Memories of Prides Past

I’m not going to lie — the last year or so has been a doozy. My kids’ school shut down in March and, like everyone else, we’ve been just trying to keep our heads above water. College selection, high school graduation, senior dance performance, summer teaching job — all these were scaled back or shifted to virtual for my oldest. The robotics competition season was simply cancelled; our living room became a storage locker for tools and materials, in case the kids were able to work on their robot outside the school or over the summer. This past school year was all online — my oldest did go off to school but took his classes from his dorm room, while the other two attended Zoom school in their bedrooms. My wife turned our dining room into her classroom, complete with posters and number corners; she worked overtime all summer learning new technologies and creating materials to teach remotely.

And so, here we are at the start of another Pride Month and — I’ll be honest — I’ve not really had the time or energy to think about it. Heck, I haven’t even really been wearing my pride shirts (but in my defense, I haven’t been wearing anything, so…)

With that in mind, I’m thinking about it now. Specifically, I’m thinking about Prides past.

It was June, 2013. I was in Disneyland with the whole family. We’d had a week’s vacation with my in-laws and all their kids’ families and then left directly for Southern California. We were staying in a first-floor room at the Marriott Residence Inn in Garden Grove. We knew that SCOTUS was looking at the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, a case brought by Edie Windsor against the government for denying her the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses; the government had required her to pay more than $350,000 in taxes on her inheritance.

On the morning of June 26, I woke up to the news that SCOTUS had ruled in Edie Windsor’s favor, striking down part of the DOMA. In addition, they ruled on another case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, which effectively put the final nail in the coffin of the evil Prop. 8 and allowed for marriage equality in California. I remember walking down the hall of the hotel to get breakfast for the kids with tears of joy streaming down my cheeks. That day, when we got to the park, I marched up to Disneyland City Hall to ask for “I’m Celebrating!” buttons for the whole family.

Fast forward two years to June, 2015. It was the last day of our annual family vacation with my in-laws and all the relatives. We were packed up and ready to go but were lingering to say our goodbyes. Then the word came down — SCOTUS had ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges — marriage equality was the law of the land. I remember stopping by the table near the pool where my mother- and father-in-law were playing cards and excitedly telling them the news. Mind you, with most of the family being San Francisco natives and a fair number involved in musical theatre (my mother-in-law is the grande dame of teen and youth musical theatre in the bay area), everyone was glad to hear that SCOTUS had made the right decision. We hit the road right after and I can tell you, that was a happy ride home.

Further back, it was the end of June in 1998 and my father, my niece, and I had staked out our usual spot for the Stern Grove concert. We had spread our blankets to save space for my friend Daniel and his son, who would be joining us later. The concert that day was billed as “Voices in Praise” with the Blind Boys of Alabama and a couple of local gospel artists.

You have to understand that my friend Daniel is probably the most outgoing person I’ve ever met. He is friendly and caring and loves to meet people. He showed up an hour or two before the show, having come from the pride parade which was taking place that same day. So let me set the scene for you — we’re in a park on a sunny Sunday afternoon about to see a gospel concert and I’m there with an exuberant redhead fresh from the pride parade. I don’t know if they were the majority but certainly a significant portion of the audience consisted of what I would call church-goers.

Safe sex is an important topic in San Francisco — I think that perhaps the devastation caused by the AIDS epidemic has helped us take the COVID pandemic more seriously than other places — so it’s not unusual for groups marching in the parade or riding a float to pass out condoms. And Daniel had collected quite a few of them.

So there we are, situated just in front of the sound booth and right behind the path that cuts through the audience from right to left. Daniel is standing there talking to the people walking across looking for an open patch of grass to sit on and handing out condoms. More than once, he got the stink-eye from a large woman in her Sunday-go-to-meeting dress and fancy hat. I loved the dichotomy of it. The best interaction, however, when he saw a man with a teenage boy and offered him a rubber for his son. The man declined, saying that the boy was a good christian. Daniel responded with “oh, then you’d better take two.”

The music was great, of course. But the whole experience reminded me how much I preferred the joy and celebration of pride over the condemnation and judgement of church.

As we start another pride month, let’s all focus on being proud. Proud of how far we’ve come as a society, how far our laws have progressed, how much better off we are today. But let’s also not forget how much further we have to go. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

I firmly believe that every fight for civil rights, for equality, for not just tolerance, not just acceptance, but for celebration is, ultimately, the same fight. The only difference is one fabricated by those who would profit from denying rights and who seek to do so by pitting the rest of us against each other. So in this pride month, I hope we can all indeed be proud but still remember that the fight goes on.

This post is part of LGBTQ Families Day, hosted by Family Equality and

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