June is LGBT Pride Month

By José Rafael Rivera

On June 28, 1969, just after 3:00 AM, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street. Although there were several legitimate reasons for this particular raid (serving alcohol without a license was one), the New York City gay, lesbian and transgender community had grown tired of being targeted – by then, a majority of the gay bars in the area had been closed after raids that included beatings and public humiliation of the bars’ employees and patrons. As it had happened numerous times before, the crowd on the street watched silently as the all-too-common scene repeated itself. But this time, when three drag queens and a lesbian were forced into the paddy wagon, the crowd erupted. In a scene similar to the iconic “Network” (1976) diatribe “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” the crowd began to express their outrage and eventually forced the police to withdraw into the bar for shelter.

For the next few days, tensions built, incited by many factors, such as The Village Voice, a local newspaper, describing the events and its participants as “Sunday fag follies,” “forces of faggotry,” and “limp wrists.” The situation had become “intolerable” for too many of our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters. And demonstrations began to spontaneously burgeon through the City.

The riots of that early morning in June and the demonstrations that followed during several days afterwards in New York City soon galvanized gay, lesbian and transgender communities throughout the country. For many, this was the beginning of our community coming together to protest on behalf of equal rights.

We have come a long way.

  • 1973: the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders since the first publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1952 (yes, I was officially “mentally ill” for the first 21 years of my life).
  • 1977: activists in Florida’s Dade County passed a civil rights ordinance making sexual orientation discrimination illegal.
  • 1980: during the Democratic National Convention, Democrats added to their plank: “All groups must be protected from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, language, age, sex or sexual orientation (italics mine).”
  • 1982: Wisconsin became the first state to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • 1993: Minnesota becomes the first state to outlaw discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity (transgender civil rights protection);
  • 2000: Vermont became the first state to legally recognize civil unions between gay or lesbian couples.
  • May 17, 2004: same-sex marriages became legal in Massachusetts. By 9:30 on that morning Peter and I held our marriage license as we walked out of Worcester City Hall; we had been together for 18 years then. We were finally wed on June 19.
  • December 18, 2010, President Obama officially repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy.
  • June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) , which denied same-sex couples more than 1,000 government-protected rights and privileges enjoyed by other-sex couples --  including everything from Social Security disability payments to the ability to leave work to care for a sick spouse.
  • As of April, 2015, 37 states have legal same-sex status. We have elected officials, professional athletes, entertainers, and colleagues, neighbors, friends, loved ones, and relatives who are happily and safely “out.”

But we still have far to go. Only a few tears ago, we were sadly flooded by news of too many young men and women who had committed suicide after being bullied simply for being gay or lesbian. “Gay conversion therapy,” (unsubstantiated therapeutic techniques used to “treat” and change and individual’s sexual orientation) is still being proclaimed as effective and even necessary. In recent years, “reputable” newscasters and vocal religious groups have blamed very tragic events on individuals’ “preoccupation with gay issues” or “rage over homosexual tendencies”. The events publicly and loudly blamed on homosexuality include:

  • This month’s Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 in Philadelphia (Fox news contributor Nancy Rios);
  • An airline pilot who “put his entire plane at risk because he had an emotional, angry outburst to something that happened,” which reporter Nancy Rios went on to say was “connected to the hormone therapy he was receiving at the time”;
  • The 2014 mass shooting by 22-year old Elliot Rodger, which left 6 people dead (Dr. Rubi Ludwig, a Fox News psychotherapist);
  • Plagues, tornadoes and autism (Susanne Atanus, a GOP nominee for the Illinois 9th, was quoted by the Daily Herald as saying that God had visited everything from tornadoes to autism and dementia upon the earth as punishment for gay marriage. “Everybody knows that God controls weather,” she said in yet another newspaper interview, ”God is super angry. Gay marriage is not appropriate, and it doesn’t look right, and it breeds AIDS.” She won the nomination shortly after making these statements);
  • The 2008 economic collapse (Rick Santorum);
  • Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina (preacher and radio host John McTernan);
  • And even the events of 9/11, when Reverend Jerry Fallwell said about the ACLU and “the Gays” among others: “I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”

Although, for many of us, these accusations and allegations seem outrageous and even nonsensical, they are a part of our societal climate and terrifying for someone who is already feeling afraid and alone.

In 2000, President Clinton declared June “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month;” and President Barak Obama has issued proclamations declaring June “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month” every year since 2009. In his 2014 Proclamation, President Obama wrote: “This month, as we mark 45 years since the patrons of the Stonewall Inn defied an unjust policy and awakened a nascent movement, let us honor every brave leader who stood up, sat in, and came out, as well as the allies who supported them along the way. Following their example, let each of us speak for tolerance, justice, and dignity -- because if hearts and minds continue to change over time, laws will too.”

This June, today, tomorrow and always I also ask us to acknowledge, honor, celebrate, and most importantly, join those whose voices and actions are a source of solace, safety  and hope for our gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, and transgender brothers and sisters who are at any stage in the not-always easy path of “coming out."

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