Queers Built This is a project about queer inventiveness and DIY culture then, now, and tomorrow.
When I attended my first Pride parade in Boston in 1991—so I could be among my people for the first time—I was 15 years old and I lied to my parents about where I was going, because I knew they wouldn’t approve. By the next year I was out, but it was (ahem) several more years before I could say even the words “gay” or “lesbian” without them flinching visibly.
Perhaps you, young lesbian, gay, bi, queer, or trans person, are currently living with your relatives, in a restricted-movement quarantine situation—together every day, all day, all the time. Maybe you know it’s just not safe for you to openly celebrate Pride at home this year (or… any year). Any which way, some of us are finding ourselves stuffed back into the closet right now and for a while to come.
Pride gives many of us queer folks an opportunity to see our experiences reflected, validated, and shown to be as beautiful as we are. It’s incredibly soothing to the soul to feel like you can be fully yourself, even for a day. This year, all of us are going to have to #celebratepridequietly—but some more than others. Next year, I sincerely hope we’ll be back to the loud-and-proud version.
In the meantime, here are some ideas for things you might do to mark Pride and keep yourself safe at the same time (please do this, we need you alive and well to dance again another day). Use your best judgement about your safety based on what you know about the people around you—what they will notice, how much surveillance there is—and pick some the items you feel pretty certain will fly under their radar while you’re there, (very quietly) queer, and fabulous.
1. Bring back an old symbol.
When I was coming out, a fading (but still recognized) symbol of gayness was the Greek letter Lambda (λ). Lambda Rising was one of the US’s premiere gay bookstores, and the Lambda Literary Awards are still a hallmark of excellence in LGBT2Q writing. Tell your parents it stands for Love (or Live or Laugh or whatever you think they’ll buy) and embroider it on the sleeve of your hoodie, your backpack, a headband, or whatever you’ve got. Voilà: instant Pride wear.
2. Visit some queer-coded kids book classics.
Are your or a sibling’s childhood books still around? Go find Frog & Toad Are Friends on the shelf and give it a read. Published in 1970, the author Arnold Lobel came out as gay a few years after writing this, and his daughter thinks of the book as the beginning of his coming out.
3. Get queers in your ears (part 1).
There have been some extraordinary queer and trans blues musicians, and those who have sung queer or bawdy material for a wink-wink, nudge-nudge audience: Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Willie “Little Ax” Broadnax, Jackie Shane. Put on a playlist of these blues icons and let their tones fill your ears. (Bonus: you can’t hear Fox News blaring out of the television.)
4. Give a lot of high fives.
The consensus is that gay major league baseball player Glenn Burke of the Los Angeles Dodgers innovated the high five congratulating his teammate on a home run in 1977 (though of course dap/slipping skin has a long history in Black communities, so, like many modern origin stories, this one is more about the white mainstream). Still, I think you can give a lot of high fives to your housemates this month, and every time, you can think “I’m doing something gay right now!”
5. Join an online social or support group.
Now that we’re all on Zoom and Discord (when we’re not on TikTok), a number of great social and support groups for LGBT2Q young people have moved online. If you have the privacy to join in a meeting and not be overheard, seeing some other beautiful gay faces might be just the ticket. Many orgs are posting their group times and ways to connect on Facebook right now, so try searching “LGBT youth” or something similar and you’ll find a wealth of formerly-local groups now welcoming participants from anywhere. (And most places, “youth” goes up to 24, sometimes 28.)
6. Make green carnations.
Why? Well, why not? But also a green carnation used to be code for a gay man in London to be recognized by his fellows, after playwright Oscar Wilde put them in one of his plays (in 1892) and asked his friends to all wear one on opening night. So get out the food coloring and if anyone asks, you’re learning cell biology online and it’s an experiment.
7. Put a stripe on it.
If a whole rainbow is too visible for you to be safe, let’s throw it back to the original rainbow flag color code, as explained by flag designer Gil Baker. Baker said that he included hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit. Pick the one that you especially vibe with or that represents the thing you need most in your life right now, and doodle, paint, draw, wrap, or otherwise adorn yourself or your things in that color all month.
8. Teach yourself to speak Polari, an old-school coded language of queerness (and sex workers and theatre folk).
There’s a queer language!? Yes. Polari is a hybrid language first developed in the UK and used in London and other European cities among English speakers. It combines slang, archaic forms of common words, rhyming language, Latin and all manner of other origins into a hot stew you can use to give queer compliments and keep your queer secrets safe. Here’s a dictionary and an app to get you started learning.
9. Queers in your ears (part 2)
Holy podcasts, Batkid! There are a million and one LGBT2Q podcasts, but here are three favorites:
- One From The Vaults, a trans history podcast hosted by Morgan M. Page packed with well-researched and funny overviews of trans people and their escapades through history.
- The Read, hosted by Crissle West and Kid Fury, a hip hop and culture podcast that’s joyful, Black and so very gay.
- Disability After Dark, hosted by Andrew Gurza, a queer disabled activist and sex educator who covers sex and disability. (This one is sexy and explicit, be advised.)
10. Get into The Henry Rios Mysteries, a queer Mexican detective series.
Michael Nava’s gripping, gritty mystery series featuring defense attorney Henry Rios spans seven books and 16 years of LGBT2Q politics and California culture, plot twists, gay sex, obsession, and plenty of murder—which is good in case some aggressive family member asks what you’re reading. What’s more wholesome than a murder mystery?
(Why do cis het people worry that reading about gays will make you gay but never that reading about murder will make you murder-y? Anyhow…)
Photo: Eugene Gologursky / Stringer
12. Plant a Pride garden.
Options here: you can plan for a rainbow of flowers, or grow vegetables with the gayest names, like Flamingo Pink Chard or Big Daddy tomatoes. Or, google “flower meanings” and plant for what you want to manifest, like dahlias (“proud love without compromise”) and protea (“change, transformation, and courage”)
13. Start carrying a handkerchief.
In addition to upholding a proud dandy tradition, the gay hanky code contains hidden sexual meanings as well. Pick the sexual or erotic acts you wish you were having and wear or carry it on the left if you like to do that thing to others (can I suck your toes?), or on the right if you want them to do it to you (please suck my toes!). Like to switch it up? Wear it around your neck! Also helpful if/when you get all teared up during your own private film festival (see below).
14. Throw your own queer film festival.
Your relatives have to sleep sometime, right? Plan for that by programming up a selection of delightful, hilarious, educational and affirming films you can stream through library systems and various platforms. (Caveat: Be careful about your viewing history! Netflix, for example, will let you go back and remove titles you’ve watched so they don’t show up, though they still might affect what’s recommended to you.) Start with some of these gems you might not find in a casual browse:
- Tongues Untied (artistic documentary). Marlon Riggs’ groundbreaking, gorgeous celebration of Black gay love.
- The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls In Love (feature). An adorable story of young women finding their way in their first lesbian relationships.
- Kumu Hina (documentary). The story of Hina Wong-Kalu, a transgender native Hawaiian teacher, who inspires the next generation with great love and power.
- A Jihad for Love (documentary). A tender-hearted and clear-eyed portrait of LGBTQ Muslims in 12 different countries, all struggling toward love and justice
- Big Eden (feature). An odd-couple gay romance with a long buildup and a very sweet payoff.
- Una Mujer Fantastica (feature, in Spanish with English subtitles). Grief, triumph, love, and loss, with a trans woman’s experiences centered in them all.
- MAJOR! (documentary). A funny and loving doc about the life and work of Stonewall vet and Black trans icon Miss Major Griffin-Gacy.
15. Write a letter to an incarcerated queer or trans person.
LGBT2Q people are overpoliced (and undersupported in prisons), and incarceration is a lonely, brutal experience. Brighten someone’s day by writing them a letter! Get out a pen and paper, and hit Black & Pink to get matched with an incarcerated person with whom you can safely share some details of your experiences right now. Bonus: mail call in prisons often happens in public, and receiving letters reminds the prison staff that your pen pal has people who care about them beyond the walls.
16. Get some gay-ass socks.
If you can’t wear your sexuality on your sleeve, try wearing it on your ankles! Maybe you can rock a rainbow if it’s hidden in your shoe. But if not, join the proud, longstanding queer tradition of having fanciful, fabulous socks, and let your feet feel the love.
17. Funnel some cash to an org that supports LGBT2Q people.
Were you saving up for a trip to Pride? Got some extra money now that you can’t go to the clubs? Send it to organizations that support queer justice, like Trans Justice Funding Project, Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits, or The Trevor Project, or join Kiva’s LGBT Funding Team and let your dollars do some work.
18. Let your feelings out with some LGBT2Q poets.
You need Saeed Jones, Andrea Gibson, Eileen Myles, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Ocean Vuong, Gwen Benaway, Chen Chen, Amber Dawn, Ryka Aoki, Joshua Whitehead, Danez Smith, Vivek Shraya, Trace Peterson, Natalie Diaz, Stephanie Burt, J Mase III, Daphne Gottlieb, Jillian Christmas, Ruben Quesada, and oh, so many more in your life. Then, if you feel safe enough to write things down right now, write your own poems. (If not, consider composing and memorizing them for your future queer slam experiences.)
19. Support “family” businesses when you shop online at 2 a.m. because you’re queer and restless.
Bring the gay to your doorstep! When you need regular things, order your cosmetics from Kiss My Face or Hi Wildflower or Fluide; your coffee from Equator Coffee; your books from Bluestockings (or Charis, or Left Bank, or Women & Children First, or Glad Day, or Little Sisters); and your jams and pancake mixes from Stonewall Kitchen.
20. Learn about another identity under our rainbow umbrella.
Are you up on asexuality? Clear about queer? Trying to grasp trans? Focused on the many facets of feminism? Nervous about your nonbinary knowledge? Uncertain about intersex? Not to be too much like your 11th grade history teacher (or whichever was the cool one) but with plenty of time to kill, a deep dive into understanding an identity you don’t share is a great way to start being a useful ally. Search out creators and cultural workers who rep identities you don’t know a lot about and get learning (and be sure you’re engaging work by people who have those identities, not just about them).
21. Take some inspiration from your queer lineage.
You’re beautiful, and you are precious to the world, and however alone you may feel, there’s a tremendous history behind you—a fact I always find incredibly helpful to remember. You can read about homosexuality is pre-colonial Africa, how British conquest led to criminalizing queerness in India, the history of Indigenous two-spirit people and so, so much more—from the Kama Sutra to 13th century Jewish poetry. No matter what anyone says to you about your identity being a phase, a fad, or a trend, you can know in your heart that it’s just not true, even if you can't argue back.
22. Find a spot for juuuuuuuust one rainbow.
I’ve known firefighters who have embroidered one inside the hem of their turnouts; seventh-graders making magazine collages that show Very Heterosexual And Gender Appropriate Images that subtly change in color from red all the way to purple; cake decorators who find a place for a rainbow swoosh on every cake they deliver; and femmes whose accessories and cosmetics combined always add up to a perfect arc en ciel. Necessity is the birth parent of invention, so? Make a (very small) way.
23. Last, but not least: Share.
Get on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, or even Facebook—wherever you feel safe—and use the #celebratepridequietly hashtag to show your work and see what other people are doing. And don’t be shy to DM and make a new friend to help you get through this together!