Michelle Cunneen and Jay Franzen of Equality Maricopa | Facebook manning their booth at this year’s Pride. (Photo by Karen Bartunek)

41st annual Phoenix Pride Festival theme, “Be You! Believe in yourself!”

Celebrating Pride is about being proud of who you are under the LGBTQ+ rainbow.

This year’s Phoenix Pride Festival echoed the sentiment by encouraging the 2022 theme “be you, believe in yourself.”

The theme can mean a lot of different things to different people, of course, but in a marginalized community such as the LGBTQ+ community, “being you” was once a dangerous thing.

Even with the modern acceptance of LGBTQ+ equality, Arizona is still one of 27 states that has not included LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections into law.

That’s why safe spaces are such an important part of the culture.

“It’s a strong reminder of how important identity is, not only for the LGBTQ+ community, which, for a long time, here in the United States, many of the community had to live without sharing their full identity for fear of reprisal, oppression, discrimination,” Jeremy Helfgot, spokesperson for Phoenix Pride, said.

For a culture that has dealt with discriminatory practices, internalized oppression, hate crimes, and violence, safe spaces are about survival.

According to the CDC, the LGBTQ+ community, “continues to have a greater prevalence of violence victimization and suicidal behavior than their heterosexual peers.” 

This means that the average gay person has experienced more violence, often in the form of hate crime, than their heterosexual counterpart.  

The Human Rights Campaign wrote that, “as a community, LGBTQ+ people face higher rates of poverty, stigma, and marginalization, which put us at greater risk for sexual assault.”

Decades of work and progress have been put into the community, and the resounding message is a hopeful call to move past surviving into thriving.

That is why events like Pride Festivals have become a pillar in the LGBTQ+ community, to encourage the embracing of Queer identities. 

“Be you, believe in yourself” means that you, just as you are, are worth celebrating.

“Phoenix Pride is really about building safe spaces for the community, spaces that are welcoming, that are appreciative of….everyone’s expression of their own individuality, and we do that here by building this enormous space that is really surrounded with love and welcoming and warmth and we encourage everybody to be here.” Helfgot affirmed.

And to be you.

“For me, that’s just to be your authentic self, no matter what, and to not be afraid to be in your workplace or be in public as anything other than yourself,” Jay Franzen, PVCC employee and officer-at-large with Equality Maricopa, said.

Though events like Pride, drag shows, or other cultural celebrations continue to bring confidence and healing to the community, there are also divisions within the community that make it hard for certain members of the rainbow to find their place.

“For me, I think, as a bisexual woman, ‘be you’ can be a little more challenging. It’s harder to be out and accepted within the LGBTQ+ community. For us, finding our place is a little bit different, so I think that “be you” for me is just being here and being queer out loud in front of people because we can really easily be erased and/ or ignored, so getting to be here is something very special.” Michelle Cunneen, social justice coordinator at Phoenix College and a member of Equality Maricopa, said.

The throng of Pride attendees seemed to agree, hailing from all walks of life, braving the rain to honor LGBTQ+ past and to celebrate an LGBTQ+ future.

“Leave room for everybody to be all of themselves and…recognize that we as queer people are not just queer people.  We’re also different cultural backgrounds, we’re also different life experiences, we’re intersectional and that is an infinite amount of possibilities within one movement.” Cunneen said.

At the end of the day, Miss Phoenix Pride said it best, “Pride is about being human, knowing who you are and what you believe in.” Rain or shine.