What a difference a year makes.
Exactly one year ago Sunday—June 26, 2015—the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision stating that the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law meant that states could not bar same-sex couples from marrying.
The decision was a capstone to the remarkable strides the gay-rights movement had made in just a few short years. It had been only two years earlier that Washington—whose liberal social policies often precede the nation’s by decades, not biennia—began handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Running for president in 2008, Barack Obama stated clearly that marriage was reserved for a man and a woman. Then, just like that, it was the law of the land, from the King County Courthouse to Kim Davis’ desk.
It’s only natural, then, that when Seattle’s gay community gathered for Pride just two days after the ruling was passed down, there was a feeling that, after Stonewall and the AIDS epidemic and DADT and DOMA, the movement had arrived. Had won. Had completed the journey.
Seattle Weekly reporter Casey Jaywork described the mood of the parade this way in his July 1 report, “Let Freedom Ring”: “Love—the word is in the air, like a collective prayer or a sigh of relief.” Angelica Zachary, a gay woman, told Jaywork, “There’s been plenty of years they’ve been telling folks no—you can’t do this, can’t love this. Coming here just shows how much we’re moving forward.”
Fast-forward to this year, and Seattle Pride convenes under more somber circumstances, with raw memories of the man who, through the barrel of a gun, said no. Said you can’t do this, you can’t love this. He harbored a deep hatred, and chose to show his hate in as cowardly a way possible.
Omar Mateen’s explosion of rage cost 49 revelers at a gay club in Orlando their lives.
There have been bizarre attempts to cast Mateen’s act of terror as something other than an antigay attack—including by Washington’s Christian-values spigot Joseph Backholm, who told our sister paper the Everett Herald that Mateen’s actions were “just about ISIS.” But we all know better, and that knowledge has set a mood for Pride this year that is far different than 2015’s. That mood isn’t fear, so much, but its close cousin, vigilance.
At Wildrose, owner Shelly Brothers told Seattle Weekly last week that the bar bought metal-detector wands to search bags at the door within hours of the Orlando shooting. On Monday this week, several Capitol Hill businesses who plan to participate in Saturday’s Pride Festival took part in active-shooter training, learning best practices in the event of an Orlando copycat.
“It makes me sick to my stomach that this is the culture we live in,” Joe Mirabella told KING5 about the impetus for organizing such training on the eve of what’s supposed to be a celebration, “but we do.”
In an act of defiance to the fear that homophobes everywhere hope to instill, Pride Festival organizers wanted to extend the Capitol Hill Pride Festival to two days. Yet they were denied by the city, which cited the heavy security detail such an event would require. When defiance met the new reality, the new reality won.
Along with the specter of violence that is suddenly hanging over every rainbow flag in town, political fears are at play this year as well. As we speak, Backholm and his allies are gathering signatures to put on the ballot a measure, I-1515, that would restrict transgender men and women access to the bathrooms that correspond to their gender. It’s overreach to compare I-1515 efforts to the ideology of Mateen, as some ballot opponents did last week, but it’s fair to say that Mateen and Backholm create a spectrum of thought that encapsulates everything that Pride stands against. Clearly, there is work to be done, Supreme Court decisions be damned.
Make no mistake, Pride this weekend will be a celebration. But rather than celebrate the society we are, we will again be celebrating the society we hope to become.