The Pain Behind Pride

Processing this past weekend’s attack has been difficult. When it happened, I was visiting Los Angeles to volunteer with their bi+ community at LA Pride. So much of my time there was glorious, especially meeting and working with such wonderful people, yet the weekend was tainted by bigotry and violence. I can’t fully shake feelings of despair, fear, and anger, but after a few days’ perspective, I’ve realized the emotion I feel most intensely is Pride.

It was slightly over a year ago that I first connected with bi+ folks in Portland, Oregon. I nervously walked into one of Bi Brigade’s monthly discussion groups at Q Center, but by the end of the meeting I knew these were my people. The evening’s only disappointment was learning that bisexuals had no contingent in Portland Pride that year. We kicked around possible remedies and exchanged email addresses before parting ways.1 Looking back, it’s hard to believe this happened so recently; I had no idea this simple act launched my journey as an organizer and an activist.

bi_brigade

Bi Brigade at Portland Pride 2015

Portland’s bi+ community has developed in countless ways since then and contributing to our growth has become central to my identity. Bi Brigade’s organizers are now family to me and learning the stories of our members warms my heart and expands my mind. I’ve also been fortunate to learn from interactions with experienced organizers from around the country.2 A number of these leaders reside in LA, but I had never met them in person. So when I learned of the bi+ activities planned for LA’s Pride Parade, I gave into the impulse to buy a ticket. This was a life changing decision.

After getting off the plane Thursday evening, I met with members of the Los Angeles Bi Task Force. They were celebrating their recently achieved status as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit, only the sixth one in the country for bisexuals! I also spent time at LABTF’s booth at the festival and witnessed how they promote education, advocacy, and cultural enrichment for the bi+ community. They’re helping lead the charge against biphobia while exploring the intricacies and intersections of bisexual identities. Every single member of LABTF was happy to reciprocate my requests for advice and I’m extremely grateful to carry their lessons back to Portland.

Beginning Friday afternoon, the majority of my weekend was spent at amBi’s booth in the Pride festival. amBi is a social organization whose mission is to build bisexual community by hosting casual events where we can get together, have fun, and make friends; they’re doing a fantastic job and have over 16,000 members across five cities! I initially signed up for a couple shifts in the booth, but found myself reluctant to leave. We had a variety of activities set up and I – true to my own bi identity3 – dabbled in hosting all of them. There was a roulette wheel for winning awesome bisexual shwag, an “Ask a Bisexual” feature for the unfamiliar, and a bisexual kissing booth, as pictured below. Participating in each of these activities was a good time, but the charming, lovely, and dedicated new friends I worked alongside are the highlight of the experience.

kissing_booth

A small sample of our kissing shenanigans

I was having the time of my life before learning about the Orlando shooting. This horrible news was soon amplified when authorities apprehended a heavily armed man en route to LA Pride.4 But my initial reaction was, well, a non-reaction. Tears were a luxury I couldn’t afford. Setting up and breaking down the booth, decorating and dismantling the parade float, and entertaining festival attendees required my full attention and energy. The work was enjoyable, but demanding. Losing my momentum was simply out of the question, so I throttled and ignored all of the pain….

….until Monday morning, when I saw a news program and the floodgates opened; I broke down in tears and have been a leaky faucet ever since. It hurts to learn about the slaughter of innocent people, but we tend to anesthetize the pain when they are strangers. I couldn’t do that this time. A terrorist attacked the LGBTQ+ community because of our identity, because of whom we love.5 Worse yet, gay bars have traditionally served as a sanctuary for us, making this an even deeper violation of our sense of safety. On top of all that, it felt like LA Pride had narrowly dodged a similar stream of bullets.

I don’t find death itself particularly scary, but this massacre poured over me like a bucket of icy water, jarring me into the conscious understanding that there are people who feel our very existence warrants extermination. Reading my friends’ responses and recognizing our vulnerability ignited my feelings of fear and futility into anger: anger at those who would kill us, anger at how easily they can obtain weaponry, and anger at how little has been done to change that.

The only comfort I draw is from my community. We are strong and we are winning this war, inch by bloody inch. We won at Stonewall. We won in Lawrence v. Texas. We won in Obergefell v. Hodges. In greater and greater numbers, we’re coming out of the closets, circling the wagons, and taking to the streets. These were the only thoughts about bigotry I allowed myself while marching with amBi down Santa Monica Boulevard on Sunday morning because they are the most important truths during these difficult times. We stuck our necks out and walked tall: laughing, singing, dancing, twirling, kissing, and fighting against hatred.6

ambi_after

amBi’s marchers, post parade

After returning to Portland and getting a few hours of sleep, I headed over to help host Bi Bar, our local community’s monthly party at Crush, yearning to reconnect with my local family. Without exception, everyone showed up surrounded by some sort of personal, gloomy cloud. Yet as the night went on, I saw not a silver lining but a bright core shining through the darkness. Before bringing out the evening’s burlesque performers,7 Bi Brigade’s organizers took the stage and were introduced. I gazed into a crowd that was twice the size of any prior and felt the air grow thick, the love palpable. Every single person in that room was trembling with the same emotions I had been struggling to comprehend – a moment I won’t ever forget. 

bb_corgs_pride

Half of Bi Brigade’s organizers – it was so busy we forgot to take a picture until closing time

This preaching probably won’t reach far beyond the choir, but our numbers are swelling and our voices growing ever more refined and diverse. As we connect, our communities grow. Finding one another, we learn to love and to laugh again; “one” is no longer an isolated individual, but an integrated whole.

After last year’s Pride, I promised to become more active in the bi+ community. Today, I renew that vow and will continue doing all I can for us. I will not bow down to our oppressors. I will thrive in the joy brought by my brothers, sisters, and siblings elsewhere on the spectrum. I will mourn at Q Center’s vigil tonight for the recent attack on my family. And I will march again in Portland’s parade on Sunday with my fist and my head held high, filled with Pride in who I am and and who we are.

 

If you would like to connect with your communities, here are some places to start:

Bi Brigade – WebsiteFacebookMeetUp

Q Center – WebsiteFacebook

amBi LA – WebsiteFacebookMeetUp

LA Bi Task Force – WebsiteFacebook

 

Footnotes:

1. The Portland chapter of Sunday Assembly had extra space in their contingent and generously let us march with them in Portland Pride 2015.

2. Special thanks to Stacey Rice, Ian Lawrence, Faith Cheltenham, Rio Veradonir, Lynnette McFadzen, Paul Nocera, and the many others whom have offered support along the way.

3. For those hip to the language, I prefer the term pansexual, but generally go by bi (bye). For one, it’s annoying being asked “What’s a pansexual?” nearly every single time I come out. For another, it’s much easier to unite people under the label “bisexual” because it’s more well known. If using multiple labels seems odd or contradictory, please consider that neither one is known for “choosing a side.”

4. Later sources indicated that he wasn’t intending an attack, but was “merely” a gun enthusiast with three rifles and a five gallon bucket of Tannerite in his car, but we didn’t know that at the time.

5. This homophobic attack was ideologically driven, but it is infuriating to see backlash against the Muslim community. The tears I shed this week are the same ones I shed following Charleston, Colorado Springs, Charlie Hebdo, Oak Creek, and Umpqua Community College. Hate filled individuals – whether Christian, Muslim, atheist, or anything else – will always find ways to pervert their philosophy into justifying violence against the oppressed. Still, members of the peaceful majority in each of these communities must combat traditions of casual homophobia. For instance, “loving the sinner and hating the sin” is unacceptable (especially if you try to “bless my heart” afterwards!).

6. You can check out a video of amBi’s contingent here. Our segment lasts from 13:37-15:02 and you’ll catch a familiar face near its end.

7. Who were absolutely fabulous and left most of the audience desperately craving bananas, myself included.

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6 Responses to The Pain Behind Pride

  1. Jayz says:

    You’re a rockstar! Thanks for all your help at Pride, for writing this and hope to see you in LA again soon!

  2. Beth Yeager says:

    Beautifully written, my precious Sean. I love you and couldn’t be prouder of who you are… you are kind, generous, funny and my family forever. And EVER!

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