More than an excuse to wear a colorful outfit, the month of June serves as an opportunity for the LGBT community to be seen, heard and welcomed.
“Pride is seeing a 14 year old trans kid being able to be completely themselves without hesitation,” said Phil Cobucci, community affairs director of Nashville Pride.
After over a year of planning, LGBT Pride Month culminated in Nashville with a Pride parade and two-day festival to celebrate the community and raise awareness for their concerns.
“The reasons are different for all of us, but we all come under the common idea of serving our community,” Cobucci said.
Nashville’s 31st Pride celebration coincided with the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, where a police raid on a gay bar led to riots and brought LGBT rights into the spotlight. Many consider this incident as the catalyst for the Pride celebrations we know today.
“Going back to the origins, it’s been about standing your ground and saying we’re here and we’re not going to be moved,” said Mikayla Elias, 2018-19 President of Belmont’s LGBT organization, Bridge Builders.
“I remember 10 years ago in middle school writing persuasive essays about how marriage equality matters,” Elias said. “And now it’s extended past what I really thought was possible when I first came out.”
Elias came out to friends the day after marriage equality was legalized nationwide, but stayed in the closet for another year before sharing her identity with her parents.
“There was a pretty sizable falling out, but a lot of people in my family have wanted to make amends and have wanted to learn,” she said. “I think that’s really incredible growth on their behalf. I’ve been really excited to talk to them and show them why this matters.”
The story of a rejecting family is often a shared one for many in the LGBT community. On Friday morning, The Tennessean published Cobucci’s heartfelt letter to his mother. In it, he explains his unapologetic pride in his community, and welcomes her to be more involved in this part of his life.
“Spreading love in our communities no matter how we identify allows us to build a future for all people where we can live in hopeful peace and harmony,” he said in the letter. “I love my community, and my community has a bold vision for its future.”
Though things aren’t yet where the community would like them to be, noticeable changes in the last few years encourage activists to keep pushing.
“Especially in Nashville I’ve seen so much positive representation,” Elias said. “With the UMC global ruling on not allowing queer clergy and marriage equality practices in their churches, we saw as soon as that was released almost every Methodist church in Nashville put pride flags over their parishes.”
That February ruling caused a divide in the United Methodist Church, with many members denouncing the anti-LGBT stance. In Saturday morning’s Pride parade, members of Glendale UMC proudly marched with a banner reading, “As a member of the United Methodist Church, there is no excuse. We are sorry.”
The divide among Christians over LGBT rights brings Belmont’s perspective into question.
“Especially being on a Christian campus, there are still a lot of people who don’t think that queer people and religion coincide,” Elias said. “I think Belmont’s been making a lot of good progress, but there are things we would like to continue to work on.”
Belmont added a sexual orientation clause to their nondiscrimination policy in 2011, with Bridge Builders gaining official status a month later. With this major decision, members tried not to push their luck or cause a stir in the beginning. But now as attitudes are shifting, they’ve become more comfortable voicing their concerns.
“I think the biggest thing Belmont can do is to add gender identity explicitly to the nondiscrimination policy,” Elias said.
This change in policy will be the main focus of Bridge Builders’ 2019-20 president, Cay Aldag.
“Right now we’ve created this Frankenstein of protection for trans students based off of who interprets it which way,” Elias said. “But if something were to happen where we got a new coordinator or a bunch of new board members, then that interpretation goes up for debate again.”
Allies of the LGBT community can also help the cause in various ways, Cobucci said.
“I can really think of three ways for allies to help,” he said. “Showing up to be an ally to friends and family, showing up fighting for rights and third is just to love.”
He also wants people to know that Pride is more than a month-long celebration.
“When you see things like the Slate of Hate, show up to the polls and call the legislature in support of people you love,” he said. “Your rights may not be at risk, but others are.”
To him, an attitude of listening and loving seems to do the most good for the community.
“Lately I’ve been saying we all have a lot to say about lives we haven’t lived. The more you listen and love, the more you can do to be an ally,” he added.
Elias echoed his statements, encouraging allies to listen intently to their LGBT friends and family.
“It comes from wanting to learn about the community and genuinely wanting to be a support system,” Elias said. “You have to show with your actions that you want to be a consistent part of that support.”
Though there is still plenty of room to grow, the acceptance shown at Nashville Pride points to a promising future.
“I think we have a lot more allies than we do adversaries,” Elias said.