Finding strength and community at Pride

Winnie Hong

Allie O'Connor, Assistant Culture Editor

There’s something undefinable about the moment you look around and realize you aren’t alone.

Marching down Church street in the Burlington Pride Parade, surrounded by fellow students adorned with rainbows and smiles, I experienced that moment. It was my first pride parade, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited and nervous for anything in my life.

Wrapped in a rainbow flag, I stood with my sister and her friends in the parade lineup, cooing at dogs with rainbow bowties and babies with glittery headbands.

Only in going did I see first-hand what it was like to be a part of such a vibrant, accepting and beautiful community.

— Allie O'Connor

Balloons, streamers, flags and signs filled the air around us. Farther down the lineup, a float pumped electronic dance music over bass-boosted speakers.

When the parade started moving, a million stupid thoughts started to run through my head: What if I trip? What if someone throws something at me? Do I look gay enough … oh my God, do I look gay enough?

I didn’t start considering myself a part of the LGBTQ community until the end of high school. Before throwing myself under the umbrella term “queer,” I felt alone. I didn’t know who to turn to about my wavering sense of identity.

Even now, my identity is the equivalent of an emotional garbage fire. I’m afraid of presenting myself as too gay for fear of judgment from my friends and family. On the flip side, I’m terrified of not being gay enough for the likes of my own community.

The thought of not fitting in within my friend group and within the LGBTQ community as a whole pierced through the excitement of Pride.

This feeling remained until the UVM student section of the parade turned on to Church street. As we approached the Marketplace, the sound of cheers and laughter grew louder and louder.

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as we got closer, finally pressing forward to town hall. Hundreds of people lined the street, cheering, laughing, smiling.

Little kids waved flags, people young and old waved and shouted to strangers in the parade like old friends. It felt like a family reunion — a joyful, rainbow and glitter filled fever dream of a family reunion  — even though none of us had ever met.

My anxieties were washed away in the wake of the overwhelming reverie all around me. I was smiling so hard my cheeks hurt, cheering and waving, walking side by side with students I didn’t know but felt incredibly connected to all the same.

It seems silly to me now that I almost decided not to go to the parade out of fear and insecurity. Only in going did I see first-hand what it was like to be a part of such a vibrant, accepting and beautiful community.

For the first time in a long time I felt what it was truly like to belong. The steadfast support of the UVM LGBTQ community has helped me start letting go of my anxiety over what others think of my identity.

Pride means different things to everyone, but there’s one underlying thread I realized this year: However you identify, there’s no correct way to be authentically you. There’s no one correct way to be queer. There’s no one correct way to be straight. There’s no one correct way to exist.