LGBTQI+ Pride Month is normally associated with colorful parades and marches and speeches by local, regional, and national leaders, but it’s part of an important political history as well.
Out of all the months in the year, why June?
Last year we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the June 1969 Stonewall riots that rocked New York City for three consecutive days and nights. Stonewall was a turning point in the LGBTQ movement in the United States, when members of the Queer community declared unequivocally that they would no longer tolerate the brutality, corruption and harassment inflicted by the New York Police Department. Some of the city’s unlikeliest of citizens finally demanded an end to constant police harassment, and frequent police raids on gay businesses, social gatherings and safe spaces. They said no more to being arrested, paraded in the public, and having their names, families and reputations ruined for living their lives.
Now is the time we look to the leaders of that time, including gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, who was a prominent figure during the Stonewall riots; Silvia Rivera, a friend of Johnson’s who co-founded the Street Transvestite Actions Revolutionaries (STAR); and so many more.
One year after the initial uprising, in June 1970, activists gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn and began to march towards Central Park. The marchers started off with only few dozen people but soon extended some 15 blocks, as the number of participants steadily grew to several thousand.
Until recently the LGBTQ community had made significant strides in demanding equal rights protections in employment, housing, military service, and access to health care and legal services. Gone was much of the stigma associated with coming out as homosexual, bi/pansexual, gender non-binary, transgender or any other letter of the vast LGBQTI+ alphabet.
While in recent years the Federal government has actively worked to deny LGBTQI+ people access to the most basic human rights and protections, this week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ people are covered under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, barring discrimination on the basis of sex.
Still pending is the Equality Act, a bill in Congress that would formally amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system. Today, 29 states have not passed anti-LGBT discrimination protections for their citizens. The Equality Act seeks to remedy this.
Within the past several years, and especially the past several weeks, the Federal government has rolled-back basic protections for the Transgender community in terms of active military service, denying access to employment, education, health care, legal services, emergency shelter for people without housing, and other basic civil rights. The government is once again redefining the concept of “sex” along strict biological appearance of anatomy at birth rather than on one inherent sense of self – gender identity.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically states: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Here in New York State we are fortunate to have laws that protect our community members and families, including the 2002 Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), the 2011 Marriage Equality Act, the 2019 Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and the bans on “Conversion Therapy” and the Panic Defense, among other protections. This year New York State enacted protections for same sex couples in the adoption process and surrogacy protections allowing gay couples to have and raise children of their own.
Waiting for repeal is the “walking while trans” loitering law, which makes people criminals according to their appearance, where they are, and what they do in public spaces. Thankfully, there are several organizations in New York State, including Equality NY, Gender Equality NY, the NYS Civil Liberties Union, and others that have been working to ensure protections for the LGBTQI+ community and their families.
The LGBTQI+ community is not looking for “more” or “special” rights, we’re demanding the same – “equal” – rights and protections currently enjoyed by every other person.
Pride Month is an opportunity to celebrate our history, and come together to make more.