Growing up, we are taught to be proud of who we are – to celebrate our uniqueness and to not allow anyone to tell us differently, to not allow anyone to “correct” what makes us a non-replicable human. But this early lesson of self esteem is quickly derailed by those members of society “in power” who capitalize on our differences, and create systems to convince us – to convince others, that we are wrong in our uniqueness. Our humanity is quickly invalidated by groups that decide for themselves that they have absolute authority, and this invalidation happens on all levels, from aesthetics to unchangeable qualities of self.
In June, we celebrate members of the LGBTQIA+ Community, and walk alongside as allies in the continued fight to recognize the human dignity of each person. Pride month, and the gay rights movement, began with the Stonewall Uprisings of 1969 – riots that broke out because in 1969, only 52 years ago, “gay” activity was illegal in all states except for one. History.com states that “bars and restaurants could get shut down for having gay employees or serving gay patrons.”
Once again, one group of people had decided that one group had a little less humanity – and as a result, continued to build on systematic hatred and oppression that continues today.
There is a common misconception that Pride Month is solely about celebrating being a member of the LGBTQIA+ Community. While there is a sense of pride taken in the literal sense (being proud of your representation), the birth of Pride, is rooted in a powerful movement – a movement that is created when a group is so systemically oppressed that they come crying out to reclaim their diminished dignity, a dignity that society decided was not valid.
On June 28, 1969, in New York, the Stonewall Uprisings occurred. There is some speculation about who officially ignited the riot, who threw the first brick. Two names frequently heard as being involved are Marsha P. Johnson (a Black activist and self-identified drag queen) and Sylvia Rivera (a Latina advocate for transgender people, especially transgender people of color).
Regardless of who initially set off the spark, it should not come as a surprise that the oppression of a group of people was built on the shoulders of oppression of Black and POC ( Persons of Color) individuals – the roots of systematic racism run deep, and created the footholds for future hate crimes and oppression.
Wikipedia state that “The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion) were a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the gay community in response to a police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Patrons of the Stonewall, other Village lesbian and gay bars and neighborhood street people fought back when the police became violent.
While critics may look down on the rioters for inciting a violent response, it is important to look at the situations of riots throughout history. With few exceptions, riots occur when a group, typically oppressed, has reached a breaking point of desperation. We must acknowledge that what occurred at Stonewall, while a textbook definition of riot, was actually an uprising, because in that moment there was a moment of finding your voice to finally articulate that this was not okay – and those that broke the silence, quickly realized that they were not alone.
The riots inspired LGBT people throughout the country to organize in support of gay rights, and within two years after the riots, gay rights groups had been started in nearly every major city in the United States.civilrights.org
Black Lives Have Always Included All Lives
The Stonewall Rebellion is not just a critical part of history and humanity for the impact it has had on the LGBTQIA+ community, but because it was also led by Black and Persons of Color.
Without delving into another article that would take many pages to discuss, the majority of our current movements of social action, and the majority of our current societal systems of oppression, are in place because of how they impacted the Black Community; systemic changes were introduced to further oppress, or restrict, Black and POC individuals – liberation took place from these same groups fighting for their inherent human dignity, which should have never been reduced.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of oppression and social injustice throughout the world – it is overwhelming to be aware of every single event, ad it may feel impossible to be fully educated on every single event.
Our humanity is quickly invalidated by groups that decide for themselves that they have absolute authority, and this invalidation happens on all levels, from aesthetics to unchangeable qualities of self.
How then do we move forward? When we hear a person talking about an injustice, or when we see a celebration that we may not understand – instead of making unfounded remarks, forming opinions without information, or taking a particular stance, we can do three things:
- Learn: Your initial assessment of a situation may be correct, but it is just as likely that it can be completely incorrect. The only way to form a genuine opinion or to take a stance, is to take the time to learn about the situation. Google the history, talk with those who are involved in the event, analyze a range of news stories, not just those from one source.
- Ask: As stated above, talk to those who know best. Do you have a friend who is a member of the LGBTQIA+ Community? Ask them about what Pride means to them and why it should matter to you.
- Reflect: After you have taken the time to learn and ask, there may be a lot of information that you need to sit with. Reflection is okay, and is a step that you owe to yourself and that you owe to whatever group or individual for who you are trying to be an ally.
The United States, and the World, has taken powerful steps over the years – but there is still a long journey to eradicate the many systems of oppression and hatred that dominate our everyday lives. Each day we must be intentional in our choices to continue this change.
How do you celebrate PRIDE? What is one thing that you would want someone else to know, or one question that you have?