Pride in Alabama: Looking Back

I am not the first to say that growing up gay in the South is often no easy task; even in Montgomery, a mid-size city and the capital of Alabama, conservative values and anti-LGBTQ bigotry seem to retain their persistent influence in the hearts and minds of many people in my local community.

Last month, I had the privilege of participating in this year’s Pride, a weekend-long event sponsored by Montgomery Pride United that featured a drag queen pageant, variety showcase, and silent auction, which culminated in a Pridefest on Sunday complete with a march, rally, and street festival. A full day of fun surrounded by transgender pride flags and endless rainbows, the clear sense of community I felt led me to reflect on past Pride events I’ve experienced growing up in Montgomery.

Montgomery’s celebration of Pride has been sporadic over the years, primarily due to leadership changes in local LGBTQ organizations, how active the community is in particular years, or other factors. Though the first known Pride event happened in 1998, it was 2005 before another event was organized. Since then, there have been several years where Pride has not been celebrated at all. My first Pride event was downtown behind beautiful Union Station in 2007, under the old train shed that then functioned as a parking lot. At 16, this Pride was one of my first encounters with the larger LGBTQ community.

A giant rainbow flag over fifteen feet tall served as a backdrop to Montgomery’s third annual Capital City Pride in 2007, where a stage was set up for performances and vendor booths represented a variety of local, state, and national organizations. Some organizations in attendance like PFLAG and ACLU have continued to be regular fixtures at Pride festivals for years, but at least one (the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) seems to be far less prevalent in the years following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Looking back, I remember there being very little diversity, as most attendees I saw were white; in addition, gay and lesbian issues dominated the day just as they dominated the national conversation in a time when the bisexual and trans communities were not as visible.  In fact, the only thing that has not seemed to have changed in ten years is the weather— just as it was this year, the humidity of Alabama summer meant that the shade provided only a little relief from the heat.

In the last ten years, the LGBTQ community in the United States has undergone some very clear changes as society has generally become more accepting. Even in Alabama, more people are coming out and at younger ages. The community still faces hate crimes, youth homelessness, and discrimination, as well as struggles like racism, transphobia, and division; still, people representing a wide spectrum of gender and sexual minorities seem to be gaining more of a voice, beyond just gay men and lesbians. To me, that was the biggest difference between 2007 and 2017: diversity in community. Nowhere was that realization more evident than at the end of this year’s Pride march, where people of a multitude of races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities stood in a large circle in front of the Alabama State Capitol. In that moment and in the midst of a state and political climate that is still trying to oppress queer people, we sang together that no, “we shall not be moved.”

—Daniel C. Davis, SPLC on Campus Coordinator