It’s a typically warm day in West Hollywood, but it is anything but typical for Raymond Braun.
He’s still feeling buzzy after the excitement of the night before, when he attended the official premiere of his documentary, State of Pride. The film had already been screened at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival, but the audience here in L.A. was filled with political activists, social media influencers, and gay and trans celebrities Braun considers to be his role models and friends.
The night was made that much better when the movie ended and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
State of Pride examines the current environment of pride festivals in the U.S., and asks the question, on this 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots, what do these events mean to people today? Cameras follow Braun as he travels the country, where he meets the people who work, volunteer, and party at prides in cities big and small. Among the issues he confronts are the younger generations who may be blithely unaware of what “Stonewall” was really about, other than a chance to get drunk and march in a rainbow-themed parade.
He also chats with a trans support group, where the members express how they feel the community has left them behind; he attends a pride celebration in Alabama that’s tiny, but the attendees have too much fun to care. He shows up to DC Pride with his own mother. At each of these stops, plus many others along the way, the questions are different but the answers point in the same direction: Pride celebrations are whatever we need them to be. Not want, need.
YouTube produced the project and hired the Oscar-winning team of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman as directors, but the face and soul of the journey is Braun. He found the film’s participants by posting “Are you going to Pride?” ads on social media, and networked for months through friends and hashtags.
The 29-year old influencer is already well-known as an activist for gay and trans issues, and he makes videos on his popular YouTube channel, but this is his first full-length film project.
GayCities chatted with Braun about State of Pride, the state of pride festivals in the U.S., and the state of his romantic life for which he is currently accepting applications:
What do you see for the future of pride?
I think there are to directions for prides to evolve. First is to have more of them. There is this narrative that LGBTQ people have been told that if your hometown is not accepting, you can just move to the proverbial enclave like Castro Street in San Francisco where everything will be okay. And that is problematic because some people don’t want to move or have the resources to do so or they want to be close to their families. So it’s powerful when you have Prides in conservative communities because it helps people realize we are everywhere, and people are not alone. And even if they are small, like the Pride festival in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (which is in the film), they mean something to the people who are there. So I hope we will have more prides popping up.
The other way that I hope pride evolves is with more recognition of our histories, and celebrating the true diversity of the community. I hope that Pride blends that element of partying with an element of protesting. So if you are having a pride in Alabama, it is a great place to party, but it is also a great opportunity to teach them about legislation that may work against them, or candidates that support us.
Do you think people really want to participate in protesting? Or do they want everything to be easy?
There is a hunger to make things better. That’s why I think the history is so important. People can learn from it and appreciate where they are in this world, and help those who have had different experiences or don’t have the same privileges.
Which Pride festival that you’ve attended has been your favorite?
My favorite pride festival was last year in DC, with my mom, because it was her first pride. (This is included in the documentary.) For her to look out and see how many people turned out, and how much love and support there was, it really moved her. And to see it through her eyes was really fun and meaningful.
I can be overly sympathetic. But she called me from Party City, and said “I want to get an outfit for pride!” and she was so excited, and she made sandals with rainbow ribbons she got from Joann Fabric. And a lot of people came up to her and just wanted a hug from her. It breaks my heart that people do not get acceptance from their families. That is something we all crave.
Sorry but I’m getting teary thinking about this.
You should bring her to pride festivals and just have her give free hugs.
There’s a Facebook group, Free Mom Hugs, and they show up to Pride festivals and give hugs to everybody. She should join that.
What scenes were cut from the movie that you wish had been included?
There are so many stories that didn’t make it in. If I were in charge, the movie would be 20 hours long. There’s some bonus scenes that we’re putting out, somehow, I’m not sure yet. But some clips will be released on social media.
Then what’s next for you? You’ve made your movie. Now what?
I’d love to keep doing projects like this. I want to keep finding stories that people should know about.
Do you have a boyfriend?
No, I am single. And I am very open to meeting a boyfriend, so maybe that will happen. I am going to a bunch of different prides, so maybe I will meet someone.
Do people talk to you more because they recognize you, or do they stay away?
The problem I have is, people will send me a message and say “Hey, I saw you today…” but they don’t come up to me and talk to me. And really I am happy when people come up and talk to me. I love it.
I love meeting people and hearing their stories.
State of Pride is available on YouTube worldwide now. Watch the trailer here: