The gay community has always struggled with issues of false representation and stereotyping from others. However, you would never think that someone of the gay community would generalize their own culture in a way to falsely represent and perpetuate stereotypes that are not true and have not been around since the 1960s.
My opinion is not meant to criticize one specific person, however to criticize a community that overlooks important parts of the gay culture as to generalize everyone that is LGBTQIA to be flamboyant men who love rainbows and drag queens and are prone to HIV and AIDS.
The first annual Pridefest was held last Friday, October 3, in an attempt to show the diversity and acceptance that Millersville has towards the LGBTQIA community. Its main goal was to promote acceptance and empower the MU LGBTQIA community by creating a space free of discrimination, hate, violence, inequality and a place for everyone to have a good time. However, Pridefest had a lack of necessary components to be able to complete those objectives.
While walking the through the tables lining the Promenade in front of the SMC, I could not help but realize that while there were plenty of booths for gay rights organizations including: PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays), the Gay-Straight Alliance, and MU Allies, there were still a lack of significant booths that are important to the concept of a Pridefest.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people 10-24 and LGBTQIA youth are four-times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. With those statistics, I would have thought to see more of a presence for organizations that wish to help those with suicidal thoughts and depression due to questioning their sexuality or not being comfortable in their communities to accept who they are and tell others openly. There was only one small table on the very end that had that message. While I support what that organization was trying to do by representing the Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQIA people ages 13-24, the emphasis on suicide prevention could have been much stronger.
Another aspect that was stereotyping and generalizing the gay community was the need for drag queens. I am not saying that drag queens are not a significant aspect of the LGBTQIA culture, but they are not the only part. Having primarily drag queens to perform or speak at the event stereotyped all of the LGBTQIA community as loving drag. Not all of the LGBTQIA community enjoys pop culture parodied by men dressing up like extravagant women. The gay community is diverse among all types of entertainment including music, food, fashion and religious ideologies. There was no one to speak on gay rights, acceptance or any other aspect that has a need to be known by others. “Gay entertainment” is not the only part of a Pridefest event, it includes those that are strong enough to speak about issues and empower others to take action in areas that are in need of help.
Stereotyping has always happened for the LGBTQIA community, but not so much as to have free HIV testing to further the mind-set that gays are prone to STIs. It is extremely necessary to know your status, and I am not criticizing anyone who took advantage of such a great opportunity to know his or her HIV status. However, was it truly necessary to have this during an event that was meant to promote awareness and foster pride in the LGBTQIA community? Promoting awareness that gays are more likely to have HIV is not something that should be celebrated. I believe that the free HIV testing would have been much more appropriate at a separate event meant for everyone and does not stereotype one culture over another. Today, there is as equal a chance of someone gay to have an STI as his or her straight opposite.
I believe that this event was a good start to promote awareness and empower the LGBTQIA community, however, there are some major things that need to be thought through before planning an event. Inclusiveness and equality is always something that MU strives for, yet, this event did not do that to extent that the coordinators, such as CSIL, would have liked.
It is not the fault of those individually that coordinated Pridefest, it is the society we live in that did not create an atmosphere for those critical views on what inclusiveness and empowerment really is to show those aspects of the gay community. Being gay is not its own culture; it is just a sexual preference. That preference, in which everyone was born with, is but one part of a person. It will take time for people to realize what being gay really is and I believe that Pridefest can certainly show that, but it will need a more diverse group in order to achieve that objective.