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By Eric Mora
In her convocation address to the Oberlin College Class of 2009, Nobel laureate Toni Morrison explored why difference is such a threatening concept in a world preoccupied with citizenship, rigidity, and belonging:
“Who is the foreigner? is a question that leads us to the perception of an implicit and heightened threat within ‘difference.’ We see it in the defense of the local against the outsider; personal discomfort with one’s own sense of belonging (Am I the foreigner in my own home?); of unwanted intimacy instead of safe distance.”
Years before I read Morrison’s words, I wrestled with many of the ideas she explored in that speech. In school I was introduced to difference as a positive term through the lens of multiculturalism. I was taught to value other people’s identities and cultures. I was told that difference and diversity created richer experiences. But my homelife taught me that the promises and value of difference didn’t come true for those deemed too far outside of the norm. My earliest memories include seeing my parents, who were both born in rural Mexico, struggle to communicate with others. Through my parents I understood that difference could also lead to limited job and social prospects.
Later on when I began to navigate life as a gay adolescent, I once again was confronted with difference’s threat. At the time, my biggest concern was that revealing who I was would “otherize” me. I was so afraid the ties I had with my family and friends would not withstand the revelation that I was different. And for years, fear of being different informed how I presented myself in those earlier years of being out, always afraid of deviating too far from the center and disturbing my own sense of belonging.
I began to more fully embrace myself after I realized that my fear of being different also stemmed from internalized homophobia. I struggled to acclimate into LGBTQ+ spaces as I ventured into them.
As I got involved with LGBTQ+ groups, I felt the sting of difference in casual conversations when people would mention cultural references from assumed shared childhood experiences or when they would talk about an experience they believed to be quintessentially queer but was in fact more of a product of their socio-economic and racial background. At first, I chose silence and to not address those differences, afraid that my ties to the LGBTQ+ community wouldn’t withstand the weight of my racial and socioeconomic identities.
Differences between LGBTQ+ members’ lived experiences have always existed and many of those differences have resurfaced as of late. Last year LGBTQ+ groups across the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, an important event in the birth of the U.S. LGBTQ+ rights movement.
Amid the celebrations, many writers declared the struggle for gay rights being over, citing the rise in acceptance of same-sex relationships in the U.S. Yet our nonbinary and trans siblings continue to face discrimination and violence at alarming rates, reminding us that not all members of the LGBTQ have enjoyed the same level of acceptance. This summer’s nationwide protests denouncing police brutality and systemic racism against Black people only further revealed that not all members of the LGBTQ+ community are treated the same.
It is precisely these differences that Monterey Peninsula Pride, Pajaro Valley Pride, Santa Cruz Pride and Salinas Valley Pride Celebrations aim to address through “Connected in Pride,” a virtual event on Aug. 1.
When in-person Pride celebrations were canceled this summer over concerns about holding large gatherings due to the pandemic, representatives from the area Pride organizations began to meet. As meetings progressed, Queers and Allies at MIIS, Rainbow Speakers & Friends, The Epicenter, the Otter Student Union and the Otter Cross Cultural Center at CSUMB joined with the group, receiving additional support from the YWCA of Monterey County. Many of our early planning meetings revolved around what we wanted to accomplish. After many brainstorming sessions, the group decided to create an event that was sensitive to the challenges we are all facing under COVID-19 to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and explore diversity and differences within our communities.
The event will include some of the traditional fixtures of past Prides: drag performances and music. But there will be a larger focus on communication and community-building through panel discussions, guided discussions, workshops and a film screening. In many ways, the event already feels like a success. We have banded together when the urge to separate could have been strong.
Many of us shy away from difference. Some fear being otherized. Some worry that addressing differences will lead to conflict. And others fear that discussing difference shatters any illusion of unity. Through “Connected in Pride,” we hope community members will reject the allure of distance and embrace connection with one another.
Connected in Pride, a free virtual pride celebration hosted by seven of Monterey and Santa Cruz County’s leading LGBTQ+ organizations, will take place on Saturday, August 1st between 12 PM and 3 PM via various virtual platforms available at www.connectedinpride.com.
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