By Rebecca Wang, J.D., If/When/How Helpline Counsel

It’s Pride month, friends. Happy Pride! This is going to be a strange Pride season for sure, so in lieu of attending a parade, I would like to talk about the first Pride, which was actually a riot.

I’ve been pretty lucky to be born into a relatively progressive family, in a relatively progressive place, during a relatively progressive time. So when I came out, life went on as normal for the most part. I’ve never been physically or verbally assaulted for being queer, I’ve never been discriminated against by a doctor, an employer, or a landlord. I’ve certainly never been dragged out of a gay bar by police, been forced to prove I was wearing three items of women’s clothing, or been subsequently beaten before getting arrested. But of course, these are all things that have historically happened to people who were not cisgender or straight, including up to present day.

Do I have my bit of freedom to be openly queer through happenstance? Did change happen in a vacuum? Did homophobes and transphobes just naturally, out of the goodness of their hearts, decide to magnanimously allow me this life?

Definitely not. 

People in power have always held onto power by suppressing civil rights through violence and control. Civil rights in this country only exist or are enforced (to the extent that they do or are) today because activists, by choice or by circumstance, paid in blood, sweat, and tears. Historically, law enforcement as an institution and law enforcement officers as individuals have worked to protect the status quo and not hesitated to use violence and brutality to quash dissent. Civil rights activists risked every possible kind of physical harm, abuse, and trauma to push back against systemic oppression and injustice. Although many of them did not survive to see the fruits of their own labors, we have all benefited from their efforts. 

In this spirit, I offer my profound thanks to those who came before and those who are still fighting by honoring the Stonewall Riots.

It started with a community of LGBT+ folks, who gathered to share in the joy of being together as themselves. It started with another in a long line of police raids, because it was illegal for people like me to hold hands with, kiss, or dance with the people they loved. It started with Black and Brown queer and trans women leading their community to the streets for days of rioting — with plenty of broken glass and thrown bricks involved — rising up against the violence that police brought down on the protestors. It started with a community that had been pushed beyond their limits, this was a community constantly subjected to state violence, and a community that had been repeatedly silenced and ignored by people in power and society at large. People called us deviants, monsters, and abusers, and said that we deserved whatever brutality we got from the police and society at large. Why? Because we were vocal about wanting to live our lives in peace. Because they saw us as inconveniences at best and threats at worst. Because we existed.

The Stonewall Riots did not start the LGBT+ rights movement, but they were a catalyst that galvanized the entire country toward action. The first Pride march in the U.S. happened on the one-year anniversary of Stonewall and is now celebrated annually all around the country. 

And things are changing. Not fast enough to save all of us, but they are changing. 

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that we can’t be fired from our jobs because of our sexual orientation or gender identity. I want to see this as purely good news in light of everything that is happening right now. However, employers with religious objections may still be able to override civil rights protections. Only one person out of the three original plaintiffs in the cases that lead to the Bostock ruling — plaintiffs who had been harassed out of their jobs — actually lived to see this outcome. While heartened by this decision, I cannot ignore the fundamental injustice in having to appeal to people in power to recognize the inherent humanity and value in myself and people like me. Meanwhile, folks in our community still cannot live in peace and safety; at least 12 trans and gender non-forming individuals have been killed this year alone, some by law enforcement. Discrimination runs through every system that is supposed to serve us when we are at our most vulnerable, yet “first do no harm” continues to ring hollow as our government continues to back healthcare providers that want to deny care to trans patients.

This Pride month, we can continue to reject the corporatization of many Pride celebrations and center our efforts on celebrating our community, honoring our elders and ancestors in the movement, and reminding each other of the importance of keeping lit the torch of action that they passed on to us. For each of us today who has benefitted from the legacy of the Stonewall Riots, holding the torch is a promise to protect and fight for our communities and all the other communities like ours. It is a promise to move in solidarity — to say Black Trans Lives Matter, to support ongoing efforts to defund and dismantle police departments, and to demand accountability for the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, amongst countless others

Non-Black LGBT+ folks, these fights are also our fights. So tell me, my friends, what are you doing to work toward our collective liberation this Pride season?

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of If/When/How. If you like what you read, consider dropping a few bucks in our tip jar or sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter.