Pride: The Journey of Celebrating Diversity

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” 

– Harvey Fierstein, Actor, Playwright, Screenwriter, LGBTQ+ Activist

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Inspiring words, yes. Easy to live by? One could argue, no, not so easy.

Sadly and as we are all aware, the LGBTQ+ community has endured decades of intolerance, abuse and discrimination. Throughout the years, tactics used by those motivated to hurt this community have certainly changed. Today we find ourselves battling homophobic, transphobic abuse online in addition to the other ugly actions. Social media has given a megaphone and worse yet, anonymity to those determined to reject diversity and inclusion and inflict pain. However, this community endures, and this month especially stands proud and celebrates.

Beginnings

On June 1, Gay Pride Month began. According to the Library of Congress, and many who were there, the first Pride march in New York City was held on June 28, 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. This, the first U.S. Gay Pride Week and March, were the first steps take to give the community a chance to gather together to “…commemorate the Christopher Street Uprisings of the previous summer in which thousands of gay people went to the streets to demonstrate against centuries of abuse … from government hostility to employment and housing discrimination, Mafia control of gay bars, and anti-homosexual laws.”

In 1994, a coalition of US education-based organizations took steps and designated October as LGBTQ+ History Month. In 1995, a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the National Education Association included LGBTQ+ History Month within a list of commemorative months. National Coming Out Day (October 11), as well as the first “March on Washington” in 1979, are commemorated in LGBTQ+ History Month.

The original Gay Pride Week eventually grew in popularity and spread across the country from New York to San Francisco. Each city across the US chose its own day, and eventually Gay Pride Week had turned into Gay Pride Month.

Progress

In last year’s White House declaration by President Biden, it was noted that, “The LGBTQ+ community in America has achieved remarkable progress since Stonewall.  Historic Supreme Court rulings in recent years have struck down regressive laws, affirmed the right to marriage equality, and secured workplace protections for LGBTQ+ individuals in every State and Territory. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act broadened the definition of hate crimes to include crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community now serve in nearly every level of public office — in city halls and State capitals, Governors’ mansions, and the halls of the Congress, and throughout my Administration. Nearly 14 percent of my 1,500 agency appointees identify as LGBTQ+, and I am particularly honored by the service of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly LGBTQ+ person to serve in the Cabinet, and Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate.”

The Biden White House has also appointed the first Black and LGBTQ+ Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Previously, Jean-Pierre was a regional director in the Obama White House Office of Political Affairs, the senior advisor and national spokesperson for MoveOn.org, and a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. She is also a former lecturer in international and public affairs at Columbia University, and an immigrant from Haiti.

Miles To Go

Karine Jean-Pierre’s career is clearly notable and yet, a hard-working immigrant from Haiti, who worked her way through school at Columbia following the American dream, still experiences the impact of hate speech. Most recently both Russian State TV and Fox News have made negative comments about her sexuality, gender, and skin color, both on air and online.

So, we stand, nearly 52 years after the first Gay Pride march, people are still being bullied and harassed. From those holding political office to online gamers, to children in school; cyberbullies are still lashing out at those who lead non-heterosexual, non-binary lives.

In a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League on the world of online gaming, nearly three quarters (74%) of online multiplayer gamers have experienced some form of verbal abuse. The harassment included being called names, trolling, discrimination and threats of physical violence. Of that 74%, LGBTQ+ players were the second most harassed group at 35% (women were first at 38%). These numbers stand out as the online gaming world is rapidly growing (65% of all adults play) and has evolved into multiplayer social games much like social media.

According to the non-profit STOMP Out Bullying, the leading national anti-bullying and cyberbullying organization for kids and teens in the U.S., and sadly, these statistics for cyberbullying in online gaming roughly parallel the life of an LGBTQ+ person in today’s schools where 9 out of 10 LGBTQ+ students report being harassed or bullied.

Education

How do we stop this threat to humanity? Education. Because yes, you CAN say Gay.

In the 2021 Welcoming Schools Annual Report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, it was found that teachers can be one of the critical focal points in helping prevent bullying by simply being trained in how to communicate with, and about,  LGBTQ+ students. By creating welcoming schools for everyone, all boats rise with the tide. The Welcoming Schools program is committed to working with schools and school districts to implement policies, procedures, and practices that demarginalize people of color and LGBTQ+ students.

“If name-calling or other discrimination happens at school and goes either unnoticed or is not discussed by adults, students infer that the behavior is widely accepted.” FE. Aboud, Ph.D.

Creating a safe environment for all students – LGBTQ+ and straight alike – begins with acceptance, tolerance, and respect. In 2017 the Madison Metropolitan School District took steps and adopted the Welcoming Schools instructional program. Over 80% of the district’s schools opted into partnering with the program which reduced suspension rates by 73%, reports of assault dropped 74%, and endangering behavior reports declined by 26% district wide. All of which was accomplished by creating a program that informs teachers and students on how to communicate and celebrate our differences yet honor our similarities.

Schools should be a young person’s primary center for learning, growing, and building a foundation for success in the world. High school, however, can be challenging for any student. LGBTQ+ youth face additional obstacles of harassment, abuse, and violence. Gay teens are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide and 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression compared with peers.

The Message

Let’s go back to Jean-Pierre again for a moment, when speaking about her experience with the Obama administration in an interview with The Advocate, Jean-Pierre said, “What’s been wonderful is that I was not the only; I was one of many. President Obama didn’t hire LGBTQ+ staffers, he hired experienced individuals who happen to be LGBTQ+. Serving and working for President Obama where you can be openly gay has been an amazing honor. It felt incredible to be a part of an administration that prioritizes LGBTQ+ issues.”

And in that quote from Karine Jean-Pierre lies the most pivotal yet the simplest of narratives, the most basic of human rights “… he didn’t hire LGBTQ+ staffers, he hired experienced individuals who happen to be LGBTQ+.”

That’s it. That’s the message. Who someone loves or which gender they may identify with should have no bearing on how one is treated, hired, befriended or spoken to – in-person or online.

So, kudos to the educators who are taking on the often-daunting task of teaching diversity, inclusion and the real and varied history of our country. And so, to the current administration, and the many brands, sports teams, et al, for taking steps to support Gay Pride Month and LGBTQ+ people. We also applaud the efforts of organizations such as The Trevor Project, Equality Florida and Equality Texas for the tireless devotion to suicide prevention and protection for the LGBTQ+ community.

All this incredible support is a great step forward. Do we still have a long way to go? Possibly, probably. This process began long ago with some very brave and proud people, and we can’t, we won’t stop now. We may need more than a march, more a month. What we may need, and one could argue, what we are seeing, is sea change. And sea change takes time, it’s a journey.

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