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How PRIDE Marches Are Helping Defeat LGBTQ+ Stigma
On June 27th, the bustling streets of New York City were enveloped in fiery cascades of rainbow confetti. Across the city, New Yorkers took to the streets in celebration of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and all other individuals that fall under the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
This march follows under the broader timeframe of Pride Month, which is celebrated during the month of June all across the nation. Despite the health risks posed by the coronavirus, marchers closed out Pride Month with jubilation at the progress of social and political gains of the LGBTQ+ community. After the legalization of same-sex marriage in the landmark case of Obergefull v. Hodges, activists finally saw their hopes being transformed into tangible legislation.
And yet, the long history of bigotry and discrimination that trails the LGBTQ+ community reminds us not to forget that equality did not come easily, nor has it fully been achieved. Just like in the case of Black civil equality, gay rights may be politically equal, but they are far from fully adopted into all aspects of American society. This is exactly why the annual occurrence of Pride marches is essential to the gay liberation movement. Not only do these demonstrations help to erase the stigma behind the LGBTQ+ community, but they also help to create a culture in which sexuality can be celebrated, regardless of its form.
It is essential that even though Pride marches are over, even though June is over, American society continues to foster this same sense of unity and triumph over the coming months.
The Origination of Pride Marches
Like many other social causes, Pride month was formed as a way to celebrate the lives of individuals that have been systematically silenced by their own country. Its origins take root in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which marked a major turning point in the fight for gay liberation in American history.
The riots began with a crowd of 200 men at the Stonewall Inn, the popularized Greenwich Village gay bar. After tens of policemen raided the bar and began arresting its patrons and employees for supposed liquor charges, the Stonewall Riots erupted into full force- constituting six days of violent protests and clashes between gay liberation activists and law enforcement. These protests, in the midst of the already turbulent period of the 1960s, were the catalyst of the LGBTQ+ revolution.
“At the time of what we now call the Stonewall Rebellion, what was also happening was the second wave of the women’s movement,” remarks Evelynn Hammonds, chair of the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. “And while there were lots of tensions in some women’s organizations between lesbians and straight women, there was also a great deal of unity, and people were coming together around a shared desire for greater equality for women and gay people.”
This pivotal era of civil rights reform helped lay the foundation for the rapid social progress that was to follow, which included the slow incorporation of gay representation in Hollywood, the first legal marriage of a gay couple in 1971, the Supreme Court’s 1996 passage of legislation banning anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, the world’s first same-sex marriage bill signed in the Netherlands, and Obama’s repeal in 2011 of Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding gay men in the military (Reader’s Digest).
All of these successes have transformed American society and helped normalize the notion of “love is love.” And yet, as the LGBTQ+ community continues to expand, so too does its opposition.
“There appears to be a growing backlash from people who feel that expanding gay rights and rights for transgender people means that heterosexuals have lost something they can never regain,” cautions Hammond on the state of gay liberation in the present day. “But fortunately the younger generation sees the world differently now,” he presides. “Many have grown up in a world where there is more equality, more acceptance of sexual and gender difference, and they value it, and they are comfortable with it. So those of us who are older have to do whatever we can to support them in holding onto those rights we marched for a long time ago and that we continue to fight for” (Harvard News).
In other words, it is important that even as the LGBTQ+ community experiences backlash from conservatives and religious figures alike, American society must continue to recognize their history of discrimination in this country and embrace the sociopolitical gains they have managed to achieve despite these challenges.
Continuing The Legacy– Past June
While millions of Americans gathered in celebration, triumph, and unity during the Pride marches, these large-scale events were happening internationally. Whether it be London, France, Jamaica, or Tokyo, June’s parades reached every street corner and crevice across the globe.
It is imperative not to let this ambiance fade. Even after the summer comes to an end, even as the pandemic remains at the back of individuals’ minds, we must not fail to remember the fight for LGBTQ+ equality never once subsided, and it must continue being championed with each subsequent day.
“Even one or two years of no parade doesn’t mean that there’s no Pride,” notes Fred Lopez, executive director of San Francisco Pride, after the Pride marches were canceled for the second year in a row due to pandemic-related concerns. “You can’t cancel Pride. The pride lives in all of our hearts. And we will absolutely return to parades and big festivals soon enough.”
Even as an outsider to the LGBTQ+ community, Pride touches the lives of all American people, regardless of the sexual identity they associate with. The only way to truly support the cause as an upstander is to help to erase the stigma that leaves so many individuals trapped in the metaphorical closet.
June’s Pride marches were an incredibly important step in normalization, and we must foster that unified spirit over the remainder of this year, and the years to come.