On Saturday, September 27, I attended the Midsouth Pride Festival and Parade in Memphis, Tennessee. This is my fourth time at this festival, and only now am I beginning to grasp more fully what it's all about.
Pride festivals and parades are about many things: celebration and defiance, excess and performance, sexuality and spirituality, costumes and authenticity, liberation and justice.
When one photographs at a Pride event, one can approach the task as either a voyeur or participant. I choose to be the latter. I seek to enter fully into the festival, and more importantly into the broader struggle of LGBTQ people. Participation is an act of solidarity rather than charity. Charity is merely the momentary, guilty conscience of the voyeur.
The way of solidarity involves forming deep, abiding friendships with LGBTQ people and other allies, nourishing and being nourished by a shared life that both transcends and includes the multitude of ways we are different from one another. It means coming alongside a marginalized but triumphant people, not as a self-appointed straight liberal savior, but as an empathetic friend who shares the burdens, the struggles, the victories, the defeats, the joys and laughter, the anger and pain. Solidarity means sticking around and finding your own life only when you lose it in the lives of others.
One of the gifts of solidarity is authenticity, and in the case of solidarity with my LGBTQ friends, it is an authenticity that regularly calls me forth from my own closets filled with false identities that are safe and comfortable. While the closets of LGBTQ people are often especially dark ones filled with toxic air that suffocates the spirit, most of us have closets of our own where we retreat and trade authenticity and flourishing for various false selves hell-bent on mere survival and unreflective social conformity.
When I photograph Pride events, it is a gesture of thanks and admiration to the LGBTQ community and its allies for empowering me to transgress with queer courage and drag-queen delight all those carefully guarded, arbitrary boundaries that masquerade falsely as natural and essential to my and society's wellbeing. My LGBTQ friends make me a better photographer and theologian, and in the end a better human being.
And it is to these friends that I say "thank you" with these 43 photographs. If you would prefer to see the photographs in the gallery or if your internet connection does not permit uninterrupted viewing of the slideshow below, click here.