June is Pride Month, in case you have missed the rainbow-covered everything! As I scroll through my Facebook feed, there are tons of advertisements for LGBTQ-focused events; everything from rooftop patio parties to family nights promising a safe space for youth. It seems every store suddenly has a massive display of items dripping in rainbows. Visibility is important (don’t get me wrong). Social media has taken notice and now there are a few snarky (but fair) memes floating around, calling us to remember Pride is not about corporate sponsorship, glitter, and brunch. According to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, there are “220,000 LGBTQ+ consumers in Colorado with an estimated buying power of $10.6 billion.” The other important statistic to throw out is 87% of this demographic are willing to switch to brands that promote a positive LGBTQ position. Pride is about celebrating accomplishments of where we stand as a community right now, after centuries of oppression. It is about human rights and the ability for each of us to live our truth without fear for our actual lives and safety. Pride is an opportunity to organize within our community. It is just very important to me that we understand where we have been in history, how far we have come in the 20th century, and how important it is we keep up our fight to ensure our LGBTQ community is protected.
First, I think it is important to start locally. Denver has the seventh-largest LGBTQ community in the United States. Colorado has a confusing history about prohibiting physical relationships between same sex-couples, marriage equality, tax law, transgender rights to health care, and adoption rights. There are so many beautifully-written articles about the sordid history of Colorado, I don’t think it would be fair for me to even attempt a thorough history lesson. History Colorado will be doing an exhibit starting June 4th called Rainbows and Revolutions, which promises to explore “how LGBTQ+ people’s very existence in Colorado has been a rebellious act beyond the rainbow, from quiet assertions of identity to loud and proud demonstrations for civil rights and equality.” Our local history is fascinating, stemming from the days of the Wild West all the way through to the last decade worth of legislation. According to Phil Nash, Denver resident and first director to GLBT Center (now known as The Center on Colfax) “The best way to visualize the progression of our history is to think of it in waves.” Over the course of the last 20 years Colorado has been able to ensure the rights to be married, have partners covered by health insurance, adoption of children, and ensures basic rights to not be discriminated against, threatened, or murdered because of sexual orientation or gender expression. In 2023, we are looking towards having all gender-affirming health care covered under health insurance in Colorado. This means trans people will finally have access to life saving health care practices covered by insurance.
In terms of history on a national level, I would never forgive myself if I didn’t mention Stonewall and the riots that ensued. This was the catalyst, causing LGBTQ communities to organize more publicly after centuries of oppression. At the time (1950s to 1970s), gay bars and clubs were sanctuaries for the community to gather for the purposes of drinking, dancing and building community. On June 28, 1969, at a little bar called Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village, New York (owned by the mafia like most in that era), the police came in and raided the bar. These raids were standard procedure where the police would come into the club, check IDs of patrons, targeting women dressed like men and men wearing women’s clothing. After IDs were checked, patrons were then escort to the bathrooms accompanied by police to verify gender. Violence ensued between police and patrons of the bar because that night because patrons did not comply. The police brutally beat and arrested the patrons as a result. Several days’ worth of protests followed. Protesters came together from all over to fight for the right to live openly in their sexual orientation and not face being arrested for simply being gay in public. In 2019, NYPD apologized for their actions to commemorate the 50th anniversary. The Stonewall Inn still stands in New York on Christopher Street. It is a historical landmark with a charitable organization called The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, dedicated to providing advocacy, education, and financial support to grassroots LGBTQ communities and individuals who have suffered social injustice in the US and around the world.
A few months after the Stonewall Riots, Brenda Howard, a bisexual activist, became known as “The Mother of Pride.” She enshrined a memorial a month later (July 1969) to the events which occurred at Stonewall Inn and in the streets. In 1970, Brenda participated in organizing The Christopher Street Parade, marching out of Greenwich Village to Central Park, which is now known as the first Pride Parade. YouTube has several videos that have personal accounts of the events describing that night on Christopher Street and all the grassroots organization that led to a national movement, which continues to lead the charge in human rights issues because it crosses all ages, genders, socioeconomic status, disability, and race.
So…let’s talk about our youth for a minute. Our upcoming generation is powerful, sensitive, and intelligent in ways that I can’t even comprehend. They use words that express gender identity, sexual orientation, and relationship styles, unlike the generations who have come before, leading us to this exact moment in time. Our youth is seeing people as multi-faceted and above and beyond binary thinking. Almost like it never occurred to previous generations that there is a spectrum in which we all fluctuate, in so many aspects in our lives, and that it is not fundamentally wrong to not fit into neat little boxes. With all social justice movements, it is essential to pay homage to the groundwork that has allowed us to stand where we are today. These rights are not guaranteed for our future but we can empower our youth to keep expressing themselves and support them through the complex set of issues we are all facing. We have a good chance to progress closer to the nation promised to us. Working as a care manager in collaboration with a pediatric psychiatric emergency department, I am reminded every day that our kids have it hard with social pressures and things that, us, older generations don’t quite understand. As we pass the baton to this new generation, we must remember that their fight will look different from ours. I also see that LGBTQ rights are heavily entwined with the fundamental right for access to health care.
New York’s Pride events for 2022 are themed, “Unapologetically, Us.” Denver has decided on a theme of “Together with Pride” to mark the first in-person celebration in two years due to COVID-19. At the end of this month (June 25th through 26th) I am going to wrap myself in rainbow-colored everything and stand unapologetically proud as a polyamorous, bisexual woman. Knowing I do not have to fear losing my apartment, job, family or being arrested in the streets because of how I show up in this world, thanks to all the important work that has come before me. Pride is an opportunity to celebrate all the hard work that has been accomplished in changing laws and social attitudes. Let’s dance in the streets and celebrate like we have won a very long battle but not resign ourselves to being OK with the way things are now. Don’t ever confuse celebration with complacency. Let’s teach our youth to be strong and vulnerable, fearless yet compassionate. Let’s encourage each other to communicate our needs and identities as humans sharing this planet. Get curious and be willing to challenge your own beliefs, even if you feel like you are already aligned with this movement! Research, study, ask questions but do not rely on your LGBTQ friends to educate you on these issues. Pride Month is a time to keep organizing and invite hard conversations about how we can continue our mission towards social justice and human rights for LGBTQ folks and all the community intersections in between.
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
The Trevor Project- thetrevorproject.org/
For more information on Pride Fest in Denver, please visit denverpride.org/
The Center on Colfax- lgbtqcolorado.org/
YouTube- Search “Stonewall Riots”