This year marks 50 years of Pride in this country.
We often say that the 1969 Stonewall Riots in NYC is when the modern LGBTQ movement began, but, our course, like any movement this event and the subsequent Pride events across this country originated from a series of moments; protests, rallies, arrests, groups, individuals, and, in our case, queers, queens, faggots, dykes, fems, butches, cross-dressers, transgender folx, people of color, asexuals, non-binary people, bisexuals, lesbians, gays, the gender oppressed and so many more.
It’s hard to identify which moments were precisely the ones that led to where we are today because, in reality, they all did. Leading the way are the unsung brave individuals that lived their truth in a time – or place, because we still live in this time – when they could be put to death for it. The trans heroes that rioted at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco in 1966, the psychologists in Germany in the late 1800s that began examining homosexuality and fighting for decriminalization, the Daughters of Bilitis – our nation’s first lesbian civil and political rights organization that started in the 50s; the Harvey Milk’s who fought the political status quo and said we deserve representation; the countless LGBTQ publications that have come and gone and worked so hard to connect our communities and keep us informed; the couple in Texas (Texas v. Lawrence) who took their case all the way to the Supreme Court to have SCOTUS rule, finally, in 2003 that states could not criminalize our sex lives. These are all part of what makeup our forward motion today, and no one moment is the moment.
But what we can celebrate, far and wide, on this 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, is the current culmination of our collective global struggle against LGBTQ+ oppression. What we can celebrate is our progress, our growing global acceptance, our voices rising – sometimes raging – so loudly that we cannot and will not be ignored in today’s world. We have, in better and worse, established political organizations, created neighborhoods, grown our networks, raised our voices, won hearts and minds, come out (again and again and again), and built communities with our own resources, doctors, clinics, testing services, and other life-saving, life-improving vital services. We have shown our resilience and found ways to thrive amid a devastating plague and amongst an apathetic, unresponsive and sometimes outright repressive government. For this, we deserve a moment to celebrate.
On this 50th anniversary of when we so loudly and openly could not take it anymore; of when our LGBTQ+ forefigures said you will not control our lives, we should celebrate and remember that today’s movement is made up of all those aforementioned people and moments. They were often not people of extraordinary means, only of circumstances – and they were often not people of affluence or social standing; they were you and me pushed to the brink fighting for our right to exist when it felt like no one else would. To live openly, unapologetically and happily.
If you are affluent and privileged, know that you have the power to contribute and do something to help our community; and if you are not as privileged, know that queers of all stripes; POC, queens, dykes, fems, and transgender individuals have made the most memorable and extraordinary contributions that have catapulted us all forward. We owe a debt of gratitude to all that came before us, and there’s no better way to offer them tribute than to pay-it-forward.
We must keep fighting for our rights; and not just our personal rights, our collective rights. This country still lacks basic anti-discrimination laws in employment, housing and public accommodation. States across this union may still practice conversion therapy as a legitimate model of psychotherapy despite the fact that dozens of accredited organizations condemn it as a hate-filled, harmful practice. Transgender individuals still face harassment over using a restroom, and the current administration has taken away their right to healthcare, declaring that the right of discrimination outweighs the right to health and well-being.
What can we do? At the most basic, yet perhaps the most important level, vote. We are impossible for our government to ignore when we constitute an active, informed electorate. Much of today’s progress can be attributed to serious organization that has kept us informed, pressured politicians, and lifted our voices. But creating a culture of affirmation isn’t just about engaging in voting-booth politics; you can also attend a rally or event or donate to LGBTQ+ organizations that support social services like healthcare, community groups, housing, food, and transportation. You can ask people their pronouns, create visibility by putting a flag up or attending a pride event, and you can politely tell people it’s not okay when they say things like “that’s so gay.” You can make a difference with a megaphone or a conversation.
You don’t have to be a devout activist to celebrate, in fact you don’t have to be an activist at all. Maybe you’re just living your life and truth, maybe you just want to have a beer, relax and be yourself (that’s what plenty of people were doing at the Stonewall Inn the night the riot started) – so don’t let anyone put you down for spending a weekend in June having a ball. But remember all that has happened to allow us to openly celebrate and remember that our work is not nearly done. Remember that if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.
Now get out there and celebrate this incredible moment in our history; a moment where we’ve gained so much, and a moment when there’s still so much to do. Celebrate the queers of our past, the community we’ve created right now, and our commitment to a better future for all of us.
Corey Mohr has worked for LGBT Life Center since 2016 and has been in the LGBTQ health and wellness space since 2013. He was only allowed to get his left ear pierced when he was 7, grounded for two-weeks when he came out to his parents at 15, and sent to therapy to have it talked out of him. He’s still gay, 33 years and counting.