When I was younger (and straighter), the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras would confuse me. If these people were born gay, why are they so proud? They haven't done anything to be proud of. They were just born that way.
I'm going to put some of that attitude down to internalised homophobia, but I think there is still this lingering sentiment among some of the community. What are they all so proud of? Why do they have to rub it in our faces? Why isn't there a straight pride?
I believe that people are born into their sexual orientation, and that being proud purely of that fact is a bit strange. However, 'out and proud' is really about being proud to be out, not proud to be gay.
My whole life, due to religious (but otherwise fantastic) parents, I have felt that something about me, something inside of me, is inherently shameful. Something was wrong with me. It takes time to overcome this; I know a lot of middle-aged people who still can't shake this feeling.
Mardi Gras is a time to declare, with even more vigour than usual, that I am free. I am not ashamed. Nothing is wrong with me. This is a great feeling and there is no reason this feeling need be owned by the LGBTI community. This feeling can be for everyone.
A lot of us have things within us that we hide. Maybe we just lie by omission or don't want to stir the pot. But when we hide something it indicates we are ashamed or embarrassed. It might not always be the case, but it does present that way. Some things are absolutely shameful and embarrassing, so I'm not suggesting you have to be 'out and proud' about everything you've ever done, or every facet of your personality, but there are a lot of things we feel shame about for no good reason.
Being 'out and proud' as a lesbian is my way of showing that there is nothing shameful about being gay. There is nothing to hide, nothing that should be hidden. A lot of people, gay and straight, honestly believe that there is something shameful about being gay. I see Mardi Gras as my opportunity to respond to those attitudes, I am saying: "No, I won't be ashamed."
I try and live this every day. I will not allow homophobic comments around me, I will not omit pronouns so that people can believe I'm straight, and I will speak up when someone tells me I shouldn't be able to marry. This makes some people uncomfortable, and probably gets me branded as all kinds of things I don't want to be. Sometimes it's irritating and tiring, but I persist because it's really the only form of activism I can do in my daily life. For some, Mardi Gras is the only time of the year they can fully feel 'out and proud' and it reminds me why I continue to put people in their place -- I want every day to be like Mardi Gras.
This idea can extend to everyone. Is there something that you are made to feel bad about? Should you feel bad about it? Maybe you get made to feel ashamed of a cultural tradition you have? A belief that you hold? Your appearance? I encourage you this Mardi Gras season to be proud of that part of you.
The caveat to this is that you can't make people accept you. There will always be homophobes and people who want you to be ashamed of yourself. There are certain things I would disagree with, regardless of how 'out and proud' someone was about it. Mardi Gras isn't about converting everyone or forcing acceptance. It's about accepting yourself. And when everyone sees that you aren't ashamed, that you have nothing to hide, they might start to wonder why. They might have to actually consider that there is nothing wrong with the way you are.
I want to encourage everyone to live their life like they are a LGBTI person at Mardi Gras. What a wonderful parade life would be.