A Semantic Take on the Value of Pride

By Nick Cimillo ’26

Staff Writer

An objection to the Pride movement I see crop up every so often centers around the meaning of its name. It goes something like this: if one of the major tenets of Pride is that sexual orientation and gender identity are not a choice, then why is queerness something to be proud of? The word “pride,” as it’s most commonly understood, denotes a feeling of self-satisfaction in one’s own achievements; but if queerness is not an intentional decision, it can’t possibly be considered an achievement. Furthermore, you don’t see straight, cisgender people flaunting their straightness and cisgender-ness on the streets in parades, nor do they get a whole month for themselves. And if these folks can’t deliberately choose their sexuality and gender identity either, wouldn’t the logic of queer Pride also validate the existence of a “straight Pride” movement?

Arguments such as this fall short because they grossly ignore social context. The Pride movement was born from an entire history of silencing, struggle and oppression; when police stormed the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, the raids were conducted under the pretense of stopping the illegal sale of alcohol. But what made the sale of alcohol illegal was merely the fact that it was being sold to queer folks. It was common practice for New York’s State Liquor Authority, as well as agencies in other states, to revoke the licenses of bars that sold to LGBTQ+ people, due to their being perceived as disorderly and morally objectionable. And on that fateful June night, queer patrons decided they were tired of their safe spaces being raided and shut down. And so, the queer liberation movement lives and breathes up to today.

How are we to re-interpret the meaning of Pride given this context? It’s actually quite simple: the word “pride” can be thought of in terms of its opposite – shame. So, being proud can also mean being unashamed. This perspective gets much closer to what the Pride movement is actually all about: it incorporates the external and internalized shame faced by queer people on the basis of their sexuality and/or gender identity, and challenges the objection which states that LGBTQ+ people are inordinately proud of themselves for no reason. While detractors assert that queerness is nothing to be proud of, what Pride declares emphatically is that queerness is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Still, in a similar kind of objection, some may say that the Pride movement and its supporters take their notion of embracing their queerness too far, even to the point of “making queerness their entire personality.” However, challenges of this vein are often rooted in unrealistic and harmful stereotypes (like that of the hyper-feminine, overdramatic gay man, for example), the salience of which has certainly been promulgated by character tropes in television and film. But people are not stereotypes in this real world, and when queer folks are no longer subjected to shame for conforming to a false archetype, they can feel free to be and act as they are. As much as no one chooses to be queer, no one chooses the stigma that comes with it.

The definition of Pride as being unashamed of queerness also points to why a “straight Pride” movement could never work. For those still unconvinced, I ask you this: is it possible for the straight cisgendered population to be subjected to a similar amount of shame as the LGBTQ+ minority? Well, until contempt and criminalization of heterosexuality and being cisgender is propagated by corporations, mass media and the laws of multiple countries globally, the answer appears to be “no.” For queer folks, meanwhile, denigration on the grounds of sexuality and gender identity has served as a source of shame and trauma, and has, at worst, been a matter of life and death. In a heteronormative world, where being straight and cisgender is seen as the “default” and has no shame attached to it, a “straight Pride” movement would not only accomplish absolutely nothing, but also overshadow efforts to liberate those who are in real, dire need of acceptance and equality.

By asserting that queerness is not something to be ashamed of, the Pride movement moves closer towards its ultimate goal: to establish queerness as a fact of life. In such a future, one could not only come out of the closet as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, etc. and be met with acceptance, but the entire concept of “the closet” would cease to exist, as there would be no premonition of facing shame from others and society that motivates them to hide who they are. But this is a lofty goal, and the world hasn’t quite gotten there yet. Until it does, though, Pride retains its value.

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