In the summer of 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City as part of a decades-long campaign of harassment against LGBT citizens. These raids had become routine for all the city’s clubs and watering holes that dared to provide sanctuary for the LGBT community. But the raid that transpired on the 28th of June 1969 was anything but routine.
As legend has it, police rushed the bar at Stonewall and shortly afterward, Marsha P. Johnson—a trans woman of color and Stonewall regular—proclaimed ‘I got my civil rights!’ and launched a shot glass into a nearby mirror. It was that act (later referred to as “the shot glass heard ‘round the world”) which started the infamous clash with law enforcement and sparked the modern day LGBT rights movement. The historic uprising at Stonewall is also the reason why we celebrate Pride each June.
Since 1969, this nation and the world at-large have made great strides in the fight for LGBT rights. But even though we’ve had victories such as SCOTUS’s affirmation of marriage equality, we still have a long way to go, particularly for transgender and racial minorities. The sobering reality is that many members of our community still live in situations as degrading and dangerous as 1960s New York. Consider the following statistics for example:
In 2016, a tragic record was set: 27 trans people were murdered in the US (more than ever before) and all but four were people of color. Furthermore, the majority of the victims were black trans women.
Black gay and bisexual men account for more HIV diagnoses in the US than any other group. At the end of 2014, there were 508,676 gay and bisexual men living with a diagnosed HIV infection; that number accounts for 53 percent of all people living with an HIV diagnosis in the US.
Not only are we confronted with such staggering and almost unbelievable statistics, we also are threatened by so-called religious freedom bills popping up around the country endangering the hard-fought strides we’ve made toward equality. Even here in Portland, following the same trend of assault on our community, the city sought to close the India Street Clinic, a decision which disproportionately affected people who are in the LGBT community.
As a community, our struggles with race, poverty, transphobia, health (both mental and physical), and the law are no different than the police raiding the Stonewall Inn in 1969. Our reaction should mirror the outrage that grew out of that pivotal night.
The celebration of Pride each year affords us the chance to stand under a common banner through our shared identity. It’s an opportunity we must seize to improve the lives of our community members and lift up the voices of the underserved and underprivileged. In an era when the government is particularly positioned against our interests, we must unify behind a collective commitment to the liberation of all people in our community with the same compassion and understanding we ask of our allies.
As we attend loud marches, glittery parties, and gaudy celebrations in the coming days, we should keep in mind the origins of Pride. We should all think of people like Marsha P. Johnson who fought, literally, to get us where we are now but who could reasonably in this modern-day be murdered simply for who she was. We should remember the people who have been forgotten by history. And we should commit ourselves to those in our community who need us the most.