, everyone will struggle to discuss what Pride should be. But no matter how many think-pieces you may read, the truth is Pride is nothing and everything at the same time.
Pride is something that should be taught from birth. It is being able to own the identity you were born with as individual, yet equal to everyone else. We’ve turned a human right into a holiday because the LGBTQ community has continued to be denied equality for decades. As we win acceptance, the essence of Pride changes, but it is still as basic a notion as it ever was. Whatever you feel inside and whatever you want to look like on the outside, be proud of that.
In my opinion, what so many falsely equate with Pride is the notion of self-respect. Being an outwardly HIV-positive man, many people have been confused and outright angered by the confidence I have in spite of my diagnosis. I have heard that HIV is “nothing to be proud of” numerous times throughout the past few years. This always makes me giggle because some people can’t comprehend that my diagnosis doesn’t impact the respect I have for myself, and my actions.
It took me a minute to learn how to live with my diagnosis while retaining my self-respect. Even in the age of PrEP and Undetectable=Untransmittable, so many in the LGBTQ community still believe that HIV is a moral indicator of a person’s character. So after I learned of my new status, I started to think about the HIV-positive people I have great respect for.
As a child, I was an avid viewer of MTV’s The Real World. I started to reflect on my memories of Pedro Zamora and how he was the first gay person on TV who I identified with at the age of 10. But he wasn’t a hero because of his sexual identity. He was a hero to me because of the way he lived his life. He was brave, he was unapologetic, and he challenged others in his community to take care of themselves and to love each other. I learned how to be a proud gay man long before my HIV diagnosis, but Pedro taught me how to live with purpose and self-respect.
When I think of Pride today and all the progress that has been made, in part because of people like Pedro, I try to let each person experience this celebration in their own way. The truth is, you can be butt-naked with all of the self-respect in the world just as easily as you can button up all the way to your forehead and be completely self-loathing. It’s in how you feel about the energy you are giving off and how you feel about the actions you take.
Call me hippy-dippy, but kindness and confidence are the things I respect most in people, regardless of the package it comes in. Pride in who you are is a human right, and as LGBTQ people we can share in that Pride, but self-respect is earned by the actions of you and you alone. Let’s help each other take the right ones.