I remember the first few pride festivals I went to. Protesters would stand in groups at crosswalks and entrances, and you had to walk past them to get in. The festival itself was open and the only barrier between the revelers and the protesters was a thin yellow rope.
One year, my friend Michael and I were walking around the festival. He was uncomfortable. "I hate being here" he said, " if anyone wanted to do anything to us, we're all just right here."
I thought he was ridiculous. Everyone around us was dancing and kissing, seeing old friends. Celebrating. I genuinely believed that so much love and joy created an invisible force field. I couldn't fathom that anything could break through that. I felt so safe.
This year, I decided not to go to Pride. I have gone every year for more than a decade, and I'm tired. I'm not the party kid I used to be. I found out that my sister and her family would be walking in the parade on behalf of a friend who is running for public office, and I felt a little bit like I should show up and be supportive.
Attendance became mandatory.
Walking down the street in the parade with my teenaged niece and nephew, it occurred to me that Orlando is the very first widespread show of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment they've experienced. Gay marriage is legal. They have openly gay classmates. To them, it's no big deal. We've all become complacent. We all thought the good side had won the battle.
The parade went past a small group of protesters outside a church. They were the first ones that I had seen in recent years. Their signs, poorly penned Sharpie words, read, "Repent," "Sinners beg for forgiveness" and "There's still time."
I thought back to all the other pride festivals — the years of many protesters and few corporate sponsors. Despite continued acts of violence against the LGBTQ+ community, despite Orlando, despite the steps back, the good side is still winning.
Those protesters, the Evangelical Christians on my Facebook page, the Republican senators who continue to vote against human rights, the shooter from Orlando. These are the people fading into obsolescence. They are the group that gets smaller and smaller with each passing year. Their cries of moral superiority are drowned out by our cheers of love. They can line up on the beach and shout into the waves, but they can't stop the tide from coming in.
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