June is LGBT Pride Month. That means that just as summer is kicking off each year, hundreds of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and queer people around the world are celebrating. Indeed, given the progress toward equality for LGBT and queer people, especially over the past 60 years in the US, there is a great deal to celebrate. But, Pride Month is also a time to reflect on the ways in which the world is still far from true sexual and gender equality.
A Brief History Of LGBT Pride In The US
Sustained organization among LGBT people first began with the Homophile Movement — efforts of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people of the 1950s through late 1960s to be free of discrimination and police harassment. The quiet and largely secretive efforts of Homophile activists became history upon the emergence of the Gay Liberation Movement.
One night in late June of 1969, a small group of LGBT patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, fought back against a police raid of the bar (a common occurrence of the day). This resistance, now called the Stonewall Riots, became the spark that led to the creation of the Gay Liberation Movement, and became an annual celebration of gay pride that spread across the US, and eventually globally. It is important to note that one aspect of the story of the riots that is often missed is that many in the group who initially started the rioting against police were Black and Latina/o transgender and genderqueer people.
From the 1980s through the 1990s, the focus of LGBT activists and organizations shifted toward fighting for care and effective treatments for people living with HIV/AIDS, and against efforts at the local, state, and national levels to prevent LGBT people from having equal rights. Much of the focus from the 1990s onward has been on pushing for equal rights for LGBT people and relationships under the law, greater positive visibility of LGBT people in the media, and protection for LGBT people against discrimination and violence, as well as general acceptance of LGBT people in society.
A Time To Celebrate
In looking at the lives of LGBT and queer people today compared to the past, there is much to be celebrated. There has been tremendous change in the US: shifting attitudes towards favoring equal rights for LGBT people (including marriage); the repeal of the US military’s policy to prevent LGB people from openly serving; growing protection for LGBT people from discrimination; and, increasing positive representation of LGBT people in media and politics. Recently, the US reached a new level of support for equality for LGBT people with President Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, his annual declaration of LGBT Pride Month, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for LGBT people globally at the United Nations.
More Work To Be Done
Although many gains have been made over the past 60 years in the US, there are still many ways in which LGBT and queer people are not treated equally. Despite gains in law and politics, same-sex marriage is illegal, yet discrimination against LGBT people is legal, in most US states. Many LGBT people face prejudice, discrimination, and violence, leading to economic and health costs, including suicide. Some are pressured or forced to undergo therapy to change their sexual orientation, despite evidence that such a change is impossible and attempting to do so is harmful. And, sadly, some countries prevent LGBT and queer people from openly celebrating pride and, worst of all, some places continue to criminalize homosexuality (sometimes punishable by death).
Beyond these issues, there is still much work to be done to recognize the diverse experiences, identities, and needs among LGBT and queer people. For example, more research on transgender and gender non-conforming people is being done, shedding light on how wide-reaching the problems of discrimination, violence, poverty, and poor health care are for these communities. Also, more activism and research is focusing on the ways in which one’s sexual and gender identities intersect with race, ethnicity, ability, age, social class, nationality, body size and shape, and religion. It is the case, sometimes, that LGBT people who are marginalized in another way face greater difficulties — for example, facing homo/transphobic and racist discrimination among Black LGBT people.
Keep On Celebrating!
Despite the great amount of work that lies ahead to ensure that all people are treated equally regardless of their sexual and gender identities, there are a growing number of reasons to celebrate. Like Black History Month, some have begun to question whether we still need LGBT Pride Month and all of its parades and parties. Yes, I would agree that we should be celebrating the history and contributions of Black, Asian American, American Indian, Latino, and LGBT people, and women every month. But, until such a time comes, I am a strong advocate for a month-long celebration of LGBT pride, community, and history, and the future road toward true equality.