My partner, a very smart writer (and I would add very dishy too) Glen Retief, published an opinion piece in today’s Harrisburg Patriot News. He lives 50 minutes north of Harrisburg in the little town of Selinsgrove, PA in the Susquehanna Valley. Having come of age as a gay man in South Africa as that country experienced tremendous change, in this essay he writes about his personal history with LGBT Pride including his first Pride event.
As a gay man, my relationship with the Pride movement has been more complicated than might be expected. My inaugural experience with Pride came in 1990, when I attended the first-ever LGBT march on the African continent, in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was 20 years old and fresh out of the closet. Mandela had been released and the liberation movements unbanned. And we, a thousand or so LGBT people, decided we would decriminalize ourselves by marching through the city.It was both tragic and exhilarating. Tragic, because the signs of oppression were all around us. The religious bigots were out in force holding signs warning we’d burn in hell. Fear prompted a quarter of the marchers to wear paper bags over their heads. A few spectators actually threw furniture at us — it was difficult to know whether in joy or hostility, given that furniture-throwing is traditional in downtown Johannesburg on celebration days.
But what a feeling of power! People shouted “Viva, human rights!” from the sidewalks, making the point that we, too, were an oppressed group, like blacks and women. And six years later, South Africa in fact became the first country in the history of the world to enshrine LGBT equality in its bill of rights.
He then shares about his negative experiences of Pride in large US cities like NY and then the shocking stultification when he moved to Central PA where so much of LGBT still seemed hidden in oppressive closets.
Here, in Pennsylvania’s heartland, I felt as though I’d stepped back to the 1950s. There were no male or female couples walking hand in hand in the river towns. Men in hats and suspenders bicycled along Route 11/15, past porn stores advertising extra parking for truckers.
I had no idea where to meet LGBT people in this beautiful but rather alien landscape, so the first place I hit was the anonymous on-line dating sites, where I found the common requirement of “discretion” because of fears of persecution. It was awful.
He then goes on to share what else he found in The Valley and how it helped him to better understand and appreciate Pride Events and especially living authentically.