Here’s a riddle for you:
When can you see a rainbow at night?
During Pride Month!
Yes, it’s that time of the year again; the LGBTQIA2S+ community’s beloved celebration of all things Q-U-E-E-R!
June is the internationally recognized celebration of the self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and increased visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and 2 Spirit people as a social group.
Pride Month is a time where the entire community is encouraged to come together and show their support and solidarity; this could be a business placing rainbow flags in their shopfront, a large parade down the street, a post on social media, a donation to a queer charity, or a small celebration within a friend group. Much like other celebrations and public awareness events, Pride Month is important for more than just the month of June, Pride is important every day of the year, because LGBTQIA2S+ people still experience discrimination every day of the year.
Pride, or rather what Pride symbolizes, is something more than just the literal definition of the word “Pride.” It’s about strength, perseverance, courage, love and self-acceptance. Pride Month didn’t start off as a big parade where the L’s, B’s, G’s and the T’s would brandish themselves with an obscene amount of glitter and body paint as they dance down the street to Cher; Pride Month actually signifies a historic moment in LGBTQIA2S+ history – The Stonewall Riots. This was an incident that kicked off a global Gay Rights liberation movement, that would eventually bring an end to the severe mistreatment, discrimination and marginalization that queer people have experienced within the past half-century.
During this section I will be referring to the LGBTQIA2S+ community by the acronym “LGBT” as this was the common term used during the era of the Stonewall Riots and gay liberation movement.
It was quite literally the summer of ‘69; Richard Nixon was sworn in as the 37th president of the United States of America, Apollo 11 landed on The Moon, and The Beatles gave their final live performance atop the Apple building in London, England.
During this time in America, consensual same-sex conduct was still considered illegal in most US states (including New York), homosexuality was listed as a sociopathic personality disturbance, it was illegal to wear clothing of the opposite gender, and it was acceptable for workplaces to fire their staff for being homosexual.
For such reasons (and many more), LGBT individuals would flock to gay bars and clubs; a safe haven where they could express themselves openly and socialize without fear. However, the New York State Liquor Authority penalized and shut down establishments that served alcohol to known or suspected LGBT individuals, arguing that the mere gathering of homosexuals was “disorderly”, one establishment of which being the now historic Stonewall Inn.
The Stonewall Inn was a very popular gay bar in New York City, being the one of few gay bars (if any) where dancing was allowed, and where women and drag queens were allowed entry. Unlike dancing, what wasn’t uncommon in gay bars throughout America were raids on gay bars by police.
At around 1:20am on Saturday the 28th of June, 1969, police officers entered the Stonewall Inn, roughed-up patrons, and arrested 13 people, including people violating the state’s “gender-appropriate” clothing statute (female officers would then take suspected cross-dressing patrons into the bathroom to check their sex).
Rather than disperse, the club patrons as well as neighbourhood residents hung around outside Stonewall, becoming increasingly agitated as the events unfolded. Sick and tired of constant police harassment, brutality and social discrimination, and watching how police aggressively manhandled people, the crowd waited for the straw to break the camels back – and did it ever.
As a lesbian (arrested for wearing masculine clothing) was hit over the head by an officer forcing her into a police van, she shouted for onlookers to act, which sparked a barrage of pennies, bottles, cobbles stones, bricks and other objects being hurled at police.
Within minutes, the now historic Stonewall riot had begun, forcing police to retreat into the Stonewall Inn for protection from the growing mob, to await backup. Shortly after 4am, things settled down, and amazingly, no one died or was critically injured on the first night of rioting.
In the days that followed, more protests and riots continued, and the Stonewall Inn became a gathering place for LGBT Activists. With Stonewall, the spirit of ‘60s rebellion spread to LGBT people throughout New York and beyond, who for the first time found themselves part of a community. Though the gay rights movement didn’t begin at Stonewall, the uprising did mark a turning point, aiding in the establishment of groups like the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA).
On the first anniversary of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, gay activists in New York decided to organize an event to round off the city’s first ever Gay Pride Week. The event was called the Christopher Street Liberation March, where LGBT people would gather and begin marching up 6th Avenue toward Central Park. Still being 1970, and still being an environment that misunderstood and vilified LGBT people, this march could have gone a number of different ways. As several hundred people began marching up 6th Avenue, they noticed that onlookers from the crowd didn’t hurl abuse, they joined them. More and more onlookers would leave their place on the sidelines and meet the procession, which eventually stretched some 15 city blocks, encompassing thousands of people.
With a successful and peaceful parade taking place in New York, the world watched and learned, and inspired by New York’s example, activists in other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, organized gay pride celebrations that same year. The frenzy of activism born on that first night at Stonewall would eventually fuel gay rights movements in Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, among other countries, becoming a lasting force that would carry on for the next half-century and beyond to become what we know and cherish today as Pride Month.
Pride Month has certainly evolved from the days of the Stonewall Riots and Gay Rights movements. It is now a global celebration where banks, supermarkets, cafes, bars, restaurants, newspapers, tech companies and more will construct a rainbow-themed version of their company logo that they place on their social media pages and website. Some people argue that Pride Month has become a marketing tool for businesses, corporations and individuals, so that they can capitalize on the all powerful Pink Dollar – a term coined that refers to the specific wealth that LGBTQIA2S+ individuals bring to the global economy. While this does hold some truth to it, and we can definitely look at this through cynically-tinted glasses, there is a bigger picture here.
We all know what “coming out of the closet” means, right? The moment that an LGBTQIA2S+ person reveals their sexuality or gender identity; it can be to a family member, a friend, on a social media post, and so on. Many people think that LGBTQIA2S+ people come out once, and that’s it; they are here, they are queer, get used to it! But this really isn’t the case. Queer people come out Every. Single. Day.
Because we live in a heteronormative society (one that assumes that heterosexuality is the default), queer people must come out when entering any new settling; when meeting a person at a party and talking about their same-sex partner, when starting a new job and talking about their exes, informing a interviewee of our preferred pronouns. Where this is a cause severe anxiety and stress for queer people is knowing that there are still those out there who aren’t accepting of LGBTQIA2S+ people, and can often be cruel, discriminatory and even violent towards them. As a result, queer people need to navigate the world and how we express our queerness, just in case we find ourselves in the wrong place, with the wrong person, at the wrong time. A space where this is often a source of anxiety for many a queer person is the workplace. This is a place where we spend one third of our lives, where we are exposed to a variety of different people, and where there are often hierarchies and power dynamics that historically place heterosexual, cis-gendered, white people at the top and marginalized folks at the bottom.
While this isn’t predominately the case in the 21st Century, this form of systemic prejudice hasn’t been completely eradicated from workplace environments, and may exist in one way or another. It is therefore imperative that proactive strategies and policies are implemented to ensure that the workplace is an equitable and safe place for everyone. There is indeed extensive research surrounding organizational-supportive policies for LGBTQIA2S+ people that are associated with multiple positive outcomes, such as staff well-being and job satisfaction.
Non-discrimination policies, allyship networks, health insurance for same-sex partners, and disciplinary measures to prevent discrimination are examples of these support policies for marginalized groups. When an organization supports minorities (i.e., if the organization itself is seen as an “ally”), the positive outcomes for the company can be quantified by objective measures such as productivity or morale, but for the queer individual, the feeling of safety and acceptance is immeasurable.
So while some may mock, eye-roll or scoff at corporations and businesses for placing a rainbow filter over their logo, when done in good faith and combined with proactive support, this is a sign of community and solidarity. It is equal parts celebration and acknowledgement. It highlights the importance of visibility; that with each rainbow placed into the community, the more that queer people, young and old, will see themselves being not just accepted by the world around them, but being embraced by it.
In the age of social media it is easier than ever to spread damaging misinformation about marginalized groups, without even realizing that you are doing it. As unfortunate as it is, there are still people out there that work to hurt LGBTQIA2S+ people (in particular transgender and gender-non-confirming folk), and often they bury the lead or twist the truth to do so. Engaging in material produced by these groups (or anyone for that matter) without making sure that it is legitimate and doesn’t have an insidious agenda can add to the prejudice and discrimination that marginalized groups experience. When you are faced with a post, article, or comment that makes certain statements about minorities, even if it has “evidence,” before engaging, ask yourself these questions:
These questions don’t just apply to potentially anti-LGBTQIA2S+ material, but is just good social media practise in general to help ensure that you are representing yourself appropriately, as well as not contributing to sharing inaccurate and harmful information.
While the rights and acceptance of queer people has come a long way, there is still prejudice and discrimination that remains in both conscious and unconscious ways. When you think of homophobia or transphobia, often you may think of someone yelling slurs, physical violence, or politicians and groups working to deny rights to queer people. These are examples of conscious prejudice and discrimination, and are quite obvious and are widely viewed as unacceptable. When it comes to unconscious examples, that is where things get murky and can be just as toxic. It’s things like someone asking “who is the man in the relationship” to a lesbian couple, or calling something or someone “gay” when referring to something frustrating or odd. These work to reinforce negative ideas about LGBTQIA2S+ people, it continues to “other” queer folk and subtly undermines progression and acceptance by the wider community. Standing up to any form of intolerance and discrimination, even if it was done subconsciously, is part of being a proactive ally within your family, friend group, workplace and beyond.
In the 20th century, in many countries through Europe, North America and Australia/Oceania, we are very fortunate to live where there is a much greater understanding of LGBTQIA2S+ people, where Pride Month gets to be a celebration of self-love, self-acceptance and self-expression. While there certainly is a lot more understanding, acceptance and equality for those who identify as LGBTQIA2S+, there is still an ever-present need for Pride Month and for what it represents. “Memory is what shapes us. Memory is what teaches us. We must understand that’s where our redemption is,” said Estelle Laughlin, a Holocaust survivor. This not only applies to the tragedy of the Holocaust, but any form of hatred, discrimination, or violence towards a group of people. So while we may look at Pride Month as only applying to the LGBTQIA2S+ community, it is a reminder of what has happened and where we have come as a global community. The fact that I, an openly Gay man, not only has the permission but the enthusiastic approval by his boss to write an entire blog post about Pride Month and LGBTQIA2S+ history for his work’s website shows how far we have come, and just how rewarding proactive support and acceptance is.
This is the importance of Pride, and this is the importance of public and proactive support – it means little or nothing to heterosexual, cis-gendered people, but it is the freshest, sweetest, most liberating breath of fresh air that this queer Aussie has ever inhaled. When I arrived at 8 West Clinic for my interview, the Clinic Manager discussed that a primary value for all staff is empathy, sensitivity and acceptance, as we work with a number of different patients, including transgender men and women. From that moment, I knew that this was a workplace I am safe to be myself in – and I have never felt more at home. Happy Pride, everyone 💜
QMUNITY: BC’s Queer Resource Centre