Time lapse photography of water ripple and Pride flag by Jordan McDonald on Unsplash

Pride & Advocacy in the Face of Negativity

By Yolonda P. Harrison

Lately, I’ve been thinking of queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming activists such as Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia RiveraZazu Nova, and Marsha P. Johnson.  I’ve wondered how they would feel knowing that, decades after the Stonewall Uprising, spikes in anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation and violence have led to the Human Rights Campaign declaring the first official state of emergency for LGBTQIA+ people in the United States.  If still living, would they agree with Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who believes that for some “Stonewall didn’t change a thing,” or would they have a different outlook?

When it comes to Pride Month, most people connect its history to the Stonewall Uprising that occurred in June 1969 in response to constant harassment, discrimination, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and drag communities in New York City. Many people also know that in 1970, one-year after the uprising, the nation’s first Pride marches were held (known in Chicago as the “Gay Pride Parade” and in New York City as the “Christopher Street Liberation Day March”).  And some know that in 1999, President Bill Clinton officially designated the month of June as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month,” which was later expanded to LGBT Pride Month in 2009 by President Barack Obama and then to LGBTQ Pride Month in 2021 by President Joe Biden.

However, what people do not always know (or acknowledge) is the role that Black and Latinx LGBTQIA+ activists like Stormé, Sylvia, Zazu, Marsha, and others played in the Stonewall Uprising and how throughout their lives, they pushed against the idea that the movement was only about white gay men and white lesbians.  They understood that a person’s race, age, and class combined with their LGBTQIA+ identity increased the likelihood that they would experience homelessness, poverty, and danger.  And that the laws, regulations, and informal rules used to justify harassment, discrimination, and violence were (and are) more likely to be used against people with multiple, intersecting* marginalized identities.  

As hundreds of anti-LGBTQIA+ bills continue to be introduced, many of my friends and colleagues are no longer able to travel within this country as they used to.  Some have had to move to different states in an effort to protect their and their families’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being.  Whether they are leaving Arizona because their trans children are banned from participating in the sports they love; leaving Georgia because they cannot receive the gender-affirming care they need before starting college; or leaving Tennessee because they can no longer make a living through their drag performances – I have witnessed the impact of this country regressing.  

At a time when several states, cities, universities, schools, and organizations are eliminating DEIB programs, restricting LGBTQIA-related curriculum, and censoring conversations around gender identity and sexuality, staying hopeful can sometimes be a challenge.  Then, I remember that perspective-taking can counteract bias, reduce prejudice and stereotyping, and resolve conflict.  I remember that advocacy includes taking the time to educate and share lived experiences with individuals who support harmful legislation and that this kind of advocacy helped to defeat many anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in 2022.  I remember that DEIB work is also advocacy and that although I encounter more negativity doing the work these days – I can “pay it no mind” (in the spirit of Marsha “Pay it no mind” Johnson).

*The framework of “intersectionality was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989 to refer to the compounding, simultaneous impact of racial and gender-based discrimination faced by Black women.

**Photo by Jordan McDonald on Unsplash