The picnic is a party, sure, but it’s also a space just for femmes, amid the larger Pride celebrations for everyone. In some ways, the LGBTQ community is like any large community: Despite the rainbow flags and inclusive anthems, the movement is not immune to sexism, bias and in-fighting. Sometimes women feel left out of the celebration.
The Femme Picnic is one answer to that sense of isolation.
“Before I had my own internal community within the gay community, I think I felt intimidated to say: ‘Here I am! I’m the lone lesbian in this group of people I don’t necessarily identify with,’” said Alicia Farina, who attended the Femme Picnic for the first time last Saturday. Going to an event that’s just for her and not the entire LGBTQ community “makes it easier to show up,” she said.
Following the tragedy of last weekend’s shooting in Orlando, that feeling of inclusion and support becomes all the more important — for every letter in LGBTQ. A recent survey from HER, an LGBTQ women’s app that’s part social media network and part lesbian Tinder, found that less than half of HER users have plans to celebrate Pride this month. Only 69 percent of LGBTQ women reported that they felt welcomed at Pride events, and only 47 percent of women who identify as queer said they feel included in the celebrations.
“As a woman, I’ve been to Pride and there have definitely been more men than women,” said Barbara Galiza, head of marketing at HER. “And it’s like: ‘Why did this happen?’ and it’s like a cycle. Women go to Pride and they don’t see as many women, so they’re like ‘Okay, I won’t go.’”
Rea Carey, president of the LGBTQ Task Force, points to a long history of women’s involvement in Pride — from the intertwining of the women’s movement and the LGBTQ movement in the 1960s and 1970s; from the very first Pride march in 1970, led by bisexual advocate Brenda Howard; to the Dyke Marches of the 1990s and 2000s that unified lesbian and queer women in a single march.
“That night at the Stonewall Inn wasn’t just a night about gay men,” Carey said, referring to the 1969 uprising that revolutionized the gay rights movement. “It was a night of people who had been harassed by police. Who had been discriminated against in almost every area of their lives standing up and saying enough. … Any time I go to a Pride event, that’s part of the experience for me. Honoring those who came before us, who are of many different gender identities, and many different sexual orientations, including straight people who stood up as well. It’s also a celebration of our resilience as a community.”
There’s no gay pride event in Serena Shirley’s hometown of Hawkinsville, Ga. She’s driven to Atlanta before to celebrate Pride there, but she wasn’t too happy with the experience. “Honestly, I felt mostly it was straight couples watching the parade,” said Shirley, who’s 33 years old. “I felt like it wasn’t my place.”
For women like Shirley, who don’t feel included in nearby Pride celebrations, the options for participation are slim. Some live far from cities that celebrate Pride, others aren’t out to their friends or families — let alone comfortable enough to wave a rainbow flag in a public place.
“It’s hard because when the people who love you the most don’t support you, it’s hard for you to support yourself, to go out and be proud,” Shirley said. “You have to have support to go out there and be proud of yourself.”
So are women-specific Pride events the answer, or do they just perpetuate the problem? Candice Olson, a 28-year-old lesbian living in New York, said she thinks women-only events are “an interesting idea,” but at times end up further isolating women from the LGBTQ community. “I think a lot of women see Manhattan Pride especially as kind of an exclusive event,” Olson said.
And according to that HER survey, 89 percent of respondents agreed that isolation isn’t the answer. The majority surveyed said they think Pride events have a critical purpose to the LGBTQ community. Their answers pointed to “heightening visibility” and “boosting morale” as key benefits. So even if they can’t participate — because of their work schedules, their closet status, their feelings of exclusion or because they live far from a city celebrating Pride — they want other people to do so.
Making everyone in the LGBTQ acronym feel at home is “a question for which there are as many answers as there are people,” Carey said.
Correction: A previous version of this story referred to Femme Picnic attendees as “lesbians.” It has since been updated to reflect that attendees are queer people who identify as “femme,” regardless of gender. It has since been corrected.