“Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a discrete and insular minority entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” – Vice President Mike Pence, 2000.
While this statement was made 19 years ago and the LGBTQ+ community now has the right to marry in all 50 states, there are only 20 states plus the District of Columbia that have laws in place to protect against discrimination on the bias of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Suicide rates amongst queer teens are 4 times higher than their heterosexual peers, and showing public displays of affection still far too often lead to slurs and sometimes violence for LGBTQ+ people. These are all issues that this community has been fighting against since before the Stonewall Riots in June of 1969, which is accredited for starting the current Gay Rights movement, parades and Pride Month itself. As we are presently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of these riots and Pride month, some question is it still necessary to have a month dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community or has it lost its true meaning and just turned into another big party?
In the 1950s and 60s, almost no establishment welcomed openly gay people to congregate and the few places that did were often raided and patrons were locked up and sometimes beat. In New York, the Stonewall Inn was a popular hangout amongst the most marginalized people in the gay community such as drag queens, transgender people, butch women, and effeminate men. In the early hours of June 28th, 1969 the New York Police went to do a usual raid of the Stonewall Inn, but patrons and staff alike were fed up and tired of the treatment they received and the popular belief is a transgender woman by the name of Marsha P. Johnson threw a shot glass at the police kicking off riots that went on for a full day. After the riots ended, gay community leaders quickly formed multiple groups and newspapers to promote rights for gays and lesbians. On June 28, 1970, the first gay pride marches took place in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago commemorating the anniversary of the riots. These marches were the first time some gay and lesbian people dared to come out during daylight hours as themselves. There were no big companies marching with them, the police were not invited and it wasn’t about being drunk and partying, but about demonstrating and protesting for basic rights. Over the years, as more rights and protections have been given to the LGBTQ+ community, the parades have gotten bigger, brighter, louder and more commercial, leading to the question, are they still needed?
While we have made so much progress in equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community since the Stonewall Riots, we still have a long way to go as far as stopping systematic discrimination. According to federal law, it is still lawful to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. There are still thirty states that don’t have laws in place totally protecting the civil rights of queer people. States like Tennessee are still proposing state legislation like the “Natural Marriage Defense Act” which states that the Supreme Court overstepped and that marriage is a state issue and not a federal one. If passed, this would ban same-sex marriage in the state. Kansas and Oklahoma both passed laws targeting LGBTQ+ adoption, making it easier for religious child welfare agencies to deny placement with same-sex couples. In Texas, lawmakers are discussing trying to again pass a “bathroom bill”, which would limit transgender individuals’ use of public restrooms after it failed to pass in 2017. Fifty years later, we as a community are still fighting for and fighting to keep rights granted to our heterosexual peers.
In 2019 queer teens are still being banished from their homes by families, bullied by peers, and hearing anti-gay rhetoric from people in power. According to Mentalhealthamerica.net only 37 percent of queer teens report being happy while 67% of nonqueer teens report being happy. With each instance of bullying, self-harm becomes 2 ½ times more likely according to the same site. Queer kids still feel as if they have nowhere to call their own or places to seek refuge. So, fifty years later, with all the progress made, our queer youth, probably the most venerable in our community, are still feeling the struggle of finding a place to be themselves and feel included.
So when asked the question of whether or not pride is still necessary in 2019, I scream yes! Has it changed? Have major corporations joined in, have the police started marching in the parades, are lawmakers now fighting to pass laws to make us happy and gain our vote? Yes! But this does not take away the anti-establishment movement that pride started as it just goes to show that the establishment now knows that we are a group with a voice that will be heard. Pride is as important now as it was then. It is necessary in order to continue to educate future generations and to give people that feel like they don’t fit in all year long a time to go out and be loud and proud of who they are. To show that 14-year-old queer kid that they are not alone and that there are so many more people like them, and that they should be proud of who they are. Actor Paul Paris said it best when he said “Every gay and lesbian person who has been lucky enough to survive the turmoil of growing up is a survivor. Survivors always have an obligation to those who will face the same challenges.” Pride month was important when it started 50 years ago, it’s important now and will forever be important!
Photo: Long Beach, CA Pride 2014, Porscheoy Brice