by Matt Comer (he/him) Charlotte Pride Communications Director

I can still feel the excitement. The newness of it all. The sheer overwhelming positivity I felt inside. It was a joyous and enthralling day. One I’ll never forget — the day I saw with my own two eyes just how large, how diverse, how powerful my community was.

If your first Pride experience was anything like mine, then at least some of those emotions ring a bell. I’ve been involved in LGBTQ community organizing since I was a teen, and I’ve been actively involved in Pride organizing since 2008. In all that time, at least once each year, I hear the story of a newly out person who got to experience what I experienced more than two decades ago. There’s nothing quite like your very first Pride.

Mine was in the fall of 2004. I was a college freshman and our LGBTQ student group took a trip to Durham to march in what was then the state’s only Pride parade. I’d return to the NC Pride festival and parade for several years, even after I moved to Charlotte. It will always have a special place in my heart.

The world 22 years ago was a different place. Same-sex sexual activity had just been legalized by the Supreme Court. Massachusetts had just legalized same-sex marriage, but the prospects of legal marriage nationwide was, in many minds, still a very long way off. A growing, but still very small, community conversation on the need to fully include and protect transgender people was just bubbling up. It would reach a fever pitch when trans folks were excluded from a draft of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act just a few years later.

It’s no coincidence that I’m reminded of laws and court cases when I think back to my first Pride. Our movement for equality is inextricably bound up in what Pride has meant from the very beginning. Today’s Pride events can trace their origin to the 1970 Christopher Street Liberation Day March in New York City. That event — the one-year commemoration of the historic Stonewall Riots in June 1969 — is exactly what made Stonewall so very different. Unlike other LGBTQ uprisings elsewhere in the 1950s and 1960s, Stonewall was remembered. It was celebrated. It served as the catalyst for what would eventually become a sustained, national movement for liberation.

That movement — guided by young people, poor people, people of color, transgender people, and more — immediately saw a clear vision for what they wanted their future to look like. Sure, they wanted parties, fun, and celebration. Who doesn’t? That first march in 1970, after all, was immediately followed by a celebratory day in the park. But what was top of mind for our Liberation Movement’s founders was exactly that: Liberation.

For me, Pride means liberation, yes. But it’s so very much more than that. It means service to others and to your wider community. It means standing in solidarity with the most marginalized among us. It means taking time to pause, reflect on, and remember the sacrifices of all the people who came before us — people who, quite very literally, put their lives on the line to secure our freedoms. Pride is more than a single weekend event each year. Without Pride, our community would be a shell of what it is today.

Pride to me? It’s us. All of us. Community. Our big, beautiful, diverse, and strong community — and all of the ways each of us, in our own unique ways, fight for liberation every day.

I ask you: What does Pride mean to you? How will you make a difference? How will you contribute to our Liberation Movement?

SPEAK OUT: Will you be attending your first Pride this year? Charlotte Pride wants to hear from you! Tell us why your excited about your first Pride on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #MyFirstCLTPride.