Put Your Pride Where Your Mouth Is

by Derik Cowan
June 1996

The Pride season got off to a rainy start on May 4 this year in Northampton. Since I was on the planning committee, I had to get up at 7 a.m. in the morning and head over to the park where the festivities were taking place to help set up tables and chairs for the various groups who had rented space, run around making sure that the peacekeepers got their t-shirts and programs, and basically do all the stuff that goes into making an event run as smoothly as possible.

I got to carry the leadoff banner, which meant I made it on TV for the second year in a row (last year the cameraman caught footage of my boyfriend and I kissing) and I got interviewed by the local paper.

There were five people carrying the Pride March banner. The person beside me was a seventeen year old young woman marching in her first Pride parade. As we approached town, she got a little nervous that some of her friends would see her, but she wasn't at all upset by the cameramen who were all around snapping pictures for the local newspapers and filming for the local television stations.

When we stopped for the customary moment of silence, the march extended the full length of Main Street from the railroad bridge to the park. Over 4,000 people showed up in spite of the rain, making this the largest march in the fifteen year history of Northampton Pride.

I went to my first pride march when I was 19. I went to Connecticut Pride in Hartford as sort of a date. It was one of the most eye opening events of my life. While I had already come out at college and spent a year in the Northampton area, I hadn't been to a place where there were so many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people gathered together. It was a tremendously liberating experience for a young man like me who grew up feeling that he was the only one who felt the way he did.

During the last elections, a referendum on domestic partnerships lost in Northampton by less than 100 votes. This loss was a huge blow to the gay and lesbian community there, and as a result, the pride committee decided not to take the suggested theme of the Pride season this year, choosing instead the theme of "Put Your Pride Where Your Mouth Is." It's great to be proud, but unless we're willing to speak out on issues that affect you, or unless we're willing to act when it's needed, then we'll never win the battle for equal protection as gays and lesbians.

In Northampton, this translated into a town that was dubbed by Lynn Sherr of 20/20 as "Lesbianville USA" being unable to pass a law that granted same sex partnerships the most basic of rights granted to married couples by law -- visitation, shared parenthood, and responsibility for each other's care. Nationally, it translates into only 9 states with gay rights laws, at least two of which still have sodomy laws on the books, only one state that protects the rights of gay youth, and currently no states that allow people of the same sex to marry.

As I write this, the Supreme Court has just struck down Colorado Amendment 2, the amendment which specifically denied gays and lesbians the rights and protections afforded to other minority groups. There's a sense of euphoria in the gay community, a sense that we have won a major victory. There are rallies celebrating the news planned all around the country, and for good reason.

The gay community has survived a major attack. Nonetheless, I think that in the midst of celebrating, we need to think about what it is that we're celebrating in real terms. We didn't really "win" here, we just didn't lose. The fact that six out of a group of nine people in Washington DC decided that it was unconstitutional to single out a group of people and deny them certain rights does not negate the voice of the tens of thousands of people who voted for this bill in the first place.

Those people can only be reached and made to change their mind by me and you, by their queer loved ones speaking out, adding their voices to the ever-growing roar. It's up to us as LBGT people and allies to make our voices be heard not only at Pride parades and celebrations but at the polls when we're old enough to vote, at protests, in the editorial pages of our newspapers, in letters to our legislators, in our classrooms, and in our daily lives. We cannot expect others to fight our battles for us, we have to take control.

This summer I'll be living in San Francisco, so if any of you go to Pride there, I'll be looking for you. But I'll be looking for you elsewhere, too--in the campaign offices during this upcoming election, in meetings of activist groups, in the newspapers, in the coffeeshops talking to your friends. Together, we can make a difference, but only if we're willing to put our pride where our mouths are.

Derik K. Cowan, 21, is a full-time student at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he is studying Theater, Dance, and English. He can be reached online at dkcowan@amhux4.amherst.edu.
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