After a year in isolation, returning to Pride was an exercise in finding joy

L.A.-based writer Jon Higgins reflects on Pride Day at Universal Studios, and the thrill of being surrounded by community again

I have always had mixed feelings when it comes to Pride season. Capitalism and commercialism aside, some of my most stressful memories related to my coming out are tied to the occasion. From fatphobia to racism, being at Pride often brings a lot of anxiety.

But when Pride went virtual in 2020, things got real for me. It had been months since I had seen my chosen family in person (hello, pandemic), and so many of the things that we had planned to do involved reclaiming better memories around the event. From an annual Pride dinner being cancelled to not being able to see a friend perform at San Diego Pride, it felt like the pandemic literally rained on my parade. 

Now, almost a year later, Pride means so much more, specifically because of what so many of us have been through during the pandemic. 

I’ll admit it: when I saw the announcement that local organizations in Los Angeles were hosting in-person events for Pride season, my anxiety level spiked. I had yet to be in large crowds of people, and a new COVID-19 variant was making its way around the globe. Though I’ve been fully vaccinated for several months, I still struggle with being around people that I am not familiar with. 

But part of me missed seeing the joy and freedom in the faces of LGBTQ2S+ people at Pride events—especially youth, trans people and non-binary individuals like me. 

“Surrounded by other queer and trans people, I felt seen and connected.”

After having a few weeks to think over whether or not I really wanted to be in a public space for Pride this year, my partner and I made the decision to attend L.A. Pride’s “Love is Universal”’ event on June 25 at the Universal Studios theme park. Getting there early, I could feel the excitement of Pride in the air. Queer parents with their children piled into the park, along with couples with matching outfits and even a cute baby with a rainbow bib. As I was waiting at the entry point to enter the park, I saw teens running around with rainbow flags and a scavenger hunt list asking patrons and workers questions as they worked together to complete the task. Another teen was carrying a trans flag wrapped around their neck, and their chaperone had rainbow flag pins all over their backpack. Two men dressed in shirts with tiny rainbows made me smile because I could tell it was their first date and I could see how smitten they were with one another. Surrounded by other queer and trans people, I felt seen and connected, something that I felt the pandemic took from so many of us in the community.  

The author poses at an L.A. Pride event at Universal Studios

Credit: Courtesy Jon Higgins

Another moment that stuck out to me: while I was having a photo op done with Homer Simpson in the Simpson’s area (my favourite part of the park), one of the staff members commented on the Pride bag I was wearing by Coach—which was covered in rainbow Coach insignia—and how nice it felt to be able to be there on the day. 

But the best part about Pride day at the park was the energy my partner and I experienced not only from the staff, but from those who were also in attendance. From the person working the back-lot tour tram wishing me a “happy Pride” to the person working in Harry Potter Land, nothing about the day felt forced. Even though I had my typical COVID-19 concerns about being in such a busy part of the park at times, I felt welcomed in a way that I don’t often feel on days that I regularly visit. Moreover, I felt a sense of joy that I hadn’t had in a long time. 

I can recall some of my tension about being in the park on that day going away because I could see the joy all over the faces of so many people. I even heard one family say in line how cool it was that they were there on Pride day and how happy they are to see LGBTQ2S+ people being uplifted through celebrations like the “Love is Universal” day. 

“I felt a sense of joy that I hadn’t had in a long time.”

For some people in attendance, it was their first time being able to surround themselves with the community after what felt like a year of losing it. I kept reminding myself that being there on that day was not just about having fun in the park, but about telling the queer kids who were there that they could be their authentic selves. 

While I am still not 100 percent sold on being around large groups of people, and still have a ton of anxiety related to COVID-19, I can say that one of the best things I have done this year was attend that event. It reminded me of why we celebrate Pride, why it is important for us to continue to take up space and why we must continue to fight for love, universally.

Jon is an educator, writer and speaker who examines the intersections of gender, race and pop culture.  

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