In the coming weekends of June, cities and towns across America will be taken over by an annual celebration of the LGBT community known as “Pride,” with festivities including parades and parties, film screenings and speeches. Many local Pride traditions have been in place for decades, but in the 10 states that legalized same-sex marriage since last year’s celebrations – many aided by the Supreme Court’s historic Defense of Marriage Act strike-down last summer – this year’s festivities will take on an extra special meaning.
“We’re anticipating the energy level to be really high – it always is, but we think it’s going to be even higher this year,” says Debra Porta, the president of Pride Northwest, which puts on the Pride events in Portland, Oregon. “The community in Oregon has been used to being on the defensive for a very long time, so this is a little bit of a new place for us to be proactively moving forward. So there's just a lot of excitement around that and just recognizing that we’ve achieved a great victory.”
To commemorate Oregon's same-sex marriage legalization – granted when a U.S. District judge struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban last month – Pride Northwest’s celebrations will kick off with a keynote address at City Hall by Thalia Zepatos, the national director of public engagement for the same-sex marriage group Freedom to Marry.
In Chicago, where Pride has been celebrated since 1970, the June 29 parade will include a float for Equality Illinois – an LGBT group that was instrumental to the passing the same-sex marriage legislation signed into law last November – that will carry couples who recently got married or converted their civil unions to marriage.
“It is going to be such a historic moment to celebrate because there are couples who have been together for decades – we know a number of couples who have been together for more than 50 years – and they've never had the chance for the state to recognize their love, their families, their marriage as equal,” says the group's CEO Bernard Cherkasov. “That is going to be an amazing opportunity to celebrate and recognize that.”
A Pennsylvania judge’s decision to strike down the same-sex marriage ban in that state two weeks ago sent the planners of Philadelphia events scrambling to include a marriage component among this weekend’s Philly Pride festivities.
“For those of us in Pennsylvania, we really did think Pennsylvania would be the last state to have gay marriage. It caught us by surprise.” says Chuck Volz, one of Philly Pride’s senior advisers. “It came so fast out of left field, that nobody was even really contemplating it.”
To celebrate the ruling, a local judge will be marrying couples during the parade in front of Independence Hall.
“I’m glad that it happened a week ago instead of a week after our event,” Volz says. “I think it will drive a lot of people to the festival.
In Honolulu, which hosts it Pride celebrations Saturday, Hawaii’s legalization of same-sex marriage last November felt like a long time coming, considering that it had been legal for a briefly in the state in the 1990s.
“It’s been very nice to bring marriage equality home, since we were the first place for this movement,” says Honolulu Pride chair Michael Golojuch Jr. It influenced the decision to bestow the honor of grand marshal on the late Bill Woods, one of the initial effort's chief advocates, as well as to the Sheraton Waikiki, which hosted the first same-sex weddings shortly after the 2013 law went into effect.
However, he and planners in other states stress that Pride will also be about the battles the LGBT community is still fighting.
“One of the things we were careful about was to not make this feel like this was the end-all,” Golojuch says. “Far too often, as we’ve seen in other states, as they get marriage equality, everyone just goes, ‘OK we’re done,’ and there's so much more to be done.”
He says Honolulu Pride is highlighting some of the other issues in the gay community with its other grand marshals choices: Kathryn Xian, a human sex trafficking activist (she is also a congressional candidate) and Kaleo Ramos, a transgender man who has done much work with local LGBT youth.
“We have been struggling with that balancing act, in making sure we embrace our success while also making sure that we know we still have all these other struggles to finish,” Golojuch says.
This balancing act is encapsulating in the "Triumph and Transformation" theme of Pride Fest in Rhode Island, where same-sex marriage was legalized last August. The theme “not only celebrates our recent marriage equality victory but also acknowledges transgender inclusivity as a current focus, as well as a changing community identity,” says Jennifer Stevens, a Rhode Island Pride official.
Likewise, Porta says that Pride celebrations in Oregon, more than just an outlet of political activism, are about continuing LGBT visibility, even as a new ABC/Washington Post poll finds that more than three-quarters of adults under 30 favor same-sex marriage.
“I’ve been asked this question whether I think Pride will go away as we gain in equality," she says. “I personally don't think that it will, it will always have a place. The purpose that Pride serves wasn’t to win equality, but to demonstrate that we’re here and who we are and what we bring to the community.”