A Space for Everyone: Celebrating Pride in a Camphill Community

By Michael Oliveira

While growing up, the word “pride” was filled with shame. To be proud of my accomplishments was a sin. To be proud of who I am was not allowed because I was not allowed to be my honest self. Seeing out and proud individuals filled me with anger. I thought they were the ones making everyone else’s life so much harder.

It was a long and painful process to peel away all my negative associations with the word “pride.” It was an even more arduous process to go from someone full of shame to an out and proud individual that fights for the LGBTQIA community in whatever way possible. In 2014, my journey brought me to a Camphill community.

Camphill communities all over the world are known for creating a home where individuals of all abilities can thrive and achieve their true potential. In a way, that’s what I found when I moved in. But I also discovered a place that needed more awareness of the changes happening in the world outside the protective boundaries of the community. I am not speaking about all the communities or everyone’s experience. I am sharing my story with you: a story about a 29-year-old cisgender Latino man that had just discovered the power of living his true self after a whole life of shame. In my first year in the community, men had to wear dress pants, and women had to wear dresses for official events. I often heard the excuse of “it’s a man’s thing” to absolve inappropriate male behavior. When I announced I was getting married, I was asked, “who will wear the dress?”

Pride, for me, wasn’t a choice anymore. I had to make sure that this place I grew to love, a place so receptive and warm to people of all abilities and from all corners of the world, understood that some things needed to change. The community culture needed to change to be truly receptive and warm for all kinds of people, not only cisgender heterosexual individuals.

Fast forward to 2021, the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) group was created to actively transform the community culture by bringing awareness to diversity-related issues. Through education for adults and children alike, the celebration of significant dates, and the commitment to talk about tough subjects, our community started to take the first steps toward becoming a truly inclusive place for all its members. The school year ended with our first Pride celebration.

It was a moment of celebration, and that’s what we did. In the morning, all community members were invited to parade around the campus, showing their true colors. At the end of the parade, a giant rainbow arch was the stage for lots of music and dance. It felt right to celebrate. After everything we went through, we could be together and celebrate who we are.

The 2022 school year started full of hope and new challenges. How to explain chosen pronouns to people that are very attached to the English language and the power of words? How do we make our bathrooms gender-neutral with a population that has difficulty understanding personal boundaries? How do we become more aware of the needs of gender non-conforming individuals? More than ever, we needed to have tough conversations. More than ever, we could not shy away from our deficits as a community, but the times are hard. Covid took a bit hit on all of us; people are tired, stressed, stretched thin, and make mistakes they would not make in other situations. When it was time to decide how to celebrate Pride, it was clear that this was not a year to party. This was a year to reflect. And that’s what we did.

On June 28, the school community came together for an hour of reflection. A microphone with the progressive rainbow flag was available for individuals to share their experiences, fears, hopes, and authentic selves. People of all abilities, backgrounds, genders, and ages created a moment of communion based on love and acceptance that renewed my hopes that we were on the right path. A 12th-grade student started the celebration by sharing that she is not gay but has a disability and that before coming to our school, she did not believe she could have a place in this world. She shared that it was only by seeing how so many different people are happy here that she noticed she has a place with people that love her for who she is. She finished by saying, “this is like, what Pride is about, right?”

Our community celebrates Pride for all of those who feel unlovable. We celebrate Pride to remind ourselves that we are not alone and that we are many. Together we find strength. Together we find hope. Together we find love.

Pride is about human rights. Pride empowers individuals to reclaim the rights and freedoms they are denied and gain access to the public spaces they are often excluded from. Visibility is crucial to fight the shame and social stigma that LGBTQIA individuals carry to this day.

With Pride, individuals can declare that they will not be intimidated, they will not be harassed, they will not be silent, and they will be heard.