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Ryan Johnson, Published August 08 2013

Ryan Johnson: Pride weekend still important in 2013

I attended my first Pride celebration in 2011, when my new boyfriend and I drove down to Minneapolis for a fun weekend.

I had no idea just how much this one weekend would mean to me, but walking into a sea of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and supporters in Loring Park changed me.

It was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel alone. I could hold my partner’s hand without worrying about the stares or mean comments of those I passed by.

Later that summer, I attended my first F-M Pride and had a similar experience.

But with all of the recent progress for LGBT people across the country, why do we still need a Pride weekend?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as the annual event kicked off this week in Fargo-Moorhead, with activities each day from Thursday until the big parade and Pride rally on Sunday in downtown Fargo.

It might seem unnecessary to some, especially with the leap forward in Minnesota since last summer. Residents voted down a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage last November, and earlier this year, the Legislature approved a bill that opened the door for same-sex couples to be legally married beginning Aug. 1.

But even with that progress, Pride is about a whole lot more than throwing parties and organizing a rainbow-filled parade – and it still has an important purpose.

I never thought while growing up in North Dakota that I would one day be able to be openly gay without fear of retaliation or hatred, but I was able to overcome that lifelong fear and be liberated from worrying about what others were thinking.

Pride weekend means something different to me now, two years after I came out and introduced Dave to my friends and family. I’ve been able to shed the anguish that came with 26 years of living life in the closet, and I now look to the future with hope for a better life, not despair over my minority status.

But I know there are people in the crowd at each Pride event who aren’t that different from the man I was two years ago.

There are men and women, teenagers and middle-aged people who live in constant fear of what will happen if they are discovered for who they truly are. Living with that big of a secret tore me apart, and it can’t be easy for any of them.

Maybe someone will see my partner and I holding hands on Broadway and see it as a sign that they’re OK, that they don’t have to be ashamed anymore of how they were born.

Maybe someone can look past the rainbow flags and campy attire and see that beneath it all, LGBT people are just people. We aren’t asking for any special privileges, we just want to be equals with the straight people around us.

And maybe people will realize that after a historic year, with big progress but plenty of work left to do, we have a lot to be proud about in 2013.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587