By Daniel Valaitis, Harlow Labour’s LGBTQ+ Officer
Attending London Pride for the first time, I had my ideas of what the experience would be like, an extremely colourful event I thought firstly, with an emphasis on fun and music. I was not interacting with LGBTQ people in my daily life, a fact I did not feel made much difference to me, I had wonderful friends, an incredibly supportive and loving family, the thought of intentionally ‘othering’ myself from the people around me brought up feelings of shame, so when my mind turned to Pride I did not make attending it a priority.
"I so value the time I spend with other members of the LGBTQ community, I understand now the importance of it, the love that I felt at Pride, for others and ultimately myself was incredibly affirming." Daniel Valaitis
Quickly after I arrived in London, I was thankfully introduced and began speaking with group of people I had never met, they shared many, though not all of the experiences I had growing up, hiding my sexuality and battling with self acceptance, we had conversations that acknowledged the intersectionality of race, sexuality, gender identity and class. Standing in the crowd, convening with the people I met, I marvelled at how quickly my spirit had been uplifted to know that I’d been understood, in a society where ‘tolerance’ is what we’ve held up as the goal I had reaffirmed what I already intrinsically knew, nobody wants to be merely tolerated, how wonderful it is to be accepted, understood and valued for who you are, to find community.
Shame affected my understanding of what this event was about, listening to some of the comments I had heard and wrongly surmising it would be a frivolous event, without much substance. I felt that as somebody who is not fond of loud and busy spaces, I didn’t want to attend the ‘Party’. I was very wrong about that, my fear of feeling ‘other’ had kept me from accepting certain aspects of who I was.
I so value the time I spend with other members of the LGBTQ community, I understand now the importance of it, the love that I felt at Pride, for others and ultimately myself was incredibly affirming.
During Pride Month 2020, we cannot access community in the same way, there will be no physical celebrations for us to attend, but the importance of reaching out and connecting is greater than ever before, being an ally is as important as ever. Once I internalised my shame, it was self-love, fuelled by the love of my community that has made me feel truly proud.
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