If used correctly, proclamations can be powerful instruments. At their best, they are a leader’s clear articulation of the fundamental beliefs of the governed. They are delivered by one for all.
Pride’s beauty is its simplicity: I am this person; I am proud of who I am. I love these people; I love who I am. Of course, this should be how everyone feels and treats themselves and others all of the time. But the government dedicates specific days and times to ideals we should honor in our everyday lives, and June has become the month where cities declare that they welcome and love their LGBTQ+ citizens as they are. There is hardly enough space in this column to explain the historical significance of Pride; persecution for otherness has been the rule for as long as there were rules. Pride offers a clear, powerful retort to that history of oppression: We love you, we accept you.
What I mean to say is that the simplicity of Pride is ready-made for a proclamation. But the mayor-president’s awkward “proclamation” last week may be the most convoluted and thorny thing I’ve ever read. (Even though he titles the document an “Official Statement,” this is a proclamation; the document is written on proclamation paper — bordered in gold frill and stamped with a seal.) Language matters. What we say matters. And in obfuscating and confusing the concept of Pride, Guillory’s proclamation serves the opposite purpose that a proclamation should.
In fairness to the mayor-president, the first few words aren’t all that bad, but by the sentence’s end, the thread is hopelessly lost: “The month of June is here. We are all God’s children made in his likeness and we are all born with certain attributes that we cannot control.”
“Born with certain attributes that we cannot control” is a sickly phrase, and intentional or not, in the context of queerness, it is unsettling for a few reasons. Most obviously, the phrase wrongly divorces the person — the “we” — from the attribute: gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The separation of the person into “attributes” is dehumanizing; it has always preceded tyranny and subjugation. Looking at the phrase in its most favorable light, to characterize another as having “attributes she cannot control” evokes pity — not love. The way, for instance, you might react to a bedtime story about people on a planet in the path of an asteroid. The way cancer is an attribute you cannot control.
I have to assume that the mayor-president is like me and most of the straight people I know: He has gay people in his life who he loves; he has gay co-workers. I am sure Josh Guillory, like me, knows that love and friendship are never grounded in anything other than seeing the beloved completely, in loving a person for exactly who that person is. This is what I understand Pride to mean: that people can be proud of who they are and fully exercise and express their selfhood. That being queer is not an “attribute you cannot control” but integral to one’s identity. This should be celebrated by all people.
Like someone struggling to swim, though, the mayor-president tries over and over throughout the proclamation to try to say what he’s trying to mean, each sentence only sinking further and further into the depths. By the fourth paragraph, he surfaces to say, “I am issuing this official statement for clarification and in an attempt to remove any doubt as to my position on the government’s role as it relates to sexual orientation and/or how one identifies.” But he goes under water again, looping over the divine mystery of creation, the equal protection clause of the Constitution, and the doubts of a pious man. The word “Pride” appears nowhere in the proclamation while “God” shows up seven times (10 if you count Savior and Jesus Christ). Proclamations encouraging the public to speak to their preacher or imam may have a place in some obverted political universe, but when it comes to Pride, it is just tone deaf. “Love the sinner; hate the sin” is not what Pride is about.
In fairness to the mayor-president, things could be worse. We could have a bigot for a mayor; we could have someone who was intolerant and uncaring. I know Josh Guillory: He is not a bigot or an uncaring person. But just because things could be worse does not mean that things are acceptable.
Two years ago, the mayor-president joined the cause of Fred Prejean and Move The Mindset and declared that the Downtown Mouton statue was not what our city was about. Taking a position on the Mouton statue may have been politically flammable, but it was the right thing to do. That position exemplified leadership.
I challenge the mayor-president to reconsider his words and their effect on the time and the people he serves. I challenge the Mayor President to do the right thing and to proclaim simply: “Happy Pride.”