Pride Month: The Past is Present

Pride Month: The Past is Present

It is June 2020 and America continues to suffer from a months-long pandemic. Rage over 400 years of systemic oppression and violence has erupted into passioned pleas for the recognition of Black humanity. It is June 2020, and it is also Pride Month. The parades are canceled, and dancing will be limited to our living rooms (where it likely would have been limited for me anyway). This year feels very different from the colorful celebrations that are the contemporary image of Pride, and yet I find myself thinking about Pride and it roots more than ever. 

On June 28, 1969, Christopher Street in New York city erupted in chaos as patrons of the Stonewall Inn refused to disperse as police raided the bar and violated and arrested trans and queer patrons. This interaction turned into a multiple day, often violent exchange, between the LGBTQIA+ community of the Greenwich Village and the police. One year later, 50 years ago this month, the Christopher Street Liberation Day march, along with marches the same weekend in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, were the first Gay Pride Marches in U.S. history.    

Following the Stonewall Riots, Pride marches grew across the nation and to other parts of the world and many LGBTQIA+ rights organizations were formed, giving more visibility and solidarity to people who had been shunned from “polite” society. 

Just over a decade later, an unknown and incurable disease ripped through the gay community, killing much of a generation of gay men and trans women. They had to fight for healthcare, for compassion, for the President to even admit they existed or that their lives mattered. HIV/AIDS further galvanized the gay movement, and the lessons of political engagement and activism became vital in fights for LGBTQIA+ rights in the following decade.   

As I sit in my living room (office, and sometimes dance club) with my husband, dog and cat, it is often easy to feel like Pride is a celebration of a battle won. As a white cisgender male, I have to recognize my privilege in realizing many of the rights and benefits won by generations of those who fought these difficult fights. I have to remember that a riot against unjust policing led by trans women of color 51 years ago has led to my ability to live a comfortable open life, all while trans people continue to face a constant barrage of discriminatory policies and Black people are demanding that police and their fellow citizens stop treating their lives as expendable. I have to remember that a fight for health during a pandemic when I was only an infant built the political infrastructure that allowed me to marry my husband some 30 years later.  

As an out gay man who has spent his career designing healthcare spaces, I need to reconcile the fact that healthcare spaces were scenes of isolation and trauma for thousands of gay men a few decades ago, and these spaces still often fail to adequately serve many in our society. While the HIV/AIDs pandemic feels long distant in my life, HIV still impacts communities of color at higher numbers and with harsher impacts than white communities. A new viral pandemic is starkly revealing all the inequalities in our society and how our public health infrastructure is still failing many of our communities. 

As a gay man in 2020, I have much to celebrate and immense pride, but this is not a celebration of a battle won. The battle for equal treatment under the law, the battle for health and safety, the battle for the recognition of humanity and value in all of our fellow humans is ongoing. It is June 2020, and this Pride Month we need to remember that we need to keep up the hard work, let our voices be heard, and stay in the fight. Happy Pride!