Pride month in our house is treated like a holiday season; not a glitzy, vacuous holiday season, but rather a month of finding space for community, sharing progress, and renewing commitment to fight for our collective rights. Like the ride of parenthood, the month is often a roller coaster of emotion. Pride, love, gratitude and intense energy (read: anger) around the challenges that our community continues to face – especially communities of color, youth, families, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. A sign I’ve seen at Pride events over the years reads, “They told us to feel ashamed, instead we feel pride.” For me, that statement sums up the resistance, pride and joy that many people find when coming together to say we’re here (and queer).
This year Pride month took on a new meaning as we packed our 2-year-old and all the baggage toddlers bring (diaper bag, snacks, sippy cup, stroller, baby carriers) into the car. Entering a parade route lined with thousands of people, our little one held on tight to his mama (my wife) and baba (me) as we marched down Santa Cruz’s Pacific Avenue. Halfway through the parade he realized the crowd was cheering for us and his body relaxed. His smile and enthusiastic wave were undeniably authentic. He loved the contingent of queer youth behind us, with signs and flags and smiles and a bullhorn to amplify their voices. At the celebration, watching him up-front and center, jamming out to our favorite local queer band was an experience like no other. Yep, that’s our kid – dancing like no one’s watching.
By his second Pride, he created his own poster of rainbow scribbles to carry alongside our homemade “Love Makes a Family” sign. We marched with our county libraries who are visible, steadfast allies and have created welcoming spaces for our community. He decided during the parade that he was ready to march, carrying his own sign with gusto. As one of the Pride organizers, I walked into the celebration space holding his hand, in shock that an event with an expected attendance of 200-300 was bursting with over 700 joyful faces. The shock was lost on him; he was too busy listening to LGBTQ+ family stories in the Children’s Room, making rainbow ribbons, and dancing with a local drag queen.
A week later, we trekked a few hours from home for San Francisco Pride. We showed up in the staging area for the parade and he was immediately in his element. He danced to quintessential Pride music blasting from float speakers, had glitter sprinkled in his hair, charmed cheerleaders, and passed out signs with the message #ResistHate to any empty-handed person nearby, whether they were with our contingent or not. He eyed a bullhorn and repeated his new word – Pride – for about 5 minutes interspersed with infectious laughing. Watching his personality and independence develop is one of my favorite parts of being a parent, but watching it grow in the moment surrounded by love and pure acceptance was something new.
Our family had the opportunity to carry one of the banners for Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization. We loaded our little one into the hiking pack and were off. We had no idea if he would stay on my wife’s back the entire parade, but we knew we would figure it out when the time came (though he happily stayed put to get a better view of the festivities). Hundreds of thousands of people lined Market Street waving, clapping, dancing, and cheering us down the street. There was no hesitation this time as our little one waved and cheered right back.
The parade was an exhilarating experience, but finding Our Family Coalition’s Family Garden was an oasis. Our little one found blocks and built a boat (his current obsession), belly-laughed on the improvised parachute ride, and got his first washable tattoo with the message “Proud of my Family”. In this space, beautiful smiling families came together for photos and picnics and the pure joy of being together; it was safe space for a kid to have a meltdown, yell, run, cry, laugh. I had mentally prepped myself for the emotion I would feel during the parade, but it was in this space that I caught my breath and felt a wave of emotion.
Here, there was no need to educate people about different family structures, no invasive questions about how we got pregnant, no need to explain why forms need to change to reflect our families, no reason to fear our children would be treated differently because they have two moms or two dads or any other family constellation that isn’t “traditional.” I wondered how many of these families journeyed through the second parent adoption process like we had and wondered what emotions they felt as they were handed their paperwork from the county clerk. Watching doting mamas and mommies and babas and daddies and papas as they watched their kiddos, tears welled up in my eyes as I realized these people were here to say that our families mattered and that having this space matters. The release that I didn’t even know I needed was immense and beautiful and, much like the intensity of parenthood, it was over in a moment because it was time to follow our spirited toddler to the next adventure.
We have packed away our box of Pride gear for the year; the rainbow feather boa, rainbow bow ties, rainbow headbands, and signs will be waiting for us next year. I am not sure we could ever recreate the magic of this June, but honestly, I know we won’t have to try. The memory of this year will be etched on our full, happy hearts and when we have moments of challenge I know it will be there to tap into as our resilient community has done for decades.
Amanda Mihalko is a sentimental optimist who runs on iced chai, to-do lists, and passion for social justice. She lives near Monterey Bay, California with her wife and their curious and energetic toddler, an equally energetic chocolate lab, and a cat that thinks he's a dog.