A.W. Geiger

My memories of high school are slight. I remember the gooey cookies served at lunch in my cafeteria. The red brick buildings. I remember my quirky photography teacher who taught me how to develop film in a darkroom. I remember the attractive math teacher, and the mean one who wore too much makeup and who destroyed any sense of self-worth you could manage to muster at that fragile age. I remember the second-floor hallways.

And I remember one couple walking down those second-floor hallways, but not the classic high school couple you might first think of. Not the popular couple, or even the unlikely pairing of a punk and a blonde athlete. The couple I remember the most from high school was a gay couple. Confident, loving, vibrant, stylish. Radiant. Everyone adored them. There was no way not to.

So, when they decided to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at school, everyone wanted to join, and everyone did. (It must have been among the first in Orange County, if not the first.) There was a palpable excitement at that first GSA meeting, led by the exuberant couple we all loved. Part of that excitement was the natural inclusivity you feel in a club, but it was more than that. It felt exhilarating in a rebellious, ballsy way. The one teacher who sponsored the club cracked open the door, and the students swung it all the way open. It felt like we were breaking a rule by making a new one.

(I also remember how different the attitude felt among fellow students in comparison with that of the adults. Aside from the club's sponsoring teacher, and maybe a sprinkling of others across the school, the infectious enthusiasm among the students for the club's initiation didn't seem to spread among the adults or parents. But it didn't matter.)

To be honest, I don't remember much beyond that first meeting. But what I do remember was how joyful it felt to be a present ally for the LGBTQIA+ community; supporting the community, home to many of my friends, was a given for me. It has been ever since.

I recently relocated to Bogotá during Pride month. Not long after, I had the chance to take my camera to Plaza de Bolívar – a symbolic plaza in Bogotá as the country's seat of government – following a huge Pride parade in the city.

The landscape for LGBTQIA+ rights in Colombia is contradictory. In Colombia – one of the earliest enactors of legal LGBTQIA+ rights – protections for the LGBTQIA+ community have technically substantially improved. Yet, in practice, legal protections are not consistently enforced and community members continue to face danger and violence.

Amid this reality, I was struck by the spirit of the people I met in Plaza de Bolívar. They were confident, bold and joyful about being able to display their Pride – an overwhelming joy that is so singular to Pride parades and so profound given the innumerable challenges facing the community across the world.

Yet as I write this, I realize what feels so striking about Pride – anywhere – is not just the mere presence of joy. It's the fact that Pride is a fearless fight for such gentle things – joy, happiness, safety, freedom – in an environment that can be anything but. There's really nothing more admirable than that.

'I am as I am': Sebastian

Sebastian, who is gay, says Pride is important to promote not only tolerance and respect but also equality. "After all, we are also human beings," he said.

"In many countries of the world, being a member of this community is still considered a crime," Sebastian said. "Though in many places the laws "protect" us, the rules are not socially accepted. In many places where having a diverse sexuality or thinking is considered illegal, the LGBT marches, Pride – everything that encompasses us – is also for them. We are their voices. We must be. We pay tribute to all who have fought before us so that we can enjoy the rights that we currently have."

"Pride is to show 'I am as I am.'" Sebastian, also pictured above, said. "I live life as I want to live it and nothing and no one should judge me for it."

Free to love, free to live: Jorge

For Jorge, the function of Pride as a fight for rights is what's important. "[To be able to] show ourselves without fear to the world, be free to love and be free to live, without the fear of being attacked or vandalized or to the point of ending our lives," Jorge said.

"It is possible to change people's mentality, to be able to clarify their understanding of these types of fundamental issues," Jorge said. "I feel that Pride is a form of empowerment, a form of strength and courage. When a person decides to leave the closet is when they finally decide to start living."

'An opportunity to express oneself': Alejandra

"For me, Pride is important because it is an opportunity to question homophobic and transphobic legislation," Alejandra said. "Marches help to change people's mentality towards the different tastes that each person has. ... For me, LGBTI Pride is an opportunity to express oneself about what one feels and what one is."

Want to help? Temblores is a nonprofit working to protect rights for LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized communities in Colombia.

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