The Pleasure and Pain of Celebrating Pride in Florida

Yout’s been pouring for two days straight, but we’re on our way to Wynwood for Pride. As he drives on the gridlocked highway, the Lyft driver whines incessantly. He says he hates living in Florida, notes that he and his wife both want to move away, but if they do, they want to be 1,500 miles apart, because they can’t be in the same room without fighting.

“I’m going to live in Wyoming, be a cowboy,” he announces, nearly rear-ending a Camry as he turns to look at us. “She can go to California for all I care.”

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I take my girlfriend’s hand and squeeze it, twice, the way we always do when we want to remember to joke about something later on when we’re alone. While I am doing so, my girlfriend and I hold our hands together against the seats. I can’t be sure how the driver will react if he sees that we’re holding hands. Florida is a queer state. It requires you to be able to navigate around unfamiliar places and people, as well as knowing how to avoid dangerous interactions. But this time it’s fine. The driver, too busy yelling at another car that’s cut him off, doesn’t notice that we’ve touched.

We arrive at the venue and the rain is already stopped. We are walking through a muddy street and my girlfriend’s sandals slide on the uneven ground. She slips through the dirt and I giggle, while she holds onto my arm to support me. We don’t have to worry about touching each other here. No one will be offended if I place my hand on her waist, or wrap my arms around her back to play with her hair. As we stand in line to get drinks, sugar daddies (overpriced drinks that include a lot of Red Bull) and vodka are offered, we exchange kisses. Standing beneath the tree we enjoy a drink from the leaves and take in our surroundings. The leaves drip water and the winds rush the branches. There’s supposed to be a drag show, but when the first performer’s music comes on, she sends someone out to say she’s not ready yet. They announce that they will continue for five more minutes. The thunder rumbles far away, warnings of future storms.

It has all the virtues of Pride, but it is also a wonderful thing.

It is possible to be magical.It was amazing to be surrounded by so many gay people. Perhaps for me this comes from the fact that I’m estranged from my own family. My community is my support system. I want to be understood, seen and heard. It’s a balm to be standing together in the unpredictable Florida weather, staring up at a huge screen as music pumps from the gigantic speakers that line the main stage. Everyone cheers when the show begins. The queen flips and then removes her cape to reveal a Wonder Woman costume with gold cuffs. My girlfriend is drunk and I tell her I love gay people. The person next to me loudly agrees, even though we don’t know each other and haven’t spoken all night. We don’t have to know each other to get the feeling. This moment is intense, moving from one person into the next. It’s a collective joy.

Tory Stiletto welcomes guests as they enter the festival grounds.

Alfonso Duran, TIME

We are approached by a young woman holding a pile of clipboards. She’s there with Equality Florida, and she’s asking attendees if they’ll sign a petition to help fight the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. She’s earnest and sweet. She tells us they’re hopeful they’ll get enough signatures to really make a difference. There’s a section on the form that lets a person check that they’d be willing to volunteer their time to help out with other LGBTQ+ Florida issues. I’m struck speechless with gratitude to see that so many people have already signed and that almost everyone had indicated they’d like to volunteer. Queer people are so much more than individuals. This is selfless love.

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There are many other volunteers who register voters in addition to the lady with the petition. It’s gloomy and damp out and there are puddles everywhere, but these volunteers have smiles on their faces that light up the venue. Someone walks over to my girlfriend and tells her she’s beautiful, then five minutes later comes back and yells it again to the crowd.

“You’re really gorgeous,” they say. “I just want everyone to know.”

It was a second time that my girlfriend and I had sex. The people hug and share drinks. They also take photographs. Friends meet across the lawn to greet one another. They wave their arms high as they move towards each other. I feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I’m happy, but I’m also homesick for central Florida, for the community I’ve built there too—for the Prides I’ve attended in downtown Orlando, parades full of sweaty queers in short-shorts and tank tops, everyone trying to combat the heat, clutching rainbow flags, long lines for the bathroom where people make friends while they wait, the Lake Eola swan boats sitting pretty in the glitter of the lake.

There are millions of ways. to celebrate Pride, but sometimes it’s hard because your state and its representatives don’t want to celebrate with you. We’re living in Florida, the same place that passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a place that wants to make it easier for school districts to ban books with LGBTQ+ themes, a place that doesn’t provide nearly enough protection for trans kids. I want to feel jubilant in that moment, dancing with my girlfriend in a crowd full of queers—and I do feel that happiness, sitting in my breast like a glowing ember. It is good to feel loved and held, and to have something other than terror and bitterness. To feel loved. However, I want to be able to accept the things that scare and concern me throughout the year. Pride was born as a rebellion. It’s been a fight since the beginning. The pain and the pleasure are what I need to keep in mind. A few days later, as I am alone at home on my computer, I reflect upon that. I’m watching a livestream of a tribute to the victims of the Pulse shooting.

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Pulse has been a topic of intense interest to me, a queer Orlandoan who was raised there. It isn’t something that I do alone. It’s six years later, but the collective grief is still just as strong. I am living in Miami for the moment, but it still feels like I’m there at the memorial as I watch Shawn Welcome, Orlando’s poet laureate, read in honor of those who were taken from us. People tap at their computer screens from all across the country, electronic hearts floating up the side of the monitor, out into the ether, a way for all of us to touch even if we can’t be there together. Our queerness unites us, even though everything seems very distant. We’re still holding and supporting each other.

This is Pride, I believe. It’s joy, but it’s also a remembered hurt. It’s an ache. It’s a memorial and a reminder to celebrate sweetness alongside the bitter.

Watch the Mami Issues and Ramona Slick drag shows.

Alfonso Duran, TIME

The month of June is coming to an end. It will be the end of June for online avatars. Corporations will take their Pride merch out of stores and we’ll be left waiting for next year’s events, holding out hope for allyship that lasts longer than 30 days out of the year. As we absorb the daily news, the reports of queer books being banned from libraries and schools, of laws being passed that take away people’s reproductive rights, I want to lean into the hope of what I can actually do. Checking “Yes, I want to help” on that volunteer form. Holding my girlfriend’s hand where anyone can see it. Be open to being visibly queer.

When I see people in the rain, it makes me think about them dancing. Hands held. Kissing one another and laughing.

When I think about the Pulse Vigil, it is people that come to my mind. There are also hands.

Pride can be described as an embrace. Pride is an action.

Pride is an act of remembrance. An act of celebration. An act of reckoning. A vow.

That’s what I want for my community. All year, Pride

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