Revisiting ‘Pride and Prejudice’

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pride-and-prejudice-1946

A Rainbow Classic edition of Jane Austin's novel.

Pride is bustin’ out all over this June with LGBT Pride celebrations stretching from Milwaukee to cities around the world.

The marches and festivals mark the 45th anniversary of the June 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York, when dragsters and other “fringe” elements of the queer community fought back against police oppression. The two days of near riots that followed the routine bust of a gay bar launched the beginning of the gay liberation movement, which has evolved into the LGBT movement today.

Enhancing this year’s celebration is the amazing progress of marriage equality across the U.S. Citing last year’s Supreme Court ruling, federal judges are finding anti-marriage statutes unconstitutional infringements of due process and equal protection. 

As I write, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Judges in 11 more states have issued rulings supportive of marriage equality, although those decisions must go through the appellate process. 

A federal judge will rule soon on Wisconsin’s anti-gay marriage ban. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is so worried about the outcome that he’s asked the judge to issue an immediate stay if the ban is overturned. What an ogre! Who doesn’t love all the media coverage of loving couples jamming courthouses, crying tears of joy? Who doesn’t love happy endings?

There’s almost a sense of triumph among some gay people, as if the battles are all won and we can tweak our opponents with a collective “Nanner-nanner!” Is the love that dared not speak its name becoming the love that won’t shut-up? What is the right tone for a Pride celebration in these days of seeming victory?

I turned for advice to the woman who wrote the book on pride and prejudice — literally. Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice is now 200 years old but it remains delightfully readable and oh-so-wise. 

Early on, Austen has Mary, one of the five Bennet daughters, speculate: “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

The concept of “gay pride” grew from the black power and black pride slogans that energized the African-American civil rights movement. The pride invoked was not the overweening pride of the “seven deadly sins” variety or the tragic pride that brought down the kings of classic literature. 

Like black pride, gay pride was an expression of identity and community meant to empower a people oppressed by church, state and custom. There are still many gay people, especially kids, who are isolated and treated abominably. Promoting pride saves lives.

Austen has more to say. When Elizabeth, Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy banter about pride, Darcy declares: “Where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.” Here, I read “superiority of mind” not as arrogance but as nobility and generosity of spirit. There is a lesson in this for the queer community.

Elizabeth says about Darcy: “I could easily forgive his pride if he had not mortified mine.” LGBT people should behave in such a way that we do not mortify others, especially those who oppose us. The challenge for us, according to the old liberal icon Hubert Humphrey, “is not to march alone but to march in such a way that others will wish to join us.