by BRANDON TIETZ
This was always intended to be a puff piece. I, the resident straight guy on staff, was going to attend Pridefest and give my thoughts and reactions and whatnot. I had done it before with Missie B’s and was going to do it again for this larger scale event.
It was different but not necessarily new territory. I had been down this fish-out-of-water road before. As a writer, it’s never good when you can’t bring anything new to the table. It means you’re either fledging or playing it too safe. I had the sinking feeling I was about to play it too safe.
So what did I see at Pridefest? I saw the full palette of a community. White, black, Asian, Latino. I saw the entire spectrum of gay, lesbian, and trans: butch, twink, lipstick, bear, drag queen. Some people took the conservative approach with what they were wearing. Others were letting their freak flags fly, whether in the form of body paint, a skimpy swimsuit, or black lace lingerie. Every different flavor was in attendance, and yet, this is exactly what I had expected to see.
All my preconceived notions of Pridefest were being met, and so my reaction—the very thing I was supposed to write about—was minimal. Nothing new was being put on the table, and that’s never good from a writing standpoint.
Of course, there are some minor things I could harp on regarding how the event was run. The ticket system to get booze seemed a little arduous, and corporate booths hawking their wares came off out of context.
One minute I’m looking at a dude in rainbow booty shorts, the next I’m being flagged down to talk about my cell phone plan. I get how sponsorships work though, so it’s cool. All in all, I walked out of the event with little food for thought. I witnessed an event run smoothly where everyone got along and the DJs spun some great shit. No surprises.
Then, not long after Pridefest, Orlando happened. Now I don’t need to rehash that event. Everyone reading this is fully aware of what happened at Pulse that night and the aftershock that followed. I’m not here to open that wound. It hasn’t even healed yet for some and never will for the friends and families of those victims. It was a terrible thing committed by a terrible person. No one can argue that this man was anything other than a monster.
Now I went through my range of reactions to Orlando just like everyone else. The anger toward the assailant. The empathy for the victims. The frustration that this seems to keep happening with no moves being made to prevent it from happening again.
The worst part was that these emotions were recurring. I had felt them before with Columbine and Aurora and, most recently, Dallas. This pain was a familiar one, but Orlando especially struck a chord because I work for this publication and had just been at an event with this target demographic.
“Target” being the operative word there. It rattles the hell out of me that being gay could compel someone to want to put a bullet through you. It’s a type of crazy I can’t fully comprehend, but I know it exists and have seen what can happen when acted upon. We all did.
Back to Pridefest, I ran through what I saw and all the different personality types I encountered. What I failed to mention and what should have been more obvious, is that I saw a group of people just being themselves. That’s what Pridefest is really about: an opportunity to be yourself in a safe environment. I always knew it took a certain amount of bravery to come out as gay to family and friends, but Orlando made me remember that being gay can make you a target—not just of bigotry or social disapproval—but of violence. It’s in the face of this threat that could make a person question how open they should be with their sexual orientation and how they celebrate it.
I can totally see how an event like Orlando would be the exact negative reinforcement to hide who you truly are for your own safety. That’s why it’s all the more important to stay open and to keep having events like Pridefest. There will always be people with ill intentions, but they must always be reminded that they are in the minority and vastly outnumbered. They must always know that their actions, although horrific, can’t scare an entire community into hiding. This is the statement that Pridefest and other events like it make, and that’s why it’s so important they keep happening.