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Sexual Orientation

The Oppressive History of LGBTQ+ Communities Worldwide

Why we must continue bringing attention to LGBTQ+ equity and justice.

Key points

  • The first Pride march commemorated the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.
  • Pride parades are joyous occasions, but also serve as memorials for thousands lost to HIV/AIDS and violence.
  • LGBTQ+ people still experience inequities in government, healthcare, the immigration system, and more.

Every June - as people across the globe commemorate LGBTQ+ Pride Month - rainbows explode across various social media platforms, company marketing campaigns, and city streets. But do people really know the history of Pride?

The first Pride celebration took place in 1970, a year after the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, commemorating the first anniversary of the multi-day unrest in which trans and queer people fought back against one of their greatest oppressors: the police. That first Pride march was a political declaration that LGBTQ+ people had the right to exist and that LGBTQ+ people would not be silent to police brutality or any other oppression any longer.

Participants of earlier Pride marches were not met with many cheers on the sidelines; onlookers did not shower them with glitter or rainbow confetti, or love. Instead, angry passers-by often greeted them with homophobic and transphobic slurs (as well as an array of hurled objects).

In the mid-1980s, just as queer joy began to flourish around the country, the HIV/AIDS epidemic began to kill thousands of people each year. By the year 2000, it was reported that 448,060 Americans died of AIDS-related illnesses, with disproportionate deaths of queer and trans people. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ people continued to be killed in violent ways - from the assassination of Harvey Milk, to the mysterious murders of Marsha P. Johnson and Venus Xtravaganza, to the hate crime murders of Julio Rivera, Sakia Gunn, Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, FC Martinez, Islan Nettles, Mark Carson, Brandon Teena, Matthew Shepard, and so many more.

In the 2000s, LGBTQ+ communities started to collectively acknowledge the number of queer and trans youth who died by suicide, with stories of victims who reported incessant bullying by their peers. In the 2010s, reports emerged regarding the number of trans people (especially Black trans women) who were murdered annually, noting how that number increases every year.

With all the loss and trauma across LGBTQ communities worldwide, Pride organizers began to institutionalize “moments of silence” at their parades and other events. Sixty seconds of serenity became sobering reminders that while there was so much to celebrate, there was so much to mourn too. Thus, Pride parades were no longer just a chance to declare that LGBTQ+ people were here but also a way to memorialize the thousands who were no longer here.

I hope that people remember how much we still need to fight for. This past year alone, trans rights have been attacked on multiple levels - from the banning of trans-affirming healthcare for youth in Arkansas to the numerous bills introduced to restrict trans people from playing on sports teams matching their gender identities. Undocumented trans and queer migrants are still being denied asylum or citizenship, and many transLatina migrants are being brutalized at immigration detention centers. Compared to heterosexual and cisgender people, LGBTQ+ people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, with many experiencing vitriolic violence in prisons. LGBTQ+ people have a higher prevalence of physical and mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide, and other inequities - with increased challenges for LGBTQ+ people of color and LGBTQ+ people with disabilities. Even amidst this global COVID-19 pandemic, preliminary research finds LGBTQ+ people are more likely than non-LGBTQ+ people to report significant psychological distress and negative economic outcomes.

 Kevin Nadal, used with permission
The author's last in-person Pride Parade (Honolulu in October 2019)
Source: Kevin Nadal, used with permission

Given all of these factors, my call to my LGBTQ+ siblings and our allies to celebrate this Pride with more than just rainbow flags and glitter. Channeling our foremothers, forefathers, and foreparents who rioted and resisted for freedom, we must also fight against our oppressors. While your revolution need not involve throwing bricks or Molotov cocktails, I offer a few simple steps to advance LGBTQ+ equity and justice.

  1. Talk to your kids early about diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. While teaching young people to be open-minded and accepting is an important parenting technique, teaching children about LGBTQ+ equity can help ensure two things. First, if your child later identifies as LGBTQ+, you will have provided them with a safer space to live their truths - potentially saving them from the pains and traumas reported by queer and trans people who come from unsupportive families or communities. If your child is not LGBTQ+, your advocacy may result in raising future allies and accomplices who can make it easier for future generations of LGBTQ+ people. If you believe in love and equity, it’s a win-win situation.
  2. Encourage your workplaces and organizations to go beyond integrating rainbows into their logos or profile pictures or selling Pride-related merchandise. Teach your colleagues about the origins of Pride, as well as the current issues affecting LGBTQ communities. Celebrate trans heroes and sheroes at your staff meetings and on your department’s listservs. Encourage people to donate to queer and trans nonprofit organizations and mutual aid funds. Start an LGBTQ+ book club or film series. While you can do all of these things in June, you can also do them every other month of the year.
  3. Contact your legislators to let them know how you feel about anti-trans bills and other anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Many politicians will listen if their constituents are loud and vocal (especially if going against the masses may cost them future elections). In April, the governor of Arkansas vetoed the aforementioned anti-trans healthcare bill - likely because many constituents collectively vocalized their dissent. While that bill eventually passed, our voices do matter; in fact, preliminary research supports that our votes do too.
  4. Uplift all LGBTQ+ community members - intentionally centering the voices of trans and queer people with historically marginalized identities. Let’s not be complicit in the erasure of diverse LGBTQ+ subgroups. Say something when Pride events do not have equitable representation of trans and non-binary folks; Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Arab Americans, and other people of color; people with disabilities; and people of other minoritized groups. Because Pride was created to promote the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, it must not become an exclusive event in itself. Let’s especially be intentional in honoring the voices and experiences of Black trans women and other trans women of color - for our movement would be nothing without them.

Whatever you do this month, please remember that we must collectively fight against transphobia, heterosexism, and all forms of oppression; every little act of resistance can go a long way. And finally, please remember that while rainbows and glitter are cute, equity and justice are cuter.

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