Editor’s note: In the coming weeks, we’re digging through our archives. Outlife757 Magazine is seven years old this year, and in that time we have we have built an amazing collection of stories from the people that make up our diverse, thriving Hampton Roads queer community. Here’s one of the first from our own Dr. Charles Ford published in our June, 2019 issue.
The original definitions of the word “pride” did not always foreshadow its meanings for today.
From the Middle Ages onward, the word could imply the icy haughtiness or fiery arrogance before an inevitable fall. It was synonymous with hubris in both classical and monotheistic literature, and hubris brought down many heroes and saints who were otherwise praiseworthy.
On the other hand, it could feature the artificial pomp and circumstance of a royal court with its emphasis on excessive flashiness and garish display. By the time of the Renaissance, the word “pride” could also imply the majestic, if strictly patriarchal, family life of lions.
Only later did the word “pride” have more mundane yet functional meanings. The latest online edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a reasonable or justifiable self-respect” or “a delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship.”
For LGBT folks, self-respect has always been a struggle because of the homophobic interpretations of monotheistic texts, the same texts, of course, that warned of “pride before a fall.”
During the heyday of heterosexual supremacy after World War II, psychiatry bolstered the then-common concept of what we would call queerness as evil, problematic, and pathological.
Accordingly, just two years before the Stonewall Rebellion, Mike Wallace (the celebrated television journalist) delivered the most disturbing portrait of “the homosexuals” in one of his CBS reports. This piece contained every negative stereotype that one could imagine: it was no wonder that his main gay source was fully hidden by a plant.
Thanks to the last fifty years of Gay and now-LGBT Prides, we no longer have to hide ourselves away in closets of our own making. At Stonewall in 1969, the despised pariahs fought back, led in part by their most androgynous and thus marginal members who had little or no privilege to lose.
The gay militants at the time chose the word “pride” to denote their eventually annual celebrations of those dramatic yet essential assertions of self-respect that happened at Stonewall and beyond.
They also had a wider goal in mind than individual integrity. Inspired by the African American civil rights movement which was proclaiming black as beautiful, these advocates also hoped to build a community identity that focused on the positive attributes of sexual diversity and gender identity that went beyond the traditional judgmental limits.
In other words, as per Merriam Webster, they hoped to elicit that “delight or elation” stemming from being part of such a vibrant and creative rainbow of peoples. In Hampton Roads, Pride celebrations came much later than in Northern and Western cities, but they always aimed to stress the respectable and responsible aspects of our own communities over the predatory and dysfunctional images then assumed by mainstream opinion.
The first potluck picnic that became our Pridefest in July 1989 welcomed families, encouraged the playing of sports, and did not even allow alcohol sales. Those small gatherings have morphed into highly-visible vehicles for civic as well as communal solidarity, with incumbent politicians endorsing our desires for dignity and comity. Corporate support and local liaisons to the police have turned former enemies of freedom into friends.
But we must always avoid the hubris that comes with success, emphasizing rather the necessity of self-respect for all and the ever-expanding inclusiveness of our own community ties.
Dr. Charles Ford is professor and coordinator of history at Norfolk State University. He co-authored the definitive “LGBT Hampton Roads (Images of Modern America).”