The dual nature of Pride month

Gay Liberation Front marching in the 2019 NYC Pride Parade.

Pride month is a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s a time for joy and for pride at how far we’ve come as individuals and as a community. It’s a time for renewed determination and perseverance to overcome the struggles we continue to face. It’s a time to let loose and feel free among chosen friends and family. And it’s a time to take stock in how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.

The very first pride parade was born out of necessity. Activists were not going to let the momentum from Stonewall riots die out. They were going to honor it and use it as a springboard to a sustainable movement for equality. They were going to take all that they’d learned from the earlier movements such as the Black civil rights movement and the women’s movement, as well as from the LGBTQ pioneers that came before them.

Those early activists knew, surely, that the road they were taking would not be easy. They had had their share of struggles before Stonewall, and they understood there would be even more to come. Ten years after Stonewall, the community was grappling with the assassination of Harvey Milk. Twenty years after Stonewall, the community was locked into a battle between the government and the medical establishment over the havoc that AIDS brought. Thirty years after Stonewall, the community saw Matthew Shepard brutally beaten and strung to a Wyoming fence, left for dead. And over fifty years after Stonewall, the community is seeing a continual rise in the number of murders of trans people, specifically trans women of color. 

One can take any anniversary of Stonewall, the first, the eighth, the twenty-second, the forty-first, and find examples of the atrocities that have been committed against the LGBTQ community both indivdually and as a whole, by civilians, politicians, doctors, lawyers, judges, neighbors, and even family members. All of the freedoms we enjoy today happen alongside these horrific acts. Our timeline of equality does not happen without a timeline of violence, a timeline of suppression, and a timeline of hate.

That fact, that we are forced to bring both our joy and our struggle to the table during Pride month, is especially important for any corporation or business that wants to celebrate with us. Any CEO that touts their company’s new rainbow-colored product in June must be held accountable for their actions during the other eleven months of the year. Corporations should not be allowed to take part in our joy but ignore our struggle. The same goes for politicians, as well as anybody calling themselves an ally.

More importantly, though, we ourselves must understand that that rainbow shirt or rainbow cupcake comes with a greater purpose than just looking bright and colorful on Instagram. It’s a reminder of who we are as people and as a community. It’s both our joy and our pain. And we need to have both of those in order to make the good change that our community fought for during Stonewall and continues to fight for today. 

Celebrate your heart out this Pride month. See the friends and family you haven’t seen in over a year. But be humble and remember where Pride month comes from, and try to reflect on the total journey we’ve taken as a community. Not just the joy, not just the pain. Because it’s with both that we truly learn where we’ve been and where we’re going.