As LGBTQ discrimination continues to rise, Pride Month needs to permanently return to its activist roots

As LGBTQ discrimination continues to rise, Pride Month needs to permanently return to its activist roots
The Stonewall Inn in New York City is where Pride Month started.Getty Images
  • Pride Month's activist roots have been overshadowed, but it needs to be about taking action again.
  • In 2020, amid the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19, Pride refocused on activism.
  • After an uptick in LGBTQ hate crimes and anti-trans bills, that change needs to be permanent.

Just after midnight on a warm summer night in 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in New York City.

Homosexual acts were illegal in the city at the time, and officers started arresting LGBTQ patrons. But Black and Latinx transgender leaders, including Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, fought back, throwing bottles at the police. It sparked a riot - and the Gay Rights Movement.

One year later, a group of LGBTQ people marched through New York City. The tradition continued each year, and now, half a century later, people across the country still march through the streets every June - Pride Month - to celebrate the LGBTQ community.
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But as Pride Month has grown, its activist roots have become secondary.

In recent years, large corporations and brands have co-opted Pride. Marches are filled with brands advertising their products and services. David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, calls this "pride pimping."

"So much of what is celebrated contemporarily is what I refer to as 'pride pimping' where corporations plaster rainbows on windows, websites, and merchandise - when outside of June, they have very little engagement with LGBTQIA folk," Johns said.
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However, Johns explained, there was a shift last year back to the activism of the earlier days. After the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been a push for "radical inclusive social justice," which includes the intersectionality of Black lives and LGBTQ people.

This led to a more activist-focused Pride Month in 2020 where people donated money to Black Lives Matter groups and held discussions, often virtually, around issues in the community. In San Francisco, for example, the mayor cohosted conversations around anti-Black violence and attacks against Black trans people, among other discussions. "We're really pivoting around this idea of spreading information about how protests and pride are connected," Carolyn Wysinger, board president of SF Pride, told Vogue at the time.
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As LGBTQ discrimination continues to rise, Pride Month needs to permanently return to its activist roots
An example of "Pride pimping" in New York City.Shutterstock

In many ways, it felt like a return to its origins, and this refocusing of Pride is needed now more than ever - and permanently. Over the past year, attacks at both the governmental and street level, are putting the lives of LGBTQ people - especially those who identify as transgender - in danger. This June we need to remain committed to the original sentiments and activism of Pride by taking actions to protect queer people in our communities.

In the past year, states passed anti-trans bills that are making transgender lives more difficult

Experts have called 2021 the largest legal affront to trans rights in decades.

Currently, there are over 100 pieces of anti-trans legislation across the country being considered by state legislators. Many of these bills stand to cut back discrimination protections for trans people, prevent trans youth from accessing life-saving care, and stop trans teens from playing high school sports.
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Arkansas passed the country's first official trans medical ban, which would prevent trans youth under 18 from accessing common treatments for gender dysphoria such as puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Studies have shown the sooner trans youth have access to gender-affirming care, the less likely they are to develop anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations throughout their lifetime. Advocates worry if trans youth are unable to access care due to these bans, rates of suicide among trans youth will increase this year.

"You are literally denying access to medical care that's lifesaving, and, even more, you're actually making it a felony for these kids to seek out the care to live their lives in the most authentic and real way," Dr. Alann Weissman-Ward, medical director for Plume, previously told Insider.
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Discrimination and hate crimes against LGBTQ people are also rising

In addition to legislative violence, hate crimes against queer communities are still common. According to a report by the FBI, hate crimes based on sexual orientation made up 15.8% of hate crimes in 2017 and jumped to 16.7% in 2018 where it has held for three years.

Additionally, rates of killings of trans people are on the rise, especially for Black trans women.

As LGBTQ discrimination continues to rise, Pride Month needs to permanently return to its activist roots
People participate in a Black Trans Lives Matter rally.Reuters
According to a report by Insider, 2020 marked the deadliest year on record for trans people, with 44 homicides taking place in 12 months. We have yet to reach the halfway mark of 2021 and at least 27 trans people have already been killed, reported the Human Rights Campaign.
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Insider's Transgender Homicide Project found Black trans women, trans women in Puerto Rico, and trans women in the South are disproportionately vulnerable to this wave of transphobic violence.

"Women are stigmatized, transgender people are stigmatized, people of color are stigmatized," said Dr. Jack Drescher, a professor at Columbia University and an advisor at the American Psychiatric Association. "So one could say an accumulation of stigma can make them seem like reasonable targets for the kind of people who kill."

LGBTQ people also faced pandemic-related problems in 2020

The pandemic exacerbated long-standing economic, gender, and race inequalities, meaning there was greater impact on poorer communities, people of color, and women, especially Black and Latina women. It also meant that LGBTQ people, particularly people within those communities, were disproportionately affected.
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According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are 14 million adults in the US who identify as LGBTQ and 2 million LGBTQ youth - of those numbers, 5 million work in industries that were greatly impacted by the pandemic, like hospitality, retail, and education. A report produced by the Movement Advancement Project found 64% of LGBTQ households suffered job losses compared to 45% of non-LGBTQ households.

It means a significant chunk of LGBTQ people lost their jobs last year, which forced some to move back in with their parents, where their sexuality and gender identity sometimes aren't accepted.

Additionally, 70% of young LGBTQ people described their mental health as "poor" because of the way the pandemic negatively affected their lives, according to The Trevor Project.
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After a year of discrimination and acute challenges for LGBTQ people, Pride needs to return to its activist roots - permanently

As parades return to cities this year, Pride shouldn't revert to "pride pimping" but should stick with the vocal activism that was on show in 2020. While celebrating queerness at Pride is a form of activism in itself, experts say people can continue to take active steps to speak up for queerness and protect it in their communities this June - just like in the beginning.

"Everyone, everywhere can do something real and impactful to help LGBTQ people in their town, in their school, and in their local neighborhood," said Carrie Davis, the chief community officer at The Trevor Project.

As LGBTQ discrimination continues to rise, Pride Month needs to permanently return to its activist roots
People should take action this Pride Month.Reuters
Pride Month should be an organized effort to contact people in power to advocate for LGBTQ rights. Davis said you can write letters or call local lawmakers to announce your support of LGBTQ adults and youth. You can also contact schools to ensure policies are in place that protects transgender students, and you can contact local newspapers to write op-eds about your experiences. It's also a time to educate yourself on LGBTQ people and reach out to those, especially youth, who are struggling.
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Johns, of the National Black Justice Coalition, said LGBTQ people who are in a position of privilege should be willing to shift resources by making a physical space in their communities where Black, Latinx, and other people of color can take up space, speak, and thrive.

Still, the month should not be devoid of celebration. Davis said that the Pride parades that take place across the country every June can also be seen as "a chance to celebrate our identity while channeling that energy into action."

"For me, it's never been a parade," Davis said. "For many of us, it's always been a march, and a march is an action. We are working so that someday it can be a parade."
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