Many young people raising burning lighters. Photo credit: GREY VILLET / THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION / GETTY IMAGES
June 30, 2020

PRIDE IS A PROTEST

By Keith Ashley

photo of Keith Ashley, who chairs Senior Pride’s public relations/development committee in addition to his full-time job as Development Director of Tucson Audubon Society
Keith Ashley chairs Senior Pride’s public relations/development committee in addition to his full-time job as Development Director of Tucson Audubon Society

Pride is a protest. I read these words today for the first time and my inner-teenager woke up from a long sleep, eyes wide open. He grinned like a pink possum, and delivered a friendly slap-on-the-back to my 53-year-old self: “Told you so. Did you forget?” I had clearly forgotten.

A friend recently commented on my work with Senior Pride: “You know, I’m proud of being gay, but not so proud of growing old.” And I get it … growing older brings a lot of change, and even more uncertainty. Figure in the fear factors of aging body and mind, death sneaking closer to the doorstep and … well … where does the pride come in?

At 16, I looked at the world and really saw it. A lot of pain and suffering out there. A lot of mean kids in the high school hallways learning to oppress others. A lot of confused, sad, stunted adults thinking they could tell me that I was bad for who I loved, and they were good for who they hated.

“At 16, I looked at the world and really saw it. A lot of pain and suffering out there. A lot of mean kids in the high school hallways learning to oppress others. A lot of confused, sad, stunted adults thinking they could tell me that I was bad for who I loved, and they were good for who they hated.”

Coming out was scary. Not because I lacked pride, but because I was full of it, and mad as hell. I came out to my best friends in high school. At 18 I vowed that all my college friends would know. At 21 I came out to my parents like a flaming Evel Knievel shot from a cannon. This. Did. Not. Go. Well. My family hails from rural Kentucky, my dad an eternal member of the Marine Corps. Twenty-five painful years passed before we could move on.

How do we feel pride in growing older? Well, how do we know we’re blessed as queers in the first place? Where DOES the strength come from? Who tells us that our Gay is Good, and our LGBTQI+ Community Even Better? I’d say, look at the world and really see it. So much hate out there, and we can offer so much love.

We’ve learned the difficult lessons of difference, along with the beautiful truths of unity. We know what it means to stand up against the world, all alone—and then to turn around and forgive it, to console it, and heal it just when it needs us most. At 24, I was gay-bashed walking home from the bar with my boyfriend. I was hospitalized and had to have my nose rebuilt. The next night a gay man was killed on the same spot. Getting old means being a survivor, receiving the opportunity to learn more, grow more, give more.

Pride is indeed how we protest every single thing that is messed up out there, while sharing every wonderful thing we are. You can read about the Pride is a Protest project. Together we can live it with Southern Arizona Senior Pride.