In "State Of Pride,” a new documentary now available on YouTube, gay activist and YouTube personality Raymond Braun travels to three diverse cities to chat with young people about what Pride means to them. The answers Braun gets may not always have been what he expected.
"State Of Pride" was directed by the filmmaking team of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who took home the coveted Oscar for the 1984 documentary "The Times Of Harvey Milk.” That film recalled Milk's rise to political power, his brief tenure as one of the first openly gay elected officials in United States history, and the aftermath of his 1978 assassination. With "State Of Pride" the auteurs, and Braun, are taken on a journey which poses the questions: What is Pride? What does it mean? And why is Pride viewed so differently in different cities?
The film opens with a recollection of the Stonewall riots. On June 28, 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, fought back against the constant police harassment they had endured for many years. The rioting and demonstrations continued for several days and is credited with launching the modern gay rights movement. Fifty years later, LGBT people the world over celebrate Pride and hold parades every June in commemoration of what happened at Stonewall. And now, all these years after Stonewall, Epstein, Friedman and Braun have wondered what younger people might have to say about Pride.
Braun begins by Skyping with young LGBT people in different parts of the country. He hears points of view which are as diverse as the people he chats with.
"Coming from D.C., there's two Prides, there's Black Pride, and then there's everyone else's Pride," said one black gay man from Los Angeles. "If you don't identify with one particular group then you don't have a place where you fit."
"It's just so wonderful to see so many people similar to you in one place in support of each other," said a gay Asian man from San Francisco.
"Pride is the reason I'm alive," said a young trans woman, but another trans woman has a decidedly different point of view.
"A lot of people don't want trans women of color to even have a platform, so they're not going to promote where people of color's voices can be heard," she said.
Hearing such differing views regarding Pride inspires Braun to take a road trip. He visits large cities and small towns, in conservative and liberal states, to get a better idea of what Pride means to young people 50 years post-Stonewall.
His first stop is Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he finds LGBT people living in communities that don't accept who they are. The Tuscaloosa portion of the film is especially powerful as it serves as a reminder of how far the LGBT movement still has to go. Alabama is one of the country's most conservative states — the state made headlines recently when Gov. Kay Ivey signed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country.
Braun chats with Meredith, a lesbian in Tuscaloosa who recalls the area's first Pride parade in 2014.
"It was adorable," Meredith said. "It was about 50 folks. People who grew up here were just shook, they were amazed that there was a Pride festival downtown, openly, without disaster happening."
The other people that Braun talks to underscore how real such fears are in the state. One young lesbian who works as a barista in a local café spoke of a customer who didn't want to be served by her because of who she is. Another interviewee, a transgender man, said that the Pride festival is the only place where he feels safe kissing his girlfriend.
A completely different tale is told in San Francisco, considered by some to be the center of the LGBT universe. Pride is a big deal in the city, with no less than three parades taking place: the Trans March, the Dyke March and the general Pride Parade. Rainbow flags are everywhere, and everyone is out, loud and proud.
Among the San Franciscans Braun chats with is Subhi, a young gay man from Syria who fled his homeland in fear for his life. In San Francisco he can be who he is openly — Subhi kisses his boyfriend on the street happily and proudly.
Braun's last stop is in Salt Lake City, Utah, home base to the anti-gay Mormon church — 10 years ago the church had donated a great deal of money to help pass Proposition 8, California's now overturned ban on same-sex marriage.
While in Salt Lake, Braun spends a considerable amount of time with Carson, a young gay man confined to a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury. Carson feels that it's easier to be disabled than to be gay, and it's clear as to why he feels that way — he left the Mormon church due to lack of acceptance. But Carson is blessed with a loving family. Grace is said at the table before a family dinner, after which Carson talks to the family about his sexuality. He asks them to fly a Pride flag in front of the house and invites them to join him for the Pride parade. They accept the invitation.
Towards the end of the film Carson’s father raises the rainbow flag in front of the family home, as Carson smiles joyfully.
“Right where it should be,” he said.
“State Of Pride” packs a lot of material into its short, 71-minute running time. The film beautifully illustrates how much progress LGBT people have made, but it also shows how much work still needs to be done. As Braun said in the film: “As long as LGBT people are facing any form of discrimination, Pride is still relevant.”
"State Of Pride" can now be viewed on You Tube: