Engaging With the State of Pride

Ikeda Center Launches New Movie Nights Series

By Mitch Bogen

The Ikeda Center hosted its first ever Movie Nights event on Friday, June 21. In her welcoming remarks, Events and Publications Coordinator Anri Tanabe explained that Movie Nights is designed to extend the open-hearted spirit of Dialogue Nights, which is for university students and young professionals, to intergenerational gatherings of people. As with Dialogue Nights, the goal of Movie Nights is to promote dialogue on matters of immediate, contemporary interest.

The first Movie Nights feature was State of Pride, a new documentary directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman that features the YouTube star Raymond Braun traveling to various gay Pride celebrations around the US, large and small, to get a sense for where the LGBTQ movement is today, fifty years after the momentous uprising at the Stonewall bar in New York City in 1969.

Before the showing, Anri offered a quote from Daisaku Ikeda, observing that its “sentiment is echoed beautifully in the film.”

The fact that we have been born into this world means that we each have a unique purpose to fulfill. If we didn’t, we would not have been born. Nothing in the universe is without value. Everything has meaning. Even plants that we spurn as weeds have a function. Each living thing has a unique identity, role and purpose — the cherry as a cherry, the plum as a plum, the peach as a peach, the damson as a damson. (Discussions on Youth, pg. 283)

The film communicated the joy of Pride, while also going beneath the surface to illustrate several key aspects of today’s LGBTQ community. For example, the fact that Braun was able to visit celebrations in locations such as Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Salt Lake City, Utah, something that would have been quite unlikely not so long ago, attests not only to how far the movement has come but also to how universal the longing is among LBGTQ people to live openly and with the dignity that implies. Another major aspect of the film was to show how trans people, people of color, and people from severely homophobic countries are struggling to find places of comfort, equality, and respect within the broader US movement. The film also presented with sensitivity the sincere desire among LGBTQ people for their families to fully love and support them for who they are.

Swapna and Andy were Movie Nights speakers

After the showing, two LGBTQ friends of the Center, Swapna Bhide (above, left) and Andy Reker (right), shared some personal observations about the film and how it reflected their own experiences. Speaking first, Swapna talked about how important Pride was for her after she moved, as a young woman, to the US from India, where she didn’t know any LGBTQ people personally, and where anything that was discussed publicly on the topic was “always negative.” So much so, in fact, that she felt she would never be able to come out, and that that part of her would need to be “buried under the deepest ground.” She even used to pray that she would wake up the next morning as a man, since she couldn’t “fathom the idea of a woman loving a woman.” When she attended her first Pride March in the US, in 2014, she thought to herself, “maybe this could be me.” Still, she was “worried, anxious, and even had some shame.” But her desire to live an authentic life was strong, and she began coming out to friends. The last step was to come out to her parents. But it turns out she was “overthinking” it, since it was her mom who took the first step to ask if she liked women. In a powerful, moving echo of an important aspect of the film, Swapna’s parents were actually in attendance, demonstrating their support and desire for her to live in harmony with her truest self. She acknowledged how fortunate she is to have the support of her family and friends, something not enough LGBTQ people experience, pointing to how Pride functions not just as a celebration but also as a protest.

Andy noted that this was actually his second viewing of the film, and that the viewing reinforced some points he wanted to make. One thing that really “struck” him was the lyrics of the song “Heaven” performed by Troye Sivan in the film: “Without losing a piece of me, how do I get to heaven? So if I’m losing a piece of me, maybe I don’t want to get to heaven.” Speaking as a man who has participated in Pride activities, he said that “a lot of what comes out in Pride is the result of a lot of courageous actions to really, you know, be our authentic selves,” adding that “there is a sense of unlimited freedom” that results from the courage to “be who you are without filters and hesitation.” Like Swapna, Andy talked about what coming out meant for his family relations. Coming out to his family turned into “a three year battle,” he said, especially with his mother. The turning point came when his friends encouraged him to stop fighting her, and to “embrace” her instead, since her difficulties with him coming out weren’t in any way aggressive or “abusive.” This began a process of “building a family out of this,” with his mom “showing a lot of support” for him, and eventually even attending Pride activities. For Andy, it’s important to look past the surface aspects of Pride, some of which can seem like “marketing video moments,” and keep remembering the “human side of these broader movements,” such as the experiences that families go through when they are fortunate enough to grow together.

After these testimonials, attendees broke into small groups to discuss their impressions of the movie and what they perceive as being at the heart of the Pride movement. They also considered how to create a society that embraces diversity on a deeper level. After their discussions, groups shared with the whole gathering some of the key ideas that emerged for them. One group said their discussion focused on how Pride is experienced so differently in those parts of the world that are not as relatively open around LGBTQ realities as ours is now, and that not only shouldn’t we forget those people, but we should find ways to help them. Another group reported that they talked about some of the factors, such as religion, that prevent people from being courageous about their LGBTQ identities, as well as things that prevent us from connecting across our differences about these matters. They also discussed how to make connections and how we can learn to feel “whole,” endeavors that religion, conversely, can also play a role in. The last participant to speak talked about how both the movie and this Movie Nights event reveal the importance of “self-love and self-respect.” And they also show that we really have nothing to fear about our differences, be they about sexual preference or gender identity or whatever the difference might be.

During his closing remarks, Center program director Kevin Maher reflected on how he came to realize why the protest aspect of Pride is so important. He was a recent college graduate, unsure about his place in the world, when the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay student at the University of Wyoming, took place in Laramie, Wyoming. Outraged by the event, Maher spoke to his gay friends, who reminded him “that this was not the first time nor the last that a member of the community would be assaulted and murdered.”

For some time after the Shepard murder, Maher remained paralyzed by what he described as a mix of apathy and anger about life. Things began to change for him when he embraced Daisaku Ikeda’s Buddhist conviction that every life is precious and worthy of respect. He was further empowered by Ikeda’s statement that “each individual has immense potential, and a great change in the inner dimension of one individual’s life has the power to touch others’ lives and transform society.”

As State of Pride and the guest speakers made clear, the courageous members of today’s ever-evolving LGBTQ community demonstrate these truths on daily basis.


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