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Atlanta Pride Parade 2016: How It Influences Students

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Georgia Tech and the LGBTQ community are united in their efforts.

Georgia Tech and the LGBTQ community are united in their efforts.

Victoria Shrote

Victoria Shrote

Georgia Tech and the LGBTQ community are united in their efforts.

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Just across my seat on MARTA, two women sat next to each other, their hands entwined and their outfits adorned with rainbow stickers and pins. In front of me, a woman had her head on her partner’s shoulder, and they whispered words I couldn’t make out. Behind me, a group of people wore rainbow tutus and colorful headbands.

We all got off at the same stop and walked out to see the Atlanta streets brimming with people walking to the parade. Cambridge students wore the pride flag and trans flag as capes, even as they walked past people holding signs with messages like “Homo Sex is Sin” and “Aids: Judgment or Cure.”

The protesters didn’t bring anyone down, but rather, drew in a crowd of hecklers who took photos of them and laughed. A Bear Witness reporter who attended the event as a spectator took a photo in front of them while holding up a peace sign.

Welcome to Atlanta Pride 2016: two days where people come to celebrate who they are without judgment.

Victoria Shrote
People of all ages and orientations were united that day.

A few Cambridge students and I, mainly Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) kids, went to downtown Atlanta on Oct. 9 for the Pride parade and festivities.  

Quick note: GSA is a club at the school that serves as a comfortable space for LGBTQ kids to discuss issues in the community or to embrace their varying orientations without prejudice. Everyone, including straight supporters, are welcome to join in Thursday mornings in room 2809.

However, Pride isn’t just a weekend for corporations like Delta and Coca-Cola to hand out free travel kits and Cokes to show off their support for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay bisexual transgender and queer) community.

This year, it was a time of remembrance for the Orlando shooting last summer. Rows of people walked down the road with balloon letters on sticks. One row came by with balloon letters spelling out “Pulse,” the name of the nightclub where the shooting took place. Another followed by a row of black ribbon-styled balloons.

The crowd fell noticeably silent as the “Orlando remembrance marchers” walked by with full might.

Though Pride does offer itself as a political platform, Pride members are quick to shut down disruptive protesters. In Piedmont Park, two men were holding up signs with “Pride” crossed out. The Pride participants never got physically violent.

Instead, they chanted “God is Love” and used their own pride signs to cover up the protesters.

For some, Pride was a chance to show that the relationship between religion and sexual orientation shouldn’t be hostile. A self-described Lutheran group marched down the street while holding up homemade “God is Love” signs written in rainbow-colored letters. The Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) marched with 259 participants this year.

When asked how religion and the LGBTQ community intertwined, Sojourn Executive Director Rebecca Stapel-Wax said at the parade that “there’s no reason for people to choose between their Jewish identity and their gender or sexual preference.”

At a sandwich shop, I spoke to one woman in her 40s who told me Pride is a time for her to embrace who she is despite enduring a decade of familial harassment after coming out 25 years ago. Despite the challenges, she celebrates who she is and has happily been with her partner for 19 years.

She doesn’t face those problems alone. There’s a reason why the school’s GSA chapter didn’t go as a club. There’s a reason why GSA couldn’t turn it into a legitimate field trip with permission slips and chaperones.

And no, it wasn’t the school’s administration or teachers that kept GSA from going. This school has been accepting when it comes to the Cambridge LGBTQ community.  

It isn’t one person or one organization that has struck the fear of coming out into these kids, but rather, it’s the fears of “what if?” and the thought that “Well, this has happened to others, so what will happen to me?”

When I came out sophomore year, I was hesitant and afraid because I’ve heard people call the community so many heinous things, such as “unnatural” and “disgusting.” I’ve read stories about people who were killed or harmed because someone found out about their sexual orientation. And when I came out to a few of my friends, I was still mortified about the consequences, especially after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that made gay marriage legal.

I saw my Facebook feed fill up with both hate and love. I wasn’t sure how to feel.

But then I joined GSA, and a whole new world I had never seen before came to me. When I walked into that room, I knew these people didn’t care about my orientation and, in fact, celebrated it. I didn’t have to pick and choose who to trust and what information to give.

I didn’t feel like a secret anymore, and that was something incredibly valuable to me.

But it got me thinking. There are kids who’ll never get to experience this, and there are kids who only get to experience this security in the confines of the club classroom early in the morning. That isn’t fair.

I know people who were kicked out of their homes for coming out. I know people whose parents are excited whenever their partner comes to visit. I know people who’ve lost friends for coming out.

I know people who’ve gained a whole club of friends simply for taking a step into the LGBTQ community.

 

 

There’s only one way to take on the responsibility of changing a culture of hate and ostracism in the world, and it’s not a one-person or one-club job. It’s the job of the people to educate themselves on the community and to open up their hearts to diversity.

It’s the job of the people to shut down others who use slurs and insults against the community. Calling something “gay” shouldn’t be an insult, and using homophobic slurs shouldn’t be tolerated, and yet I’ve heard them.

It’s the job of the people to teach their kids how to respect others and to embrace their differences.

So let’s work together as a community, regardless of whether you’re straight or gay, to teach kids that being straight isn’t the default orientation.  

Let’s work so that all same-sex couples, (like the women I saw on MARTA), can be together publically without hesitation.

Let’s work for a future where all people, and not just members of the LGBTQ community, shut down those who, like the protesters in Piedmont Park, use hateful slurs.   

Why?

Because it isn’t fair that, even with a school that is so accepting, students still fear to embrace their orientation because of rampant homophobia in our broader society.

It isn’t fair that students are being, (directly and indirectly), subjected to stereotypes and assumptions, all because they are not straight.

It isn’t fair that people will have to pull off their rainbow pins, equality stickers, colorful beads and pride flags after a day of being themselves, only to put them into a box to be stuffed back into the closet.

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