Experts explain how to keep your physical and mental health in check.

Hannah Shewan Stevens
Jun 04, 2021 @ 1:23 pm
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Pride month is crucial for LGBTQ people across the globe. It's a chance to celebrate our existence, remember our history, protest enduring struggles, and work for a future built on a foundation of equality. After being locked away for so long because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, I-and so many others-am desperate to shout queer pride from the rooftops this year, but we cannot forget to put safety and our well-being first.

Pride plays an important role in nurturing our well-being as LGBTQ people, and we have to preserve it. "Community matters and feeling that we are not alone or isolated, especially after this past year," explains psychotherapist Karen Pollock. "We need to know we are in a space where we can be ourselves." Losing access to this community can exacerbate the mental toll of living in a heteronormative world, and the pandemic has barred us all from in-person LGBTQ-friendly safe havens. Pollock adds: "Without those moments of community, LGBTQ people can end up either suppressing their authentic selves or risking dangerous situations just to not feel so isolated."

However, even with glimmers of normalcy coming over the horizon, celebrating our pride has to be done carefully. Here are seven things that will help you celebrate Pride Month safely.

How to safely celebrate Pride Month in 2021:

1. Remember not everyone is out.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ folks descend on Pride parades to celebrate their existence and reject prejudice, but not everyone is ready or able to go public with their identity. It can take years to accept ourselves or escape into communities that welcome us, instead of ostracizing us. Some cannot come out because of laws preventing it in their country, like in one of the 70 countries that criminalize same-sex sexual activity. 

We have to remember that no one in the community takes an identical journey to go public with their identity. "One of our core psychological yearnings is to belong, so networks need to intersect as well, as quite often, people are more than one thing. For instance, I am an openly bisexual, mixed heritage therapist," says LGBTQIA+ race and ethnicity psychotherapist Zayna Ratty. "People have to find their own intersectionality. People need to recognize the intersections within the community."

Just because you are out, proud, and ready to party, does not mean everyone is. You could put someone's life at risk by tagging them in a social media post. Not everyone has the privilege of being out, so remember that Pride is not always about being the loudest in the room. Some of our proudest members are closeted for their own safety-respect that.

2. Ensure access for disabled and immunocompromised individuals.

True pride happens when every single member of our community can access events and be involved. An event that does not take into consideration disabled access or financial access is no genuine pride. The community fights for equity and equality and that should start at home, which is especially vital in the midst of a pandemic that has kept many LGBTQ folks away from their chosen families.

Use your voice and advocate for change by engaging with people outside the community to educate, share information and resources, and write to your government representatives-digital activism is as essential as in-person action. When organizing an event, consider every avenue of accessibility. Provide captions or a sign interpreter for digital events, offer reduced or tiered-ticket pricing, and ensure that every panel or event you arrange has intersectional representation.

There is no place for all white, all non-disabled panels at Pride-prioritizing representation that accurately reflects the community protects the wellbeing of attendees. "When you've got monocultural and able-bodied people running everything, they have no lived experience outside of their own, so that, in turns, means they are not taking people into consideration who aren't middle class, white, able-bodied," Ratty explains. "The only way forward is for people to admit there's a problem." Exclusion has devastating effects on people's mental well-being. Events and processes that consider the needs of every member of the community show genuine pride.

pride month
Credit: Getty images

3. Mask up and remember not everyone is vaccinated.

In 2020, digital Pride took over zoom meeting rooms all over the world and many events will still remain digital this year. Although there will be in-person events taking place, it's vital that attendees consider the comfort level of our most vulnerable: those who may be immunocompromised or disabled. Many are still shielding and others are not ready to dive back into real-world activities just yet.

Be considerate when making your plans and include those who are electing to stay home and be safe. If you do attend in-person events, mask up and wash your hands regularly. The pandemic is far from being a distant memory but the more cautious and mindful we are, the faster we can get back to something resembling normalcy.

4. Preserve and honor our Pride history.

To nurture our community and increase the safety of all of us in the future, we have to preserve our history. Progress is impossible without acknowledging the prejudice still bleeding into the present from our past. For people living in countries like the U.S. and the U.K., being LGBTQ is relatively safe. It is legal and many of us have our rights protected by the law, however, this is not the case globally or even in some states.

"It's so incredibly important to know that you're not alone, it's also incredibly important to recognize where the Pride movement comes from," adds Ratty. "There should be this passing down of history and passing down of experience, so people actually know what happened and honour the people who came before." By remembering our history and recognizing the continued discrimination against our community, we take steps towards a safer and more equal world.

5. Take precautions to protect yourself from potential violence.

Though we all wish celebrating Pride did not require precautions, they are a sad necessity. In the UK, the number of reported hate crimes tripled between 2014-15 and 2019-20, and, in the US, 51 percent of respondents of one study had concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid intimidation. The sad truth is, Pride can make us an even bigger target and living with this constant anticipation of violence is exhausting. 

"It's a constant state of hypervigilance; you're always on the lookout for trouble," says Ratty. "Remaining at that fear level and thinking about the threat level produces high levels of cortisone and adrenaline in the bloodstream and the brain. That means having that constant amount of feeling whelmed, the smallest thing will topple you over into feeling overwhelmed."

When attending Pride, remember to attend in groups if possible and to have a "safety buddy" who you can keep informed of your movements. Stay with the crowds when possible and, if you live in a neighborhood with a high prevalence of abuse or prejudice attitudes, fold those flags away before you get home, especially if you are traveling alone.

One day, we will all be able to celebrate Pride without these precautions but we're not there yet. Prejudice is alive and well and sometimes it escalates into verbal and physical abuse, so please make sure you're here to Pride another day.

6. Help people find their community.

Coming out as LGBTQ can be isolating-and without an existing community of peers, it can be even lonelier. Psychologist Ilan H. Meyer developed the minority stress theory, which is an analysis that explains how stigma, prejudice, and discrimination create a hostile social environment, which influences mental health struggles. Pollock elaborates: "He realized that even the anticipation of homophobic events raised stress levels [in individuals]. If we add in the actual experiences of prejudice and violence LGBTQ people experience, then we start to understand that worse mental health comes not from being LGBTQ but from living in a queerphobic world."

As Pollock highlights, living in a heteronormative world can be exhausting for queer folk, so finding our people, and helping others do it, is a vital ingredient in maintaining our mental wellbeing and therefore our safety, too. They add, "Finding community is literally life-saving."

7. Be an ally and use your privilege to protect the marginalized.

If you are heterosexual or cis-gendered, Pride is an opportunity to show up as an ally. "Allies are so important because LGBTQ people are the minority; we cannot do this work of building safe communities without allies," says Pollock. "Allies can speak out when it might be unsafe for LGBTQ people to do so, they can challenge, but they can also celebrate because being LGBTQ is nothing to be ashamed of." 

Being an ally also means protecting the safety of LGBTQ people. So show up. Be a part of the fight for progress and use your privilege to help protect the safety of marginalized groups. If your LGBTQ friend is walking home alone, offer to go with them. Also, make sure to advocate for our rights and champion intersectionality, challenge prejudice when you see it, and never center yourself within those conversations. They are for LGBTQ people, not cis-gendered heterosexuals.