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Joe Glass: What Does Pride Mean To Me?

Summer is actually my favourite time of year. I adore hot (though not humid) weather, and oodles of sunshine. Being born in Wales where this is not our natural state shall we say, makes this time of year even more special by its rarity to me.

But it’s more than just the much needed mood boost and sorely sought after warmth the sun gives my skin tone that I love. It’s also a time of carnival and colour, things that I love about life and the world; and a time for people to get together. And now, it’s the time of Pride too.

It’s of course an interesting one for me, because while June is generally recognised as Pride Month the world over, in the UK where I live our LGBT History Month is actually in February. But it’s arguably the summer month celebration of the queer community and history that is recognised and celebrated more overtly everywhere, even here. It makes sense: June was the month of the first gay pride event in 1970, itself honoring what is seen as the birth of the gay rights movement, the Stonewall Riots, which occurred the same month and day the year earlier. The month was officially recognised in America in the year 2000 by then President Bill Clinton. I would have been 15 years old at that time, about to turn 16, during a time in the UK when we were still under the oppressive, sinister machinations of the Conservatives’ Section 28 (which made it illegal to ‘promote’ homosexuality, which meant queer identities, narratives, readings of literature or history could not be mentioned, let alone taught, in schools) and an uneven Age of Consent.

As a teen coming into his sexuality and identity in the midst of this, any moment of positivity or hope for happiness in my future was desperately sought after. It meant that I had to take it on myself to find out about the history and culture of that part of myself. Unbeknownst to me as while it may have been made official, it wasn’t getting the kind of push and visibility we see now, things were slightly easier to learn and discover during this period.

I suppose that’s the benefit of having these kinds of periods focusing on a culture, an identity, or a cause: in a world where almost every single day, the path of the world favours and makes itself easier for straight, white cisgender men in particular, taking a moment, however small, to let someone else have space to breathe is incredibly important.

Pride Month now is vastly different by comparison. Pride events are bigger than ever. More and more move earlier than they used to be (here in the UK) so they can be closer to June. Now, massive corporations even get behind showing some love to the LGBTQ+ community too, as during June their social media becomes flooded in rainbows, their products draped in rainbows, and sometimes, the sassiest of their PR teams gets allowed to take control of the message for a month. I’m not sure when this change started to occur, I can’t quite put my finger on it, and it probably started sooner – but I do know when I first really took notice of it: after June 12, 2016.

On that awful night, in a place where queer people were supposed to feel safest and able to express their joy and love, thirty eight of our beautiful queer siblings lost their lives to hate in what is still the deadliest single incident in the history of violence against the LGBTQ+ community. In June. In Pride Month. In our place.

I was actually on a family holiday in Greece at the time. I remember checking my phone and seeing the news, and how for the whole day, away in the Mediterranean heat and sun, I felt cold and broken. I didn’t know anyone there, but I knew some of what their life was like; I knew some of the fears they had; I knew some of their hopes. I think for almost every queer person around the whole world, when the news hit, it felt like someone had jumped on our collective chest and pressed down.

I’m not saying that it was in response to this that the collective, capitalistic visibility push began, but it’s certainly when I started to notice it. And I have to admit, I appreciated it. I still do, though I may eye things with a tad more suspicion and a pinch of salt the more certain people and corporations who’ve not had the LGBTQ+ communities interests at heart the rest of the year will suddenly try and jump on the rainbow bandwagon. But there are others who, while they may not actively wave the flag proudly year round, do seem to have a care for the community, so seeing so many rainbows and statements of inclusivity and safety around really does make me feel so much better, so much more hopeful for the future.

This Pride Month, a couple more companies are finally getting on board with the LGBTQ+ celebration: the Big Two of comics, Marvel and DC, are finally doing Pride Month specials that focus on the LGBTQ+ characters in their respective stables, as well as introducing new ones. Heck, they’re even doing massive Pride Month variant covers incentives across their whole line too. It’s something that I am so happy to see, something that I’ve frankly thought they should have been doing for years now.

Visibility and representation are so vitally important, for all the reasons I’ve alluded to already, but in the superhero comics medium in particular I think it’s extra important – in these stories, we should be allowed to be our own heroes. Not just the comic relief, not just the sidekick or best friend, we should be the big damn heroes, front and centre, and larger than life. Because honestly, for many of us in this world, just existing in it is a superpower in and of itself.

Also this Pride Month, Dark Horse Comics will be releasing a massive collection of my own LGBTQ+ superhero comic series, The Pride, right at the start of the LGBTQ+ celebration. June 2nd will see The Pride Omnibus hit comic shops and bookstores, a nearly 500 page collection of ten years of hard work, my heart, my very energy and love for the genre and the LGBTQ+ community; a massive, visible collection to celebrate my friends, my chosen family and all the people who came before me that have given me the right to even celebrate myself, my community and my pride.

I started making this series because there was so little LGBTQ+ representation in my favourite medium and genre. At the very least, so little that was visible. When I started, across the two publishers there was barely a handful of officially and overtly gay, lesbian or bi superheroes, and definitely no trans ones. I was told that no one would want a series about LGBTQ+ superheroes that included so much more of the community. I had to fund the majority of the production off my own back to make it happen, even with my meagre means, before taking the series to crowdfunding and then finally on to ComiXology. Now, ten years later, we’re seeing a greater selection of LGBTQ+ inclusion across the medium, even in the Big Two, even if they still have a long way to go in some aspects of the community.

While it is important to see massive corporations getting behind the LGBTQ+ community in Pride Month, it’s even more important to support smaller, independent and often actually LGBTQ+ themselves creators and businesses. Don’t just spend all your money on the latest Pride Oreos, for example, seek out independent queer businesses too. That’s my challenge for readers this Pride Month: celebrate and feel Pride, feel the joy and the love from everywhere, but also share and spend some of that love on a queer business, or an independent LGBTQ+ creator. The last year and a half have been extra hard for everyone, but I guarantee you many of those LGBTQ+ creators and businesses will be feeling it especially keenly. So show them some support, because believe me it is the perseverance of independent folks like this that are really doing the hard work that leads to these massive corporations finally stepping up to show support and help for our community.

This June, Pride Month in comics feels bigger than ever. I hope that it will extend beyond just one year. I hope that it will extend beyond just one month. But then, that is what Pride Month is to me: it’s hope.

Gay League would like to thank Pamela Mullin Horvath of Superfanpromotions for providing the images and arranging this opportunity.

June 1, 2021
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