This past Saturday, J and I watched this year’s Pride parade in downtown Boston; early on Sunday morning, a gunman went on a shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando. These two events are unrelated, but I will always associate them because of an accident of chronology. First, there was a Saturday afternoon filled with rainbow flags, warm hugs, and lots of smiling people shouting “Happy Pride”; next, there was a Sunday morning filled with violence, bloodshed, and the heartbreak caused by one man’s hateful heart.
I’ve spent the last few days going through the pictures I took at Saturday’s parade, and I am tempted to caption all of them “Before Orlando.” Going back through the happy pictures of Saturday’s parade felt a lot like going through the pictures I’d taken at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Those pictures show the celebratory scene out in the suburbs before the front-runners crossed the finish line, before lives and limbs were lost and Boylston Street became a crime scene. In April 2013, I struggled to make sense of the contradiction: how could a happy, inclusive event suddenly become the site of carnage and hatred, and how could we ever celebrate a happy Marathon Monday again?
In the aftermath of tragedy, people talk of returning to a “new normal.” By an accident of geography, Boston’s Pride parade starts at Copley Square, half a block from the Marathon bombing site and right on the spot where a huge and heart-felt memorial arose after the attack. Part of the “new normal” in Boston is the simple fact that J and I think of the bombing every time we stroll down Boylston Street or visit Copley Square. On Saturday, as floats, marchers, and squads of rainbow-decked motorcycles staged on Boylston Street before the start of the parade, J and I observed a gathering of Boston Police officers and a couple of bomb-sniffing dogs: just another day in the age of terrorism.
As a straight woman, I take a lot of things for granted. I don’t think twice when I mention my husband to friends and colleagues, I’m not afraid to walk down the street holding J’s hand, and I don’t worry if co-workers see family photos on my laptop or tablet. As a straight woman, in other words, I can simply be myself in public without worrying that someone might condemn or try to hurt me because of my lifestyle.
Two years ago, J and I marched as LGBT allies in the Pride parade, and there are a couple things I remember from that day. First, I remember a photo J snapped of two young men in band uniforms walking hand-in-hand as they marched down Boylston Street toward the Marathon finish line: a blatant “screw you” to the bombers who tried to kill freedom there. Second, I remember the happy and even grateful looks on spectators’ faces as the parade moved like a loud, rainbow-colored caterpillar through the Back Bay, South End, and Beacon Hill toward City Hall.
But most of all, I remember one of the other marchers we met that day. Ryan was a 15-year-old high school student who had recently come out to his family and friends. I will never forget the look of amazed delight on Ryan’s face as he looked around and saw crowds of joyful, self-assured LGBT folks being themselves in public. It was the look of a proverbial “ugly duckling” realizing the world is full of swans.
Straight folks take a lot of things for granted, like the freedom to love and be loved. Two years ago, the look on one gay high-school student’s face reminded me that the freedom to be yourself in public isn’t guaranteed. Places like Pulse and events like Pride are essential because they provide sanctuary from a hateful world. I wish everyone knew how wonderful it is to live in a world full of swans.