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Pride vs. Prejudice

The Pride Walk and Rally heads from Dupont Circle to Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2021.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
The Pride Walk and Rally heads from Dupont Circle to Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2021.

Pride feels more needed, more urgent than ever this year, and I say that as a gay man who spent most of my life rolling my eyes at the rainbow bunting outside my Dupont Circle neighborhood's coffee shops and nail salons. I've only attended a handful of Pride festivals in my life, being among the cohort of LGBTQ+ folk constitutionally averse to crowds, midday sun and dancing. (Do not underestimate our numbers. We're here, we're queer, we'd rather go someplace where we can actually hear.)

My husband and I couldn't see D.C.'s Pride Parade itself from the balcony of our old apartment, but we could watch the throngs of people streaming towards 17th Street to cheer it on. I'd get up early the Sunday after the parade so I could watch folk in tiaras, boas and rainbow leis wandering blearily home from their hookups.

We moved out of D.C. early in the pandemic, to a cabin in the Blue Ridge mountains about an hour-and-change west of the city. We traded our balcony overlooking Q Street for a deck overlooking a patch of yellow poplars. We still see just as many bears as we used to back in the old gay neighborhood, just, you know. Of a different sort.

Oh sure, we do what we can to glitter and be gay out here. When we go out to local bars and restaurants, we're physically affectionate to the extent that we feel safe being so, which of course changes depending on the day, the place, the crowd around us.

At home? Super queer. Devouring the latest seasons of The Other Two, Drag Race All Stars, Drag Race España (sleep on Pitita at your peril!) and Queen of the Universe. Listening to queer podcasts, watching queer comedy specials, reading queer books and comics, writing a queer fantasy novel.

All of that's enriching, and enjoyable, and life-affirming.

What it isn't, so much, is helping.

Something's changed. Drag performers are under disingenuous attack. Trans kids are being used to score bad-faith political points. Queer folk are being assaulted in the streets. The very worst, most hateful people feel supported and emboldened. In the face of all that, my naming my horse in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom "Padam Padam" maybe isn't striking the blow for Big Gay Justice I can too easily lull myself into believing it does.

So this year, we're schlepping back into the city for Pride. We're a good deal grayer and slower and achier than we used to be, and we're still carrying the extra pounds we picked up during the pandemic. But we'll be there, back in our old neighborhood, to cheer the parade along, and bake in the sun at the festival. We'll dance, we'll pay way too much for drinks, we'll go to drag shows and tip our local queens outrageously, we'll nod at the rainbow flags opportunistically festooning the bar where we used to meet each other after work. We'll pass by our old building, and gaze up at the balcony from which we used to watch Pride pass us by.

And we'll think, This is ... something. It's a hell of a lot more than we used to do; it's more than absolutely nothing.

But we'll also know: It's not enough. It's not nearly enough. It's just the start of the onset of the beginning.

This piece also appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what's making us happy.

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Glen Weldon
Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.