Transparency, Stories and Pride

By Zach Nell

Many people look forward to this time of the year, but the weather and longer days are not the only reasons; there’s something deeper going on for many LGBTQ+ people and allies. June is Pride Month, a celebration of affirmation of LGBTQ+ individuals, but it also commemorates the true meaning of Pride: to protest. Pride began at the Stonewall Riots in late June 1969 in New York City to protest against the police brutality, prejudice, and discrimination towards the gay and trans community, which sparked the modern queer liberation movement.

“Pride” truly never stops, but Pride Month matters. I can feel the intention of holding a sacred space for LGBTQ+ people to be heard and seen. Pride Month has some of its challenges, such as rainbow washing, but I try to look at it as a time of revival. It’s like returning to home or that specific place you felt most more connected to your inner self.

When I was a teenager, every late summer, I went to church camp at Flathead United Methodist Camp. That singular week was my highlight of the year because it was pretty much almost everything a teen needs to grow emotionally and spiritually. It’s common for the queer, introverted, creative, and wallflower types to feel isolated at school, where they feel different all the time, so they need another outlet to find and create who they are. For me, camp provided a sacred space for feeding my spiritual hunger and being around like-minded people. Pride feels like that too, when I need to be around the people who are my community. Pride Month is a time to reconnect with our queerness and allyship to remind us where the fight for justice and liberation began for all of us.

It’s not just going to parades, waving rainbow flags, dressing up in tacky glitter, and drinking mimosas at a drag brunch during an annual Pride event. There’s so much more that calls us to do something, whether we are connecting with our roots or discerning on how to be a better ally. It calls us to see and understand the world better through a new lens. Throughout this month, I encourage anybody to pick a book, podcast, movie, documentary, or television show from the Topic of the Month list. The more we immerse ourselves into different cultures and untold stories, the better we understand people with our hearts and minds which leads to open doors.

In this list, you will find a diverse selection of queer stories and perspectives with a pattern of untold stories from an overlooked era or marginalized group with the LGBTQ+ spectrum. From the moment I started to curate this list, it was always going to be my intention to focus on the stories that need to be told and again. For example, All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks is a heartbreaking memoir of a woman who cared for dying gay men when no one else would during the 1980s and 1990s in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s an overlooked story during that era because, at the time, the mainstream media hyper-focused on the outbreaks in urban center areas such as New York and San Francisco, and the President Ronald Reagan Administration blatantly ignored this during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

In the FX limited docuseries, Pride, the first episode is about the underground American queer life during the 1950s, with photographs and films showing same-sex couples in love and living life together. They hosted dinner parties, went to the beach with friends, and worked in meaningful careers. It’s strange to think about how in the 1950s there was an undercurrent of this kind of American life, because it was a dangerous time to be openly gay, but we weren’t told either about this side of American history during the mid-twentieth century. It’s quite amazing to realize when the Lavender Scare was happening, a panic about homosexual people in the United States government and their mass dismissal parallel to McCarthyism, queer people still found community and had each other to persevere through tough times.

Whenever there are headlines about queer rights in the mainstream news, and commonly it’s not the positive news we want to hear, it typically ends up in the same pattern and goes like this, “Conservatives in red states spark a culture war with anti-trans bills in the state legislature…” Sounds familiar? Yup, look no further than Montana. Amid the gloom, there was another pattern I noticed in the more mainstream news outlets. Where were the personal stories of families with trans kids, trans and nonbinary Montanans who have been discriminated against, and the ones who are no longer with us? It’s the dark reality for many LGBTQ+ Americans, especially for those who live in rural and red states. Their stories are being overlooked and untold. I have met many queer people and allies who share the same frustration as I have. Rural queer people exist, and they aren’t alone. The undercurrents of culture and diversity in places that aren’t known for being diverse, liberal, urban, etc. are being unseen from above, but when you dive in, there’s a whole stream of stories to be told.

In our homes, let’s open up our hearts and minds to read, listen, and watch those stories that deserve to be told. Then, share that story with a friend or relative and recommend it to them. When somebody says something prejudiced against a marginalized group and you know calling them out will only fuel a debate to nowhere, instead, try calling them in with a story that you learned. The goal isn’t to change their mind immediately but to challenge them with compassion and empathy. Stories have the power to speak in our hearts because it requires us to acknowledge the humanity of a person. It’s also how we start conversations that lead to change over time.

  1. Was there a story in your life that opened up your hearts and minds to change your mind? How did that affect you and your journey to see LGBTQ+ people more openly with acceptance?
  2. First, think of place, community, or event that you often reconnect to your roots, and how that shapes your faith and identity. Second, whether you are queer or an ally, think about where your story began to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights. What ways do you think Pride Month can reconnect your faith and identity to revive your commitment on believing in equity and justice for all?

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