Why is Pride Important: 50 Years Post-Stonewall
by Gene Kelly, Ph.D.
It is officially LGBTQ+ Pride Month! A month of parties, commemorations, parades, and festivals that helps bring significant visibility to a population that must consistently fight to be seen.
You see, one of the main ways that dominant cultures keep subordinated groups oppressed is by keeping them and their contributions to the culture invisible. Iris Young calls this “cultural imperialism.” When did you first learn about the Stonewall Riots? Harry Hay? Frank Kameny? Barbara Gittings? The annual reminders at Independence Hall? Harvey Milk? Larry Kramer? Marsha P. Johnson? Sylvia Rivera? Gay Men’s Health Crisis? ACT-UP? You might not even know about them now! If you did know about them, where did you learn the information from? I doubt high school; perhaps, college? A great place to begin if you’re looking for more education is the GLBT Historical Society.
I remember being 21–after my junior year at Lebanon Valley College. I had decided to stay on campus to work and a group of friends and I made the decision to journey up to NYC Pride. It would be my first festival. I had only truly come out on campus the previous year and was jittery with excitement. I stood along the parade route (coincidentally at the intersection of Gay Street and Waverly Place), watching marchers coming by, floats of dancers, the local Dykes on Bikes contingent, PFLAG chapters, and, interestingly enough, then-U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Clinton as Grand Marshal. While all of this was fantastic, the group that most impacted me that day? Veterans of the Stonewall Riots. I stood there, overcome with emotion as I saw people who had stood up for our culture’s rights to assemble, to show affection…to simply…BE. THIS is what I missed in school, these stories of courage that could inspire so many. These stories that affirmed that I wasn’t weird or abnormal simply because I was attracted to men–that there were people willing to lose their livelihoods, be ostracized from their families, be beaten in the streets, blackmailed, or even killed in order to bring an end to the individual and institutional homo-, bi-, and transphobia we were experiencing.
There are some within the community (and definitely outside the community) who feel that the celebrations during this month only help to divide us from the “mainstream” culture. They focus in on the “outlandishness” of people’s outfits, the blatant display of sex and sexuality, the “abnormality.” Even more so in our new homonormative post-marriage world, why can’t we just act like everyone else and stop with the drag queens on 6-inch platforms? With the leathermen? With the Dykes on Bikes?
Today, 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, we need Pride even more. Pride in ALL of the identities and expressions of these identities. Why? Because we continue to be invisible, oppressed, and even killed. Our trans* siblings are being used as divisive political fodder and killed in the streets. LGBT young people still make up significant portions of homeless youth. We can still be legally fired from our jobs and denied housing in 28 states. Our stories are rarely taught in high schools across the country.
Pride is not only important, it is vital. In the words of President Barack Obama during his LGBT Pride Month Declaration in 2016:
“There remains much work to do to extend the promise of our country to every American, but because of the acts of courage of the millions who came out and spoke out to demand justice and of those who quietly toiled and pushed for progress, our Nation has made great strides in recognizing what these brave individuals long knew to be true in their hearts — that love is love and that no person should be judged by anything but the content of their character. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, as Americans wave their flags of pride high and march boldly forward in parades and demonstrations, let us celebrate how far we have come and reaffirm our steadfast belief in the equal dignity of all Americans.”
How will you celebrate your Pride this June (and all year long)? Consider attending a celebration in your area. Here’s a website that lists celebrations in major U.S. and international cities. If you’re in the Eastern side of PA (where I am), there’s many regional celebrations that aren’t listed on that site, here’s a few:
- Lehigh Valley Pride in the Park: August 18
- Reading Pride: July 21
- Central PA Pride (Harrisburg): July 27
- Lancaster Pride: July 20
Wave your flag! March with your brethren! Bring allies along to learn about OUR history! Be well!