Celebrating love, community and Pride as a parent

VOICES Jess Gutierrez reflects journey two decades lgbtq pride celebrations
VOICES Jess Gutierrez reflects journey two decades lgbtq pride celebrations

When I was an early twenty-something lesbian, cute with a young body and boundless energy, Pride Month was everything. I counted the minutes until June. Pride meant posing with my arms around rhinestone-encrusted drag queens with sleek bodies I dreamt of having. Pride meant fruity drinks on patios, stacks of rubber bracelets from gaudy street side booths, and vying to get into the biggest parties in town. Fresh out of the closet in the early 2000s, Pride meant celebrating and making memories I would get too drunk to remember.

Twenty years of Pride celebrations later and things are different. I'm no less jubilant about the festivities. I still feel the prickle of satisfaction in my belly and tears swelling when I see fluttering flags heralding the procession of floats.

But at 41, in that ecstatic crowd, someone kicks me as I cheer. I have sweaty legs pressed to my hip and a little hand pulling herself up for a better view. I still jostle for space up front and agonize over outfits, but now I pack for three kids.

Rainbow-colored costume changes are now paramount once popsicle stains make an appearance.

As a mom, Pride is less sexy and less self-serving. Instead of hunting swirl margaritas, I scan for snowcone vendors. Once bubbling over with beer and vodka, our cooler now holds the right brand of apple juice and crust-free sandwiches.

This year, my wife, our eight, six, and two-year-old, and I traveled eastward to celebrate Pride in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, invited as a special guest by the gracious 2024 event organizers. We loaded a portable booth, table, food, and more rainbow paraphernalia than one family should own. Trying to ignore thoughts of the days when all I needed was a backpack with a spare set of flip-flops and a flask, I stuffed my SUV with first aid kits, pillows, toys, boogie boards, and all the book swag needed for giveaways. Once packed, our human circus of five, plus a (mostly) helpful Grammy, headed out.

After a bathroom break, toddler meltdown, and ice cream stop, we arrived at our pricey lakefront rental in a town neighboring the Pride activities. Grammy schmoozed with the kids each morning, luring them with vacation breakfast, including marshmallow fluff on toast, while my wife and I headed to town to set up our booth.

We arranged the booth with freebie sunglasses, pride tattoos, store-bought friendship bracelets, and copies of my book. Once set up, my wife left to get the kids. They hung out for an hour, browsing other booths, complaining, and spending money on junk in shops. The littlest danced to booming music from a nearby stage and treated us to additional tantrums.

Between scrambling to catch candy and, oddly enough, a stray granola bar from the floats, I looked at the bigger picture. Despite screaming at my children that Snickers are not worth dying for, I considered how proud I truly am.

How lucky I am to share Pride with the people I love most.

The first parade I went to decades ago was a handful of attendees, a coalition of dreamers of what could be, who were braver than they were proud. Back then, no same-sex couples in America had been allowed to legally marry. It was seldom I saw queer people kiss or hold hands in public.

There was hope but also so much fear.

Fortunately, I'm not the only one who has changed—the world has, too—not enough, but a bit. And though we still have a way to go, knowing that my kids get to celebrate Pride with unfettered joy instead of foreboding panic is a win.

That is everything.

And do you want to know the best thing about Pride as a parent? When I have a kid atop my shoulders, their neck heavy with beads and hands sticky with cotton candy, we stare together at the parading sea. Of roller girls with black smudges under their eyes, chanting boys in mesh tops, and gorgeous queens in seven-inch heels on 100-degree asphalt. When my baby leans close to my ear, I scream above the noise, "They're here for us. These are our people, and we are proud!"

At night, after settling the kids into bed, my wife and I met our friends out. We took shots like we still own youthful livers. I danced so hard that I kicked a shoe across the dance floor. I lost my voice. One of my friends asked me the next day, "Do you think anyone saw when my boob popped out of my top?"

Yes, girl. They saw. It's okay, and no one cares.

Pride doesn't judge.

Our Sunday brunch, which used to include hangovers while rehashing the weekend's hookups and breakups, was different this year too. Instead of taking a bite out of headaches with Bloody Marys, we found a spot in town that served nuggets and smiley face pancakes.

Pride these days is a different kind of good.

Whether I'm yearning for Pride of bygone days or melancholic over parties that I'm missing, nothing could be better than sharing the feeling of belonging, the sense of queer community and allies, with my own kids.

I'm okay with the fact things looked different this June. A wholly changed experience, an aged one, doesn't make my Pride any less important.

My statement necklaces with my booty shorts might be in the attic, but I'm still here.

I'm still proud but a bit more tired about it. I still have my flags and rainbow t-shirts, but I have a bedtime now. And vitamins—lots and lots of vitamins. As for a white party? I'm out. I'm there in spirit (at least until my 8 p.m. bedtime), but I haven't worn white in years—jelly hands and Cheeto mouths forbid it.

But I'm proud of us and glad to cheer from the sidelines.

Party on, my friends. I can't wait to hear tales of the memories you're making.

Jess H. Gutierrez is a speaker and former journalist whose work has been published in Northwest Arkansas Times, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Siloam Springs Herald Leader, and the Fayetteville Free Weekly. She has earned several awards from the Arkansas Press Association. She also won the fifth-grade spelling bee despite the fact that everyone thought that Crissy Eaton would take the title. She lives in Northwest Arkansas with her firefighter wife who is way cooler than she is, three wild kids, and a surly bulldog named Hank.

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