Nudity, Kink, and Safe Spaces for Kids Can All Coexist at Pride

In this illustration, three bodies are intertwined in a group hug. There are colorful fraying strings falling all around them, against a hot pink background.

Illustration by Joyce Chau

We’re taking some time this Pride to look out for ourselves and each other, with the intentionality and respect we all deserve. What do we really need right now? How can we show up for each other? How can we celebrate the resilience of this community while still making space for our own rest? How do we honestly feel about Pride?


The first time I went to a Pride event, I was 22, fully grown, and very recently visibly out. I had been vocally out for five years already, but because I had a boyfriend, hadn’t fully allowed myself to enter LGBTQ spaces due to internalized biphobia mixed with actual biphobia. However, at Syracuse Pride 2005, I had, for the first time, a queer partner who was very visibly queer. Being together transferred that visibility to me. Pride was my first experience with queer normative space outside of the small LGBTQ student club on our campus. It was my first queer normative space outside in the world, not shrouded in a windowless room, not mixed with the general populace, a place where I was assumed to be queer by all the other queers who I also assumed to be queer. Taking it all in casually, as though it was not a big deal, I held tight to the quiet thrill of being not just visible, but seen.

The first time I took my child to a Pride event, she was in a stroller. Waffle, Remi, and I were walking with my then-employer, the ACLU of NY, in our local upstate NY Pride parade. It was 2017, the year that ACLU affiliates all over the U.S. were being named as grand marshalls of Pride parades. We were a small walking contingent and Remi was the only kid in our group. Walking in our local parade in our medium-size city, the city we’d lived for over a decade, I saw friends, acquaintances, community connections, former students and former coworkers–our community waving and cheering us on from the sidewalk. Whether we would bring Remi, our then-one-year-old, to Pride was never a question for my family.

A group of people, including the author and her family, stands in the street, smiling and carrying a large sign for NYCLU

As a parent, I have a lot of grievances about Pride and the related marches, parades, festivals, and events. Not one of them is about bare body parts or floats packed with dancers in skimpy underwear or drag performers or leather dykes and daddies. It took me 22 years to discover queer- and trans-affirming spaces. I don’t want Remi to wait for even one year. Pride is already for family, our LGBTQ families and communities, so of course, I would bring my family to Pride. Now, will I bring Remi into a beer tent or a sweaty gay bar? No. (At least not until she’s of legal drinking age or moved out, then she can do whatever she wants.)

Already, I worry that Remi hasn’t been exposed to enough queer culture. Yes, she has a queer family, but we go by “mommy” and “daddy” and we’re just starting to really get a full comprehension of non-binary gender. Though she has gazillions of books about LGBTQ families, she is most interested in reading the books about her favorite TV shows or National Geographic books about ocean animals. That said, she has a non-binary dad and a bisexual mom and we frequently encourage her to engage with media or discussion of gay and lesbian people even if she turns the conversation back to sharks. Remi may not be particularly interested in learning all the terminology and types of families in the world because this is all very typical to her. Sure, kids can have two moms. Sure, people can be neither a boy nor a girl. Sure, people determine their own gender. Normal stuff.

Most kid’s spaces are actually heteronormative spaces, deeply entrenched in “mom culture” and the strict gender binary. It’s near impossible to fight it unless you want to live off the grid in queer-only space. Maybe that’s possible in some places. Where I live, Rochester, NY, I’d have to curate that space from scratch if I wanted it. I don’t have time for that. If you’re sending your kid to daycare or school or to playgroup or even the playground, the world will forcefully press binary gender into your kid’s head. So all that messaging we’re doing at home gets challenged and sometimes reversed by other powerful people in Remi’s life: her teachers, classmates, friends, and the characters in the mainstream media she consumes.

For all its imperfections, Pride is one of the only places I can take Remi that reinforces the messages we try to convey at home, that all bodies are good bodies, that gender is expansive and individual, that clothes have no gender, that there are other people like her parents and other families like ours. I want Remi to be comfortable with bodies and with boundaries, to know what queer and trans joy looks like. She needs it to counter all the negative messages she’ll receive outside our home. I want her to know our rich, diverse histories and, when she’s old enough, dive deep into unlearning the false narratives about gay liberation and bi culture and trans existence. I want her to feel proud of who she is and have a strong foundation in learning about sexuality and gender to better understand herself as she grows older. I want her to feel that we are part of something bigger than us or than her individually, a community.

Pride events don’t need to change a thing to be family-friendly. My queer family feels welcome, and if you don’t feel welcome, you’re probably not part of the family. In which case, go to literally any other summer event made and paid for by heterosexual people.

If anything, I wish more Pride events were getting back to their roots of being radical marches and demonstrations that don’t fuck with corporations and that push the boundaries of the status quo. I wish Pride events centered on Black trans women and BIPOC queer and trans communities and de-centered white men. I wish for fewer police officers and more freedom. I want Pride to be a place where people can feel that sense of belonging I felt at my first Pride 16 years ago, no matter their race, age, gender, size, ability, or how much money they have.

Pride isn’t perfect. In fact, Pride isn’t even happening in my city this year in the traditional way. The local org that took over Pride after the last org that ran Pride folded, has also folded in on itself. Members of the community are picking up the pieces and organizing community events at the beach, the amusement park, a BYO picnic in the park, and other free or subsidized summer activities. Frankly, I think this is more the spirit of Pride in the first place, caring for each other when no one else is paying attention or paying for our attention, demanding space in a world not always safe for us, and ensuring our spaces represent the world we hope to create together. Those are the safe spaces I want to bring Remi to and I hope they’re filled with crop tops, booty shorts, leather, drag, people of all sizes and races and genders flaunting their beauty, queer kissing, and, of course, rainbows. Lots of rainbows.

The author's spouse is holding their adorable baby, both wearing rainbow shirts

KaeLyn is a 37-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, over-caffeinating herself, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 222 articles for us.

34 Comments

    • Hey KaeLyn!! As someone who was in the Roc Pride E-Team in 2019, I just wanted to say that making sure that Pride was a diverse and welcoming place where families and identities of all kinds were welcome was a really important part of the job for me. Of course, as an immigrant, 18-years old intern, I wasn’t always listened to.
      Still, the ideas and concepts around diversity, queerness, visibility and the significance of Pride that you emphasized during class were things that I always kept in mind, both in planning that Pride and in life. I even saw you, Remi and Waffle there, but I felt too embarassed to say hi! I hope I played a part, albeit small, in applying the things you taught me and making Pride fun and meaningful for you.
      Now, I’m back in Brazil attending law school, but I still find myself influenced by your teachings – currently, I’m working mostly on name and gender changes in documents for trans people.
      Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’re, both directly and indirectly, making queer community safer and better and more inclusive for so many people, in so many ways!

      • Isadora! I really wish you’d said, “Hello!” It would have been weird only in that I can be sort of shy when my AS life coincides with my real life, but I love meeting new folks. Thanks for your work on Rochester Pride. I appreciated how much went into making it more accessible and community-oriented in the last couple iterations, especially. If you’re ever back in Rochester to visit, reach out!

  1. Amen to all this! We just took our 4yos to their first pride, and although it was a drive through, they loved it. I can’t wait to take them to a fully in person one next year (hopefully).

  2. Love this! I remember wondering whether I’d bring kids to Pride back when I went to my first events (and before I had any children). Once I had kids, it was a no brainer. There aren’t that many spaces where the majority of people are openly living the expansiveness of gender, sexuality, identity, and just existence. And the visibility of kink and other communities (and bodies) are great opportunities for conversations about expression, sex, and consent. These conversations deepened and evolved along with the kids.

  3. people who have a modest relationship to sexuality are equally as valid as people who wear it on their sleeve. but no one needs to make that difference a problem for other peaceful people.

    i remember being at pride sf in the down of the 90s. there were these dudes on top of a muni bus shelter who, while clothed (mostly), were fornicating. i turned my head, because voyeurism is weak with this one, and there was local news recording it all. i remember sighing because despite being sf, those images were definitely going to be fuel for some homophobia. i’m not even sure it was called aids then, but it was definitely referred to as the ‘gay cancer’, for an example. but i never thought those guys shouldn’t be doing it. it just bothered me that someone was going to use that joyful, fragile moment of freedom to fuel hate. at that time, a lot of us had already lost people, and we knew many, may more were going to get sick and die.

    which brings us to now. given everything we’ve gone through in the 50 years that have transpired since 2015, i promise everyone who is worried that you could find so many other things to spend your time organizing around that will make you feel much better about the world than working against people in your community who are following pride in ways that are historically conformative. especially when all types worked very hard so that you could get married if you want to and then enjoy all the legal protections therein your family might need. at best pride will be a fragile joyful moment, and you can spare some grace.

    love and pride, everybody.

    • “i remember being at pride sf in the down of the 90s. there were these dudes on top of a muni bus shelter who, while clothed (mostly), were fornicating. i turned my head, because voyeurism is weak with this one, and there was local news recording it all. i remember sighing because despite being sf, those images were definitely going to be fuel for some homophobia. ”

      Homophobes are going to be homophobic no matter what gay people do, whether we ~fornicate~ at a bus station or we’re perfect nonsexual married with picket fences gays.

      • in the abstract, ok. but my uncle died from aids, and it was really hard hearing people say he deserved to because he went to the bathhouses. i never got to go to pride with him.

        so, experientially i can maybe relate to where the no-kink folks are at, and perhaps it’s worth saying i think they’re wrong to try to change pride generally, and specifically because they are hurting peaceful people who deserve the same joy everyone else gets when they go.

        • The problem is their homophobia, not bath houses. The response is to call out their homophobia, not shame people who have public sex or go to bath houses or whatever else.

          It doesn’t matter what a gay person does, homophobes will still be homophobic.

    • There’s room for a lot of different queer experiences at Pride and not everything feels safe to everyone. I mean, we won’t be going to the local Pride pub crawl with our kid, for example. But I agree that it’s hypocritical for heterosexuals to criminalize and demonize our bodies and love and then treat us like circus animals and try to profit off us when we reclaim our bodies and love in our own spaces.

      That said, if Remi is going to see butts and sexuality-related material, I’d much rather it be on a Pride float than, say, whatever shame-based and heterosexist gender-loaded stuff she will be exposed to in mainstream media.

      • the recent piece about being queer enough (https://www.autostraddle.com/?p=531501) had a lot comments from people not feeling like they were welcome in the community and at pride, which i thought about when i read the bit “My queer family feels welcome, and if you don’t feel welcome, you’re probably not part of the family.” i don’t mean to pull a quote out of context, nor ascribe any particular meaning to it; i’m really just hoping that folks who may not personally feel comfortable with the racier aspects of pride celebration could realize that, like others of us, they can move on and hang around the parts they do feel comfortable at. i don’t want them, however, to feel any license to change pride for their own comfort at the expense of someone else’s.

        sorry to hear the pride orgs in your area are struggling, though it does illuminate why organizers end up courting sponsors. i don’t really care if they want to participate in the way that other entities with queer members do, but i’m super against corporate influence on pride. there’s so much creativity in our community, it seems like we could do alot without their funding, but maybe i’m unrealistic about how much permits/fees/eq really require.

        appreciate your work here and elsewhere; hoping you & family have a beautiful, safe pride, Kaelyn.

        • For sure, @msanon. Also, to be fair, I have not always felt as welcome at Pride when in spaces that are very aggressively centered on white men. I’m not saying all Pride spaces are for everyone. But if your main issue with Pride is, like…butts hanging out…then don’t go. For actually queer and trans folx, there are usually other options that are not the Pride Parade, like the family-friendly meet-up at the park or the local art exhibit or the trans brunch or the activist march. When folks are complaining about kink at pride, they’re talking about the Pride Parade, which they’re welcome to not come to. I totally agree that LGBTQIA+ folks should find the thing that works for them. I’m primarily talking to straight folks or those who would rather disappear into heternormativity than honor the roots of Pride in the gay liberation movement. :)

  4. Best part: “Frankly, I think this is more the spirit of Pride in the first place, caring for each other when no one else is paying attention or paying for our attention…” Yes! So much this. And the whole article as well. Thx. 💜

  5. KaeLyn, every time I see your byline I get so excited! Pride with kids is a completely different experience, but not in any way a lesser one. I love seeing the wide eyes and sense of wonder at all the chaos and glitter of your average festival.

    And completely unrelated to this article except geographically: i’m moving to upstate new york for grad school in like six weeks! any advice on organizations to check out (or avoid) to meet other queer folks?

  6. Always overjoyed to see a piece from KaeLyn! Loved reading about what pride means to you as a parent and what you hope your kid takes from it, especially in contrast to the cisheteronormative messaging that bombards us all every day.

  7. KaeLyn, I love this piece! Both of my kids went to their first Pride as infants, and we went yearly until school events and sports started to get in the way. I’d like to take them back now that they’re older and can better understand the history and the reason for the march. Hopefully next year!

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