It’s June, which means it’s finally Pride month, which means it’s the season of the rainbow. Pride marches are happening across the country and the world, allowing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming people to celebrate their identities and meet others who are LGBTQ+.
You have probably seen photos from these events — streets filled with smiling couples, elaborate costumes and rainbow flags — and maybe you’re thinking of attending your first pride event this year.
If you are anywhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum — even if you are not sure on a label yet, but know that your gender and sexuality exist somewhere outside of the heterosexual, cisgender norm — welcome! Please attend a pride event this year and get to know the community.
If you’re straight — heterosexual and cisgender — please attend as well. You are entirely welcome at a pride event, and it is awesome that you want to support your marginalized peers, but you need to accept that these events, as fun as they can be, are organized by and for the LGBTQ+ community.
This may sound harsh, but this event is not for you and, though you are perfectly welcome to attend, it is imperative that you show respect. By attending pride as a straight person, you are essentially acting as a guest in an LGBTQ+ space, and just like when you are a guest in another person’s home, there are etiquette rules to follow to show your hosts that you support and respect them.
So, here are some tips on cis-hetero etiquette (cishetiquette, if you will) when attending a pride event.
1. Do Your Research on What Pride Is
Pride started with the famous Stonewall Riots in June of 1969, when a group of gay bar patrons — led by two trans women of color — resisted police discrimination for three days in New York City, kicking off the modern gay liberation and LGBT rights movement.
A year later, the first official pride march was held in New York City as a political demonstration for LGBTQ rights and protections. Parades and marches began to pop up in more cities with each passing June, coordinating with activist groups like PFLAG and ACT UP through the 1970s and 1980s. Pride took on its more party-like atmosphere in the mid-1990s and today it exists as both a powerful social demonstration and a celebration of LGBTQ+ life and sexuality.
2. Do Your Research on What Pride Is Not
It’s not a spectacle. It’s not here for your entertainment. It’s not an opportunity for you to get dressed up and take cute photos. As I hope you can see from the paragraph above, it means a lot more than that.
3. Brush Up a Bit on LGBTQ+ Lingo
A pride festival may have the largest and most diverse group of LGBTQ+ people that you have ever encountered — with so many variations of sexual and romantic preference and gender expression in one place, it might feel a bit overwhelming.
Though labels can only take you so far, it can be helpful to understand lesser-known terms, such as pansexual, asexual, intersex, genderqueer, genderfluid, asexual, two-spirit and trans. It’s not like there is a quiz portion of pride, but knowing as much as you can about the issues at hand will allow you to understand and participate more fully.
4. Watch Your Language
You might hear people at pride using reclaimed slurs like “fag,” “dyke” or “homo” in a joyful way. No one will personally police your language, but the respectful thing to do at pride (and always) is to not use slurs that signify oppression if you are not in the group that is oppressed. So, even if everyone around you is saying it, do your best to refrain.
This rule gets into a gray area with the word “queer,” which some use as a reclaimed slur and some use as an all-inclusive term for non-straight and/or non-cisgender people. In general, it is fine to use as an adjective, not as a noun. Know that some people, especially older attendees, may find it offensive, and be prepared to stop saying it if someone expresses discomfort.
Pride is also a great time to practice asking for and using people’s preferred pronouns. I promise it is not as much of a hassle as you think it is. It is helpful in any situation and it will make many attendees’ experiences much smoother.
5. Keep Your Mind Open and Don’t Gawk
Pride is always full of surprises, and you will most likely see some things that you are confused or a bit shocked by. There will be a lot of costumes with more skin showing than you’re used to. There will be drag queens with their hair teased into the lower stratosphere.
There might be some people from the leather and kink communities. There will be couples kissing in public, and quite a few depictions of genitals — ranging from the whimsical to the painstakingly accurate.
Take all of this in stride; it’s all part of the fun. Don’t stare or gawk at things you’re not used to, and remember that pride is a space to express oneself freely and not feel judged.
Additionally, remember that the LGBTQ+ community in your city may be larger or look different than you realize and that many of the people who aren’t in crazy costumes are also not straight or cisgender.
6. Be Careful with Your Camera
This one is kind of a bummer: Even though pride is full of striking visuals and fun things to take pictures of, it is probably best to leave your camera at home or ask for permission from any people you are taking photos of or with.
Pride does take place in a public space, and it is, therefore, legal for you to take photos, but it comes down to respect. There may be people at pride who, though they openly show their sexuality at pride, are still closeted to their families or coworkers and wouldn’t want images of them circulating, even on a personal Instagram or Facebook account.
7. Don’t Play the “What’s Their Gender?” Game
Just don’t try to guess people’s gender or sexuality. If you are talking to someone and even marginally unsure of their pronouns, ask them. If you misgender a person, don’t feel bad — just say “I’m sorry” and carry on with the correct pronouns.
8. Be Ready For It to Get Political
Remember that pride is, at its heart, a political and social demonstration. There will be a lot of signs, flyers and talk about LGBTQ+ issues. Feel free to talk to people at booths about the issues they care about and learn about the unique issues that are affecting your city.
9. Protect the Event, If You Feel the Need to
Sadly, many pride events are flanked by the very hatred that led to the creation of pride in the first place. There will be people who jeer at participants or hold signs outside of the event saying that LGBTQ+ people are going to hell.
If you can muster up the courage, call out these hecklers so that your LGBTQ+ friends don’t have to. As someone not personally targeted by hatred, it may be easier for you to confront them, and it allows your peers to enjoy themselves more freely.
10. You Might Get Hit On – That’s Okay
Pride is a huge time for flirting, and because LGBTQ+ people don’t have any defined “look,” someone might check you out or hit on you. Of course, you have no obligation to reciprocate. Just be prepared for this and don’t panic if it happens — remember that your sexual identity is the minority here.
Additionally, don’t freak out if you find yourself attracted to a trans person. If you’re a straight woman and attracted to a trans man, or a straight man attracted to a trans woman because they’re hot, you’re probably still straight.
11. Donate to the Organizers, If You Can
If you have the funds to put your money where your mouth is, please do so. Pride events are often free and run by small armies of volunteers and community groups, and they wouldn’t happen without donations.
Even a few dollars can help ensure next year’s pride festival in your city. While you’re at it, donate a few bucks to LGBTQ+ charities, such as the Transgender Law Center, the True Colors Fund or the Trevor Project.
12. Have Fun and Try Your Hardest to Decenter Yourself
Going to pride as a straight person may be the first time that your sexual and gender identity is in the minority, and that can be an odd experience. Though you are entirely welcome there, pride is not about you.
Take a step back and just experience it. Support your LGBTQ+ friends and be as respectful as you can. Don’t look for validation about what a good ally you are, just act like it, and, for the last time, don’t ask when “straight pride” is. That joke is so passé.