Sarah is a rising junior. She is interning at Legal Momentum for the Equality Works program, which promotes opportunity and equality for women in non-traditional job sectors, such as the construction trades and in law enforcement.
When I think of activism I think of angry mobs of people marching across the State Capitol with protest signs. My mind instantly flashes back to images from my U.S. history textbooks of factory workers picketing factories and demanding higher wages. I think of Martin Luther King leading boisterous rallies of thousands and thousands of people to uproarious applause with his “I Have a Dream Speech.” All of my mental images of activism are filled with drama, excitement, and of course marching, lots of marching.
Obviously, I expected from the gay pride rally nothing short of a mixture of all of these images plus better since from what I have seen on TV and in magazines and newspapers about gay pride events is full of color, flamboyance and other spectacles as people extravagantly and passionately display their pride.
When I got off the subway stop near 72nd St. & 5th Ave. I expected to see rainbows everywhere and colorful signs lining the way to the Rally in central park. Yet, I was surprised to find the exact opposite. In reality, I had a lot of trouble finding the rally. As I am not a true New Yorker, or maybe I cannot blame this truly dumb mistake on that, I ignorantly forgot that Central Park encompasses 6% of Manhattan’s total acreage so I showed up to some random entrance point expecting the rally to be right there but it was not. I then asked a park police officer if he knew where the gay pride rally was and he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, which I thought was strange. In my mind this was supposed to a massive event that encompassed the entire 843 acres of Central Park. How could anybody miss it, especially the park ranger for god sakes?
After calling a friend for directions, I finally found the right region of central park. Once I got to the general vicinity I followed the sound of the music to the surrounding area of the event. I was slightly skeptical that I was in the right place. No signs or symbols demarcated the outside of the event to let one know that this was indeed the gay pride event. As I mentioned before, I did hear music playing but I thought maybe this was just a concert going on. I had to ask the security guard at the front gates of the event if this was in fact the gay pride rally, to which he replied yes. So far, this Rally was not meeting my very high expectations of a loud, colorful, life-changing march across central park.
When I walked into the rally I found a confined spaced filled with colorful food trucks selling pride themed food. Upon entering I was bombarded with flyers promoting various pride events throughout the city. The stage was lined with pride signs and a singer, I am not sure who, was singing passionately for a happy crowd. I finally knew I was in the right place.
Everywhere around me people were hugging, dancing and just feeling free to be themselves in plain site. Never before had I been able to discern so many people being their true selves. Usually in society, especially at Duke, it is hard to tell who is gay, bisexual or straight and thus one automatically assumes that they are typically surrounded by straight people, which is the sexuality that is deemed “the societal norm.” Yet, here it was clear that not all the people were straight and those who weren’t were proud of it. I no longer felt like a majority, I felt like a minority and I enjoyed it. Being a minority gave me a chance to see and experience a whole other culture, something the “Duke bubble” does not always afford.
I suddenly realized that activism does not have to be a dramatic escapade complete with police barricades holding back mobs of protesters. Rather, it can be a much smaller event than Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” or the Stonewall riots. This rally gave people hope and reassurance that they were in fact “normal” and that a good portion of society welcomed people’s true selves. Hearing people happily greet each other with “happy pride day,” a greeting I had never heard but liked a lot, made me realize that even small acts of furthering the cause, even if it is just a cheery greeting that lets people know you welcome them and their cause, are forms of activism.