The Twin Cities Pride Festival kicks off on July 17 and brings together thousands from around Minnesota and the country to celebrate and recognize the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. While the spotlight is placed on Pride in the month of June, Pride is part of everyday life for many, including College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) students. Here is a small sample of the many stories, journeys, and experiences that comprise the answer to the question: What does Pride mean to you?
Throughout my life as a queer person, Pride has had many meanings. It has evolved and grown for me, as I imagine it has for many people throughout their journeys, so I thought I'd explain its different meanings for me through personal experiences and reflection. Growing up in a more conservative, rural town, Pride didn't always have the best reception. It was almost as if being queer tagged you as something different, as something less than everyone else around you. As a child slowly realizing and trying to accept their queerness in a society that didn't necessarily want them around, Pride to me felt unattainable, as if I would never be able to truly be myself. If I'm being honest, Pride felt like a show or luxury for those who were in the right spaces to experience it.
Trying to experience any sense of Pride while being in the closet is something one can only feel firsthand, and it's different for everyone. It feels as if you're trapped between two worlds: the one where you celebrate who you truly are and the one that traps you into the image of what society tells you that you should be. Back when I was in the closet, Pride to me was living this double life where I could only be my true self in private. When I first came out in my junior year of high school, I thought I'd finally feel better about my queer identity. However, coming out, especially in a more conservative part of the country/world, isn't always sunshine and rainbows, no pun intended. I was emotionally and mentally abused by my classmates and pushed into uncomfortable situations that no one should ever have to experience.
Unfortunately during this time, Pride had a negative connotation for me, because any time I tried to show even an ounce of my Pride, it was met with backlash and hate. Meanwhile, I still hadn't come out to my family, and I never got to. Some of us don't get to come out but are almost forced out of a closet we weren't ready to open. My mom and dad, even though divorced, had both pieced my queerness together around the same time before I was ready to tell them about it. Luckily, it was well-received by both, but some people aren't as lucky. And since I wasn't ready to tell them at the time, Pride to me felt more like regret, regret that I couldn't show my Pride the way I wanted to but was rather forced to show it when I wasn't quite ready. At this point, I identified as asexual (demi-panromantic to be more specific) and thought that was the peak of my journey as a queer person. But I knew deep down that there was still something off, as if I still was being authentic with myself.
Going into my undergrad, I helped restart our LGBTQ+ organization that had been relatively inactive for years. It started with about five of us, and by the time I graduated, had grown to about 40-50 active members. Throughout my undergrad years, I also explored my gender identity, knowing that I wasn't cisgender but didn't know what that meant for me. At this point, Pride meant uncertainty, a scary territory for someone who had gone through part of their queer journey and thought it was over. By sophomore year of undergrad, I started using they/them pronouns and chose a different name from my birth name. I finally started to feel things being pieced together. Pride to me started to finally have a more positive meaning as I was finally able to start being my true, authentic self.
However, there was still some trouble in the water. When I first told my mom about me being nonbinary, I was expecting something similar to when I came out with my sexuality: hesitance but acceptance. This time, I could tell that I had rocked her entire world upside down as if I had ripped the child she knew away from her and replaced someone else in front of her. Change is always difficult, and I knew something like this would take time. I had come out to my dad much later about my gender identity, and it was rushed and full of nerves. At this point in my life, Pride had a couple of meanings: happiness, freedom, nervousness, anxiety, opportunity for change. I'm thankful to say that my parents have been supportive of me being nonbinary, even if the progress has been slow. I've realized that, especially with those we're very close with, we're not always the only ones on a journey. However, our journey should always take precedence over others as we shouldn't be living our lives for other people. Now that I've been out as asexual and nonbinary for a couple of years, it's been an eye-opening experience.
While the positive has shown me that I should celebrate my queerness, the negative has also shown me that there is so much more to be done both inside and outside the queer community. If I had to put it into words, I'd say that, to me, Pride is the following: freedom, unique, diverse, acceptance, a journey, a work in progress. Pride is something that isn't one month for me. I can't turn off my queerness when June ends. Pride is year-round, 24/7. It is something I've grown to love about myself and others. It's a constant work in progress where everyone's journey is unique to themselves. I only hope that, one day, I don't have to be worried about where, when, and to whom I show my Pride. And even if that day doesn't happen for me, I want to work towards a future where those following me can do so.
Pride, for me, is a chance to celebrate a part of my identity that, for the first 20 years of my life, I hid from my family, friends, and coworkers. The celebration of who I am gives me a chance to tell people, and myself, I am not afraid of who I am anymore, and the past year of my life has been incredibly enlightening and powerful with that realization and celebration of myself and my unique perspective. I thank all of the allies and fellow LGBTQIA+ folx out there who support me, pride, and everything it stands for because if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be the open, comfortable, beautiful bisexual woman I am today!