We had just finished hanging the last banner on the GA Voice booth at Atlanta Pride on Friday afternoon when a small voice spoke up.

“Can I take one of these?”

I looked around the side of the tent to see her pointing at the rack of newspapers in front of our table. She was young, a little shy, just starting to sport a baby dyke look with her short dreadlocks and baggy shorts.

Of course, we said. So she took the paper, but lingered.

“This is my first Pride.”

Pride should be a means, not an end

We welcomed her to the family and chatted for a few minutes. An older woman walked up, joined the conversation, and soon they walked off down the road in Piedmont Park, discussing her invitation to her gay-inclusive church.

It was a small moment, so simple. And yet coming in the midst of a string of suicides of LGBT youth, it had a special poignancy. What if those kids had made it to Pride, to see tens of thousands of people like themselves, celebrating living freely and openly? What if they had had someone older, someone to tell them that God still loves them if they are gay, someone to walk down the road with them a little ways?

I think for many LGBT adults, the recent string of deaths has been particularly jarring because, while we are now busy telling our youth that “It Gets Better,” we thought it already had.

We look at LGBT young people at YouthPride, at teens like Georgia’s Derrick Martin taking same-sex dates to the high school prom, and we think that today’s gay youth have it so much easier than we did. And to be certain, some do.

But what we have to remember is that, unlike other minorities who can rely on the wisdom of their families of birth, the coming out journey always begins alone. We all have that moment of personal recognition, and have to proactively find the strength to make contact with the LGBT community, no matter how large and diverse that community now is.

Atlanta Pride celebrated 40 years last weekend, and while the festival has changed dramatically through the years, its most important role remains the same — to provide that burst of visibility, that glow that can be seen by afar, that can make an impression even on those who are not yet ready or able to attend.

But we can’t let it stop there. The question — now that Pride is over, now that the banners and rainbow flags are put away — is how will you carry it with you for the rest of the year?

If Pride is like gay Christmas, than the week after Pride should be gay New Year’s. So what would happen if each of us made one resolution, just one, for how we would better live our pride in the next 12 months?

Maybe it would mean following up and actually volunteering for one of the LGBT groups that gave you a sticker at Pride, or contributing a few more hours or a few more dollars to one you already support.

Maybe that would mean remembering to vote on Nov. 2, when Georgia elects every seat in the General Assembly, and every state constitutional office from governor on down to Public Service Commission.

Maybe it would mean picking up the phone to call your lawmaker, or just raising your voice the next time you hear a homophobic comment or remark — especially if it was made around youth.

But there are plenty of more personal ways to live your pride as well.

It could be as simple as getting an HIV test, and doing your best to protect yourself, because your life is worth saving.

It could mean taking the next step to live your life openly and honestly. Monday was National Coming Out Day, and even after we find our connection to the LGBT community, our coming out journey is never done.

Most importantly, it means not only telling our youth that “It Gets Better,” but actively taking steps to make it better — not just for them, but for ourselves as well.