Reflections on Pride Month 2020

Reflections+on+Pride+Month+2020

Caroline Owen

2020 will undoubtedly be one of the most historic years that any teen has ever lived through. The news is replete with stories of heroism, activism, and tragedy surrounding police brutality, hate crimes and publicized discrimination, education inequities, and the deep-rooted racist history of the United States. In just the past few months, our world has undergone significant social reform at the hands of hopeful and informed protestors. These protests are often spearheaded by the Black and LGBTQ+ communities in an effort to protect the civil and legal protection which they have been deprived of for nearly six decades. Both the Black and queer communities have an extensive partnership – they have suffered and advocated together during the Civil Rights Movement, they are two of the largest American minority groups, and they co-led the first Pride Parade, whose creator was a Black trans woman. Thus, it is fitting that while the Black Lives Matter movement is highlighted, society takes a moment to acknowledge the LGBTQ+ community, a group that has also been marginalized and subjected to legal inequities since our country’s founding.

 

June 2020 was the 21st annual celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, a quasi-legal historical recognition that has existed since 1999. Pride Month has been recognized by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (and informally by Trump, in a 2017 tweet), and has been the subject of debate since gay marriage was legalized in the United States five years ago. Preceding its creation, however, LGBTQ+ people have been subject to backlash for centuries due to social stigmatization, ostracization, and other factors that prevent them from obtaining fair treatment by the government and American society. Pride Month is not only a celebration of the unabashedly proud queer identity, but also a nod to the centuries of mistreatment that the LGBTQ+ community faced in America.         

 

Pride Month was originally instituted to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, a series of revolts against the police which were led by members of New York City’s thriving LGBTQ+ community. The Riots, which occurred during the end of June 1969, marked the beginning of the modern Gay Rights Movement and were a breakthrough for the LGBTQ+ community. Stonewall helped garner public support for the LGBTQ+ division of the Civil Rights movement, as well as gain publicity for a cause previously considered none of the government’s “official business;” up until that point, the topic of queer identity was too taboo to be discussed publicly.

 

Pride Month is an extended celebration of the minority struggle, queer identity, and of the vibrant and thriving LGBTQ+ community that has been striving for positive change for generations. This year, it was harder to celebrate considering that the Manhattan Pride Parade, an event that attracts hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world, was cancelled while most of the US was still in lockdown. 2020 Pride was held via a virtual conference this past Saturday, but it did not nearly do the real event justice. Going to Pride is a lifetime milestone for many queer people, and for others an annual tradition that brings them a sense of joy and community.

 

It’s arguable that now more than ever Pride is a necessity to securing the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, many LGBTQ+ people, especially queer youth, are more vulnerable to homophobia due to being forced into quarantine with unsupportive family members. For many teens, school is a safe space where they can assume the truest version of themselves and be comfortable out with their identities. In addition, Pride shines a light onto issues that non-queer people (known as cishets, or cisgender heterosexuals) would otherwise not be aware of. LGBTQ+ history is so often deliberately left out of public education due to its controversial nature, leading to misinformation and ignorance surrounding the queer community and the struggles they face daily. Being queer is one of the few experiences that no one can ever understand unless they are personally are affected by it. Popular books and movies such as Love, Simon do their best to emulate this feeling, but the massive upheaval of personal identity and journey of self-discovery and acceptance is too complex for a silver-screen adaptation. This is why the scholarly embrace of Pride is so important; it acts as another gateway for underrepresented queer youth to voice their identities and gain support in an academic environment. Navigating the inner workings of the modern high school system is incredibly daunting, not to mention socially ostracising enough without the added implications of being a minority of any kind.

 

Many people, especially those who are younger, who live in unsupportive homes, or are closeted, choose to celebrate more quietly and privately. To all of you, this is my message: you are incredibly valid and loved, and whether you are out or not, still figuring things out, or scared – you will be okay.

 

One of the most popular counterarguments to the existence of Pride Month is that the month-long celebration of the queer struggle diverts attention away from other “holidays” that celebrate other underrepresented groups, such as Veterans Day. My response to this is that Pride Month is not necessarily a month to revere queer people; it is more akin to Black History Month in that both serve as a monument to acknowledge the mistreatment that minorities have faced in the past at the hands of the government. The purpose of Pride Month is to celebrate and remember the decades of harassment and mistreatment that queer people have faced as a result of their identities, and prevent future discrimination by normalizing the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people. Despite the good intentions of the government to preserve those groups’ rights by implementing these historic months, the LGBTQ+ and Black communities both deserve more than one month of tolerance per year to make up for decades of mistreatment, oppression, and violence.

 

Another counterargument is the suggestion of a “Straight Pride” which has existed since the 1980s, mostly as a form of degradation and mockery of the LGBTQ+ community. Proponents of its existence claim that in order to preach “universal equality,” non-queer people  should be able to openly celebrate their orientations as well in a “Straight Pride month.” As I see it, straight/cisgender pride is the privilege of not being shamed for your non-chosen sexual orientation. It is the privilege of being able to publicly date without having to pretend that your significant other is your sibling. It is the privilege of being able to live vibrantly and authentically with no fear of being judged or disowned by your family. It is the privilege of not having to conceal a major part of your identity to protect yourself from assailants or the bystanders who deem homophobia as acceptable “traditionalism.” Cishet privilege is not needing the Supreme Court of the United States to validate your rights to an inclusive and safe work environment.

 

The following are testaments by Long Island students on what Pride’s value is and what it means to them.

 

“Pride is so important to the LGBT community… We are proud to be who we are, we are proud to be a part of the LGBT community. Pride welcomes us with open arms when others will not, it gives us a home and makes us feel safe. It changes lives and lights up smiles… ” – Lawrence High School Class of ‘20

 

“… Rather than comparing the number of days other groups are nationally celebrated, we should focus our attention on the meaning behind pride month and all the struggles LGBTQ+ individuals had to endure to get to the position of being able to openly celebrate their true selves.” – Manhasset High School Class of ‘23

 

“Pride is not only a celebration of the progress made for the LGBT rights movement, but also a call for future action.” – Manhasset High School Class of ‘20

 

“Pride month is important because it lets everybody celebrate… themselves and [it] recognizes the struggles of LGBTQ+ people throughout the past and present. Pride acknowledges oppression and helps people strive for better. It allows similar people to communicate and realize that they are not alone in their struggle. Pride month helps empower people and let them be proud of who they are.” – Manhasset High School Class of ‘22

 

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights… it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remorse repression.” – Farmingdale High School Class ‘22 (quote by Elie Wiesel)

 

“Pride is a statement that change is needed to protect the rights of LGBTQ people and to show that sexuality and gender identity isn’t something to be ashamed of.” – Manhasset High School Class of ‘22

Lastly my testament: “Pride is the catalyst needed for so many young and impressionable queer people to be able to embrace themselves. When their own families or institutions fail them, Pride offers a home and unconditional love and acceptance. The LGBTQ+ community is our ‘chosen’ family and Pride is a celebration of that: not only of the struggle for equality, but of the love that comes from forming a community of people built on struggle and similarity.”

No matter what your identity is or what your relationship with the LGBTQ+ community is, this is a monumental time of change for everyone. It’s important that during this time of social isolation that we are supportive of each other, both emotionally and mentally. Together, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for our peers, both in and outside of school. Together, we can champion for the betterment and rehabilitation of minorities in the United States and enact positive change.