June is pride month. It’s filled with events that are loud, unapologetic celebrations of the queer community, and it’s a damn fun time.
But among the festivities, there are perplexed folks who can’t quite wrap their heads around it. “Why do we still need gay pride?” they might ask. They might think the LGBTQ2+ community already has equality, that pride is simply an excuse to dress up and get a little crazy. But pride is so much more than parades and parties. It’s a time of remembrance, community-building and hope. And it’s just as important now as it ever was.
Back in June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a well-known hangout for gay and trans folks in Manhattan. Raids were common, happening about once a month at known queer establishments and were undeniably acts of transphobia and homophobia. But in the early hours of June 28, 1969, the crowd inside the Stonewall Inn decided they’d had enough of being shamed. They fought back and started what would become a week-long protest for the rights of the LGBTQ2+ community. The riots ignited a movement for equal rights: LGBTQ2+ activist organizations, publications and events were rapidly organized and mobilized.
A gathering called Christopher Street Liberation Day marked the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1970. At the same time, America’s first gay pride marches happened in Los Angeles and Chicago, with 15 more American and European cities adding their own marches over the next two years. The Stonewall Riots are cited as a pivotal time in the United States where queer folks began to fight back against homophobia and transphobia. The month of June is now a time to honor and remember the brave folks who began the struggle for the rights we enjoy today.
Free to be?
Since Stonewall, rights for LGBTQ2+ people have come a long way in North America. We now have the right to marry, adopt children and be protected against a hate crime. But there’s still a long way to go. While the rights of LGBTQ2+ community are protected under law, the reality remains: being LGBTQ2+ can be a dangerous, scary and isolating experience.
FBI data reveals that incidents of hate crimes against the LGBTQ2+ community happen at an alarming rate. In 2016, law enforcement agencies reported 1,218 hate crime offenses were based on sexual orientation bias, while 130 offenses were a result of gender identity bias.
And issues facing LGBTQ2+ people are not limited to an older generation—LGBTQ2+ youth aged 13-17 are twice as likely as their peers to have been physically assaulted, and 92 percent say they hear negative messages about being LGBTQ2+. 68 percent hear negative messages about being LGBTQ2+ from elected leaders.
It’s no surprise then, that LGBTQ2+ folks often feel shame or fear simply because of who they are, or who they love.
For many LGBTQ2+ people, pride marks one of the few times they can be out and proud of who they are and who they love. Among thousands of like-minded folks, holding hands with your partner or showing your true gender expression isn’t a spectacle—it’s accepted and celebrated as human nature.
Pride events are also a beacon of hope for LGBTQ2+ youth, 70 percent of whom report they've had feelings of worthlessness and hopelessnes in the past week. Living in fear and shame due to family or school beliefs, pride is a sign that things can get better. Pride can show them that they’re not alone. That there are countless ways to be queer, none better or worse than another. And that everyone is deserving of love, respect and community.
That’s the power of pride.