As a New York native, I remember fondly attending the annual New York City Pride parade each year in my 20’s - a sea of vibrant colors – rainbow flags, colorful floats, elaborate costumes, dancing, and oh glitter, glitter everywhere!
June is when Pride Month is celebrated internationally, in cities all over the world - a rich celebration of the LGBTQIA2S+* (see below for a full description of the acronym) community.
It is a time that provides opportunities to get an education in queer history, to give recognition of all of the work that has been done in the pursuit of acceptance and equal rights under the law, and, at the same time, is a space for bringing awareness of current issues affecting the community.
So, why do we celebrate Pride Month in June?
It’s not just because it just happens to be the most wonderful month of the year – summer, fireflies, my birthday, Adopt a Cat Month – nestled snugly between 2 glorious long holiday weekends.
Pride is celebrated in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising - a series of riots and protests that broke out in New York City, beginning on June 28, 1969 and lasting 6 days.
For context, in the 1960s, homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (I know, WTF!). These were scary times - people could even lose their jobs if they were suspected of being gay (and, technically, they still can in many states- including North Carolina- which do not provide legal protections against certain forms of discrimination); partners had no legal rights to one another, and adoption as a queer couple was out of the question.
LGBTQIA2S+ bars were one of the one of the few places of refuge where people could go out, relax, and meet people within their own community. Police raids at known gay bars and hangouts were common practice in New York City back then. In fact, there was a move to shut down all gay bars. The mafia saw an opportunity and provided the Stonewall Inn as a queer gathering spot and extorted the LGBTQIA2S+ community as they had no other options. However, police brutality and raids remained rampant even at the Stonewall Inn.
Queer people were reaching a breaking point. They had nowhere safe to gather and were an easy target for violence. Everything came to a head on the evening of June 28th. Police raided the Stonewall Inn and sparked a riot led in large part by Black and brown trans women who were fed up with the constant assaults. The NYPD’s relentless harassment resulted in a full blown resistance and demonstrations by the bar’s patrons and neighborhood residents.
The Stonewall Riots are considered to be a spark that ignited the gay rights movement, and Pride was established as a commemoration of that pivotal moment in history.
You would think that since 1969, LBTQIA2S+ rights would be fairly well-established at this point. Even with all the work that’s been done to secure equal rights to housing and employment, the freedom to adopt and raise families, and the right to marriage and all the benefits that come with it, there is so much more work to be done.
Members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community still experience stigma, trauma and discrimination and may have less support than heterosexual people – especially if they live in an area that lacks an openly queer and queer allied community or if they have been rejected by family members, their religious community, or others.
LGBTQIA2S+ individuals are also more likely to be victims of violence. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “LGB adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition. Transgender individuals are nearly four times as likely as cisgender individuals to experience a mental health condition.”
Fear of discrimination continues to lead some individuals to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from healthcare providers or avoid seeking care altogether. When we are not able to live as we identify and be loved just the way we are we experience stress and lower self-esteem.
It turns out that celebrating Pride can have mental health benefits. Pride events can offer important opportunities for connection, support, and provide a sense of belonging. According to a 2019 study LGBTQIA2S+ people who reported feeling more of a connection to the broader queer community were less likely to report suicidal behavior.
Pride events can be good places to meet and interact with other members of the community socially and to safely explore one’s own sexual or gender identity. Whether you are a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community or an ally, make sure to celebrate, honor, and support the queer community and show your Pride not only this month but all year long.
*LGBTQIA2S+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, Two-Spirit, and all other identities that are encompassed by the queer umbrella