Pride can mean a great many different things, depending upon who you ask. For some, Pride is an event - a parade, a weekend of festivities, a block of time celebrating the most colorful, the most effervescent, the loudest, the most vivacious, and the most fabulous among us. For others, it’s a feeling that comes from within, a deep and abiding desire to live out their truth in whatever form it might take - through relationships, through their work, their writing, their hobbies, or any number of different outlets. Still others may find that Pride is defined as an abundance of joy gained from being a part of a community. Being wholly and totally accepted by peers, by friends, by mentors and mentees, and learning what it feels like to simply… be. I fall into this last group, and I’d like to talk a little about what Pride represents to me before I go stand by a parade route this summer to celebrate it.
Two and a half years ago, I faced an overwhelmingly difficult choice. I was fresh off a painful divorce, facing the prospect of having my career advancement halted because of who I am, and my desire to be open about my journey as a trans woman. I was living in a place that I had never particularly wanted to call home. Every day, I was dealing with the consequences of a life spent in denial, a life where I was told what to do and who to be and how to act, rather than being myself. I had few friends and no true community engagement - my name, my story, went before me - ensuring that most of the interactions I had with other people like me were influenced by who I used to be. I desperately wished to be recognized for my contributions rather than my personal history.
Many of you reading this are likely able to sympathise in some form or another - these experiences are one of many common threads that bind us as people. I was tremendously lucky, in that there was a light at the end of the tunnel - I had the means and the willpower to dismantle my life in Florida, and reassemble it anywhere I wanted. I decided to try and take root in Providence, RI, the place I now call home. I sold everything that I could, and donated the rest, and in June of 2015, I drove twenty-two hours to Providence, and within a few months, I found something I had been missing for my whole life without even realizing it was gone - a supportive and open community. I fell in with new colleagues for whom my past did not matter. I found new friends for whom I was simply me - no strings attached, no shadow of who I used to be hanging over me. Not everyone can, nor should they, take such drastic steps, but as I look back now, I realize that finding community was worth the massive risk, and that the influence of these people has helped guide me into being a strong and vibrant person.
Being a career-minded woman brings more than its fair share of stress. Being openly queer adds to it. A strong, supportive community builds our capacity to resist that stress, cope well, and overcome. A strong, positive community gives an outlet where we can express - and sometimes moderate - our impulses, and creates a sounding board for our ideas. Through a tight-knit community, we find people to share in our victories, and counsel us through our defeats. It creates, for many of us, a second family - people who have walked in our path before stand up to help those of us who are just beginning the journey, sometimes leading to bonds stronger than blood. Without the community I found here in Providence, I would not be the woman I am now. I would not have the confidence to be a strong leader, have the strength to speak truth to power, or have a voice loud enough to lend to those who are voiceless.
Community breeds authenticity, it inspires confidence, and it inculcates independence. It leads to Pride. In part, that’s what the queer community celebrates each year - what I am thrilled to join my fellow queer women in celebrating - that we can do more with each others’ help and support than without. Pride is far more than the parade, and it even goes farther than us as individuals. Pride is our community. This summer, as many of us get ready to take part in a celebration of queer identities, we must remember that much of our true strength comes from one another.
Kayla Powell is an experienced campaign staffer, coffee milk enthusiast, and Oxford comma activist located in Providence, RI. She currently serves as Executive Director of the Providence Human Relations Commission, where she works to combat discrimination and promote positive relationships among diverse communities. On Twitter, she is @kaylalaurie.