The Journey of a Cowboy – Gus Stephens

Even though I am exhausted and my blistered feet are dreading the idea of wearing dress shoes tomorrow, going on a weekend trip to New York World Pride 2019 with my friends in the Victory Institute cohort is a decision I will never regret and one I am grateful to have made.

Initially, I saw NYC Pride to be another opportunity to reprise my space cowboy outfit from DC ride, reconnect with friends who had moved to NYC, and get better pictures for my burgeoning Instagram account (currently at 14 followers with 0 sponsorships). While all those things still happened, New York World Pride hit me right in the feels in a way I did not expect.

Three young people pose at NYC pride

With it being the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, this Pride was filled with an extra sense of progress, resistance, and resilience. The emotion that struck me most, however, was the feeling of love directed toward the LGBTQ community. Like DC Pride, many people came out to express their support and pride for their identities. Yet the scale and symbolism of NYC Pride amped up these good vibes and almost made me tearful as I recalled my struggles with externalized and internalized homophobia and feelings of shame.

I know, I know. Cowboys are not supposed to be emotional and teary eyed, especially at a rodeo like Pride. When we’re out in public, it can still feel like we have to be more like Lonesome Dove and less like Brokeback Mountain. Yet seeing all these queer people and allies march down 5th Avenue with joy and love for queerness and queer people was the powerful reminder I needed to know that I am loved and I am not to be ashamed of who I am.

For me, being able to feel that comfort and self-assurance before and after Pride month will take more time and emotional labor as I navigate life as an openly gay man. That said, it’s good to know that the journey to self-love is not one that requires you to march alone, or in my case, ride solo. Yeehaw!