This past weekend, Oakland Pride took place along 20th & Broadway, with people waving rainbow banners and proclaiming love for their community. You could feel the love and support everyone had for their fellow LGBTQ+ people and allies. Grade schoolers and religious groups walked with banners showing they were safe spaces. People in fabulous makeup and wild outfits danced their way down the parade route. Kaiser Permanante and Pandora (sponsors of the event) employees even carried balloons that said “Thrive” and wore rainbow t-shirts meant to show their allyship.
It was a beautiful display of people coming together to celebrate something bigger than themselves.
I have attended only one other Pride festival in the past, when I was 14 years old in my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI. It had the festivities of a Pride festival, with rainbow flags up everywhere, and copious amounts of alcohol being consumed.
But what makes Oakland’s Pride different than Grand Rapids’ Pride? For me, it was the first time I’ve truly felt part of that community. I came out to my closest family members when I was 13. It felt wonderful to be supported by them and know they loved me unconditionally. They even encouraged my decision to attend an LGBTQ+ youth group.
While I felt accepted at this group and met people who I care deeply for, it never felt like a “family” to me. I’ve always heard other queer people say how they feel like the LGBTQ+ community is like a family to them, how they feel such a warm sense of community that they always have to lift them up. Even coming to Mills never made me feel that way. For some reason the idea of belonging with a community has never clicked with me and I’ve always felt like I was looking in from the outskirts at people who I could connect with but never did because of my own fears and insecurities about the possibility of rejection.
But being in the streets of Oakland and seeing the fabulousness and diversity this city has to offer made me feel at home. My bestie and I walked through the throngs of people, checking out booths that ranged from political organizations to resources for prospective LGBTQ+ parents to sexy leather clothing sellers. We smelled the powdered sugar off of funnel cakes and listened as singer-songwriter Michel’le warmed up to perform. I smiled until my cheeks hurt (something that almost never happens for me), took photos of the people marching and let myself soak in the energy of the LGBTQ+ community.
And in that instance, I realized I allowed myself to open up and let go of the tension I live with on a daily basis. Every worry evaporated and I became part of something bigger than myself. This was me ceasing to think I had to be a bystander and finally discovering a community I never thought I would have the confidence to enter. I find myself wondering if that feeling will continue as I move forward with my life, but for now I’ll just enjoy it.