Those in the LGBTQ community who lived through the Stonewall Riots in 1969 still hold a personal and unmistakable connection to that pivotal point in American history that sparked the modern gay liberation movement. Fifty years later, that iconic moment has cemented itself into the lives of the LGBTQ community everywhere across the U.S. and across all ages. In honor of the riots’ semicentennial, Raymond Braun stars in a YouTube Originals documentary released in May titled “State of Pride” that asks a younger generation its thoughts about the significance of Stonewall and the actions of the activists that changed the course of a generation. Braun said that today pride celebrations are an excellent “looking glass” into the types of LGBTQ communities one can find across the nation and beyond.
Looking Back 50 Years
“What I meant by that is I think that a way the community responds to prides tells you a lot about its values,” Braun said. “What an interesting way to look at our country right now and all the differences across the country and how it chooses to respond to pride. So, take any location, any town, any city, anywhere in the world, really, and just ask the question: ‘Do they have a pride?’ If they don’t, why don’t they? If they do, how big is it? How much support does it get from the community, do people protest it? Who is on the board? Who is the leadership? Who has the most visibility and spotlight? Is it a party, is it a protest, is it a festival? So many questions can really just give you a lot of insight into, again, the values of the community and how it regards LGBTQ people.”
Braun said that perhaps the biggest lesson learned from the production of the documentary is that though the LGBTQ community has grown significantly in its supporters and openness, there’s still a lot of work to do to be inclusive for everyone. He gave an example of an activist who felt that for the transgender community, pride historically hasn’t been nearly as accepting as possible.
“I spoke to a trans woman who talked about how she doesn’t think that pride is inclusive of trans women and those are really important conversations that we should all be engaging in. And so, even if you as an individual are getting a lot out of pride, consider how to make each pride, each community, welcoming and more respectful of everyone in our community and that’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot,” Braun said. “Especially after having gone to all these celebrations and seeing who felt really included and seeing who also felt there’s a lot of work to be done.”
However, as far as summing up pride’s importance — particularly as someone who said he has always felt it to be a vital celebration of LGBTQ history and community — Braun cited the words of a non-binary activist Kin Folkz, “pride is both the party and protest.”
“I think that you need to have both,” Braun said. “It’s essential to have elements of both in any kind of pride gathering because first and foremost pride is a connection to our history. As LGBTQ people, we have our trailblazers and our ancestors to thank for the fact that we’re able to congregate at pride and I think it’s really important during any pride celebration or during pride season to learn and research our history and to really thank the people that made it possible to be here today.”
The Importance of Location
Throughout the course of “State of Pride” Braun visits pride celebrations in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Washington, D.C. and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. When asked why he chose those particular locations he said that it was a meticulous choice made only after surveying hundreds of potential celebrations across the country.
“we simultaneously did a nationwide search of LGBTQ that we wanted to hear from everywhere and then if we found a story that was really compelling then we asked the questions, “OK, what is your pride? Does that fall in our production window?” he said. “There were people who were really open about wanting to share their story but then maybe their family or their pride organizers weren’t able to give us access or weren’t comfortable being on camera, so there were considerations if we were able to tell every angle and element of your story which involves people other than you being open to being on camera.”
Eventually, San Francisco seemed like a natural choice because of its decades-long mark on LGBTQ history and its millions-strong attendance.
“And then the complete other end of the spectrum was Tuscaloosa, Alabama,” Braun said. “[It was] really important to show a pride that’s in its infancy, that’s in its third or fourth year, that brings in 100 or 200 people to kind of understand the role and the value of a small town pride and we would juxtapose it against that.”
Salt Lake City came in as an important thematic element, too, because of its heavy association with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the church’s famed opposition to LGBTQ rights.
“One of the things that I found in speaking to LGBTQ people was that one of the number one justifications used to kind of justify discrimination against LGBTQ people is religion and there’s often this tension you find between religion and the LGBTQ community — which of course I think is unfair because there’s a lot of LGBTQ people of faith and a lot of congregations that are inclusive or growing more inclusive, but there’s still that kind of cultural stereotype about religion and the LGBTQ community being at odds,” Braun said. “So, we thought, ‘What an interesting location to explore that,’ given the prevalence of the Mormon church in Utah in Salt Lake, and also given the role that the LDS church has played in Proposition 8 and other major moments in LGBTQ activism.”
Washington, D.C. as the final location was the partial inspiration for the documentary’s name: “State of Pride.”
“so filming in the nation’s capital was a really interesting element to it,” he said. “That was the first pride that my mom had ever attended so going to that with her and then Troye Sivan was the headliner and we got the amazing opportunity to film his performance at pride and then interview him as well.”
Delivering a Message
When asked what he hopes that viewers of the film will get from the interviews of people across the country from a variety of backgrounds, Braun said he first and foremost hopes to improve the visibility of those LGBTQ people who feel like they’re not being heard. He said he saw the value of that firsthand when he premiered the film at South by Southwest this year and saw the impact it had on the participants from Tuscaloosa who drove from their home state to be there on opening night.
“For some of the people that we had filmed with in Tuscaloosa they had never met or been in a group with other LGBTQ people and so to be able to go to pride and meet other people like them, a lot of the folks that we filmed with in Tuscaloosa got to know each other and became friends and had a group text going and so for the premiere in Austin, Texas, at SXSW a group of them actually drove from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Austin, Texas.” He said. “I’ll just never forget watching their faces as they saw themselves on screen for the first time and it was just yet another reminder of representation and giving people the opportunity to see their stories reflected on screen.”