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Pride through a lens

Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman is a public affairs specialist with the Air Force Reserve 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (Courtesy photo)

Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman is a public affairs specialist with the Air Force Reserve 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

By definition pride is a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.

It is also a consciousness of one’s own dignity.

Colloquially, in the LGBTQ+ community, Pride is a rainbow-heavy, month-long celebration in June whose roots can be directly linked to the first ever pride parade in Manhattan June 28, 1970 that commemorated the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

Beyond its origin and parades, the meaning of Pride in the June celebration sense is malleable. Here is my personal experience and take on the importance of Pride and what it means to me.

In the spring of 2011, at the ripe young age of 17, sitting at the family computer watching Tegan and Sara music videos on YouTube (if you know, you know), my mom asked me the last question I, a Baptist-raised girl in rural South Mississippi, wanted to be asked.

“Kristen, are you gay?”

Remember, I’m watching Tegan and Sara YouTube videos. Probably posting things on my Tumblr blog too. You know the answer. She knows the answer. At this point in my life, I have finally stopped running from the answer.

All of my blood has evaporated from my body, I think, though I know my face is scarlet. I’ve never been a good liar, so I don’t even try.

“Yes.”

*Tangible silence*

“Well, you know it’s wrong.”

This is a good time to bring in a word I think is essential to the idea and existence of Pride: shame.

Those split-second physical changes that happened when my mom asked me if I was gay weren’t just the normal effects of a teenager reacting to an embarrassing personal question from their mom. It was tsunami-sized waves of the shame I was programmed (conditioned?) to feel from years of being taught that homosexuality is wrong and unnatural and an “abomination” and the shame I worried my own mother, who agrees with those teachings, would now feel about, me, her daughter.

The origins of my perception of Pride month and its importance to me stem not from stifling certain feelings throughout my adolescence or even dating my first girlfriend, very secretly, months before, but from this moment: the pinnacle of my shame.

That June, I did not “celebrate” pride month. To be fair there weren’t exactly that many ways to within a 100-mile radius of Lucedale, Mississippi, on a fast food employee’s budget. But also…why would I? I wasn’t proud.

The next year on the other hand...

After a year of being somewhat on my own in college, surrounded by people from all types of backgrounds, I was a lot less inclined to hide for fear of what someone might think. At least not from my peers. Less shame. But still some shame. Still very much afraid of most of my family finding out.

I had found a pretty great LGBTQ+ circle (shout out to Brandon, Kate, and Haley for being crucial to my self-acceptance) and with them and my then-girlfriend I attended my first Pride event.

Sure, a weekend on the beaches of Florida in tacky rainbow garb with flags flying for miles is fun, but what was poignant was the outpouring of love and acceptance for miles. And the validating sense of normalcy.

That last part was extra important. Feeling normal. It’s amazing how much of a weight off my shoulders not feeling different—in a bad way—was.

That June I still wouldn’t say I was “proud.” I had a deep hole of self-loathing to climb out of, but a ladder to climb out can’t materialize on its own. No matter how introverted I was—am—a circle, or ladder, of support is always crucial.

The next few years, I continued to tag along with friends to at least one event each June, but more importantly I progressed in the realm of acceptance and living my life like any other “normal” person would. Normal enough to where I started to lose sight of the significance of Pride Month.

But there are realizations that bring me down to earth one way or another that make me understand the importance of pride.

A common argument I come across in opposition to organizations, including Department of Defense entities celebrating Pride month is: “What someone does on their personal time doesn’t matter to me as long as they get the job done. Why do we have to have a month for them?”

My suggestion to those who have that way of thinking, especially those who served before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011 is this: Think about every time you talked about your opposite sex girlfriend, boyfriend, fiancée, fiancé, husband or wife at work or school or wherever. Even a casual mention of an ex. From something big like letting your office know you’ll be on leave for your wedding/honeymoon to every mundane instance such as, “Oh, my boyfriend really likes that band, too.”

Chances are you’ve never hesitated to mention something so….normal, and nobody thought: “Wow, I didn’t need to have that deeply intimate information about what bands her boyfriend likes shoved in my face.”

Could you imagine not being able to say such innocuous, yet important to you, tidbits like that on a daily basis whether it’s for fear of reprimand, pre-2011, or for fear of being ostracized from your peers or shunned by your family?

It seems crazy, but in 2021 this is still very much a reality for many LGBTQ+ members, and this is just one, surface-level explanation of something your fellow LGBTQ+ service members may be dealing with. 

On a personal level, 10 years later, it’s still a touchy subject with a lot of my family, or maybe I should call it a no-touchy subject because we just pretend my personal life doesn’t exist. It is truly a source of pain, but that is strangely a welcome upgrade from shame.

While there has been a wealth of progression in the past decade, America still has work to do when it comes to the treatment and protection of LGBTQ+ citizens.

What I’m saying is…

Celebrating Pride is important. So is having actual pride, because ultimately, you’re stuck with you.

Pride month is an avenue to safely express who you are, an avenue that didn’t, and in some cases still doesn’t, exist everywhere. If you’re not already proud of who you are, it’s a great starting place. If you don’t have a good support system, it’s a great time to find one. If you’re just an ally or “have a gay friend,” it’s a good time to tell them you’re proud of them. If none of this applies to you and you still don't understand, that's okay, too.

I’m still not a poster child for self-acceptance by any means, but I am proud of this part of myself, and Pride was the catalyst that got me here. 

Happy totally important and necessary Pride (that nobody is forcing anyone to celebrate)!