There has been a roaring outcry over the recent bill signed by Russian president Vladimir Putin outlawing the public visibility of homosexuality. In the US, by contrast, recognition of homosexuality has grown tremendously. Many popular TV shows have at least one gay or bisexual character. Gay men and women can openly serve in the military and have been granted marriage equality in fifteen states. After years of second-class citizenship, gays and lesbians are beginning to make progress in winning recognition and protection of their rights.
As homosexuality becomes increasingly socially acceptable, we hear more about “gay pride.” There are now numerous holidays and events intended to celebrate “gay pride”—National Coming Out Day, Day of Silence, Pride months, Pride parades, and Gay and Lesbian film festivals. These celebrations of “gay pride” are similar in spirit to the various ethnic history months, film festivals, and other events celebrating “black pride,” “Korean pride,” “feminist pride,” etc. To take “pride” in such things implies that it is important to take pride in one’s biology or some other accidental collective attribute. Gays should be striving for the recognition of an individual’s right to pursue relationships of his or her choice. Yet what these events celebrate is not individualism, but rather, collectivism.
One doesn’t take pride in having blue eyes or blonde hair, so why would one take pride in being gay or bisexual? If we shouldn’t judge people based on their skin color, gender, or sexuality, because these characteristics are innate or trivial, than why should we take pride in them? If there should be “black pride” and “gay pride” then why shouldn’t there also be “white pride” and “straight pride?” In truth, there shouldn’t be any of these kinds of pride, and for the same reason.
To share in a group’s collective “pride” one would have to abide by the rules defined by that group. So many believe that to be gay one has to be flamboyant or fashionable. But this attitude spurns the individual who takes pride in himself contrary to group standards and values. That’s why “white pride” or “straight pride” would be nonsensical, because no one expects or believes all white individuals to abide by the same characteristics or share the same beliefs. However, many do believe that gay individuals must dress and talk a certain way and share the same beliefs.
To say or believe that we are defined by innate characteristics such as our race, gender, or sexual orientation ignores the fact that we choose what we wear, how we talk, and what we value. These choices are what we are defined by, and what make us more than barnyard animals. What advocates of “collective pride” ignore is that we are self-made. We choose our values, careers, and relationships; they do not choose us.
To be successful in any career or relationship one has to actively pursue it. One has to be growing constantly in one’s skills and knowledge. One who takes pride in one’s work or career is not taking pride in the accidents of one’s birth, but in one’s accomplishments and achievements. One is taking pride in a hierarchy of skills and knowledge one has acquired through years of dedication and hard work. Skills and knowledge are gained through one’s choice to acquire them; we are not born with them. Pride is then not something you are born with, but something that one must achieve.
You must choose to value certain things required of your work and then act on those values. If you want to be an engineer you must choose to demonstrate precision and accuracy through your actions. If you want to an entrepreneur you must choose to be innovative and determined. True pride is achieved through one’s chosen effort and values. Therefore, pride is not something that should be celebrated once a year or even once a month, but every single day of one’s life.
If gay people want to achieve full liberation from prejudice and to truly defend the rights of homosexuals, they must abandon the notion of collective pride. Instead of celebrating their membership in a group, they should be celebrating individuals’ chosen achievements. By taking pride in their achievements, gay men and women will succeed in being taken for who they are—individuals.
Eric Rosenberg is a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago.
Creative Commons-licensed image from Flickr user Guillaume Paumier.