In the United States, June is observed as LGBT Pride month. LGBT pride celebrations and parades are held around the world in an effort to defy the stigmatization and sometimes criminalization and persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and to advocate for equality for people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Yet some people question why we need a Pride month, or pride parades, especially now that marriage equality is the law of the land. But our history and our current political and cultural atmosphere indicate there is still a need for pride celebrations.
For decades before the 1970’s, LGBT people were shunned, labeled as mentally ill, criminalized, and targeted for harassment and abuse. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses classified homosexuality as a sexual and developmental disturbance, a mental illness. States criminalized same sex sexual contact. People had to remain deeply closeted or risk losing their jobs, their families, and their housing. It was commonplace for police to raid gay bars, often the only places LGBT people could go and be open about who they were, dance, have a drink, and find “community”. But a police raid could end that sense of safety, and end a person’s career, as people would be rounded up and arrested on charges of lewd conduct (simply for drinking and dancing in a bar), and their names would be published in the paper. These raids would often also include brutal beatings of the patrons of the bars.
This was the situation throughout the nation when, on June 28th, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a small gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. The patrons had had enough and fought back, leading to 3 days of rioting in the streets. This became the pivotal event that led to the groundswell LGBT rights groups from about 50 groups nationwide holding a few small, isolated demonstrations and publishing LGBT newsletters in the 50’s and early 60’s to a nationwide movement of over 800 groups in 1970. A group in New York decided that the city needed a yearly commemoration of this pivotal event and organized the first “Pride Parade” on the last Saturday of June in 1970, to mark the anniversary of the riots. This was a public display of pride in the face of stigma, oppression, and persecution. The movement grew to more parades nationwide, most taking place in June in homage to the Stonewall Riots.
I went to my first pride parade in St. Louis shortly after coming out in the early 90’s. I was raised in a family that was not particularly anti-gay, but I had internalized so much of the message of shame that is communicated by our society, that it felt incredibly empowering and liberating to march in the street as an openly gay person. It was a public demonstration that I would NOT live in shame for being who I was! It was a public demonstration that our community of LGBT people was diverse and strong and we were not going back into the closet!
This growth of pride parades and celebrations nationwide eventually lead to, in June of 2000, President Bill Clinton declaring June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride month. While Bill Clinton was not perfect on LGBT rights, we were confronted by a deafening silence during June under President George W. Bush’s administration, as he refused to make the annual declaration of LGBT Pride month. However, President Barack Obama annually made the declaration and recognized June as LGBT Pride month, finally also including bisexual and transgender people in the recognition. He added to this by also coming out in favor of full marriage equality and instituting employment protections for LGBT federal employees and contractors. When the White House was lit with the colors of the rainbow to celebrate the SCOTUS ruling making marriage equality the law of the land in June of 2015, I cried. I felt proud of my country.
However, with the new Republican administration, we are back to a deafening silence in June. Protections are disappearing, as are mentions of LGBT people from the White House website. But I know that the Democratic party stands firmly on the right side of history, continuing to work for the passage of a nationwide anti-discrimination law, for continued protection of marriage equality, and for better protections for transgender people. We have a long way to go to achieve full equality, but regardless of the White House silence on June Pride month, we will continue to stand proudly and openly and fight for our equality while celebrating our strength and resiliency.
About the Author: Jean Capler is a social worker in Bloomington, Indiana. She does community outreach and education in a program that serves people living with brain injuries and in her spare time is an activist advocating for equality, progressive causes, and gun safety.