June is Pride Month
Senator Marie Pickney, Delaware State Senator, Senate District 13
Happy Pride Month to all of my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer family and those who identify as our allies!
This June will mark the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall riots when members of the LGBTQ+ decided that they had enough of the discrimination and violence that plagues our community and demanded to be treated like human beings.
That six-day protest sparked the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement and led to significant progress toward our equality in American society and around the world.
Now each June, we celebrate our own coming out as well as the coming out of the LGBTQ+ movement into mainstream society. Those who have yet to come out can find safe spaces to celebrate or see signals of support when our flags are flown loud and high all around us.
While we have much to celebrate in terms of the progress we have made since 1969, Pride Month is also a reminder of how much work we have left and the fact that not every queer person has been afforded a chance to feel proud of who they truly are.
It may be hard for some people to truly understand just how repressive American society was on issues of sex and gender just a generation or two ago.
LGBTQ+ people have always existed. But for most of our nation’s history, we were ridiculed, vilified, and criminalized. The feelings we were born with, our identities as human beings, and even our innermost thoughts were derided as a form of mental illness worthy of shame and scorn.
Moreover, for someone like me, the stigma was three-fold: Black. A woman. And a lesbian/queer-identified.
The only escape for many was the bars and nightclubs in a few major cities, like the Stonewall Inn in New York City, where we could find community, kinship, and acceptance if only for a few hours.
On June 28, 1969, that momentary peace was violently interrupted by police who refused to allow patrons to leave and began physically and sexually assaulting those inside.
Perhaps spurred by the social change happening all around them, New York’s LGBTQ+ resisted, and then refused to back down for six nights in a row.
That moment of rebellion and defiance quickly spread throughout the country. Frank Kemeny, an early gay activist, once remarked, “By the time of Stonewall, we had 50 to 60 gay groups in the country. A year later, there were at least 1,500. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was 2,500.”
When we talk about Gay Pride and Pride Marches, those celebrations are in direct response to the persecution and shame we were forced to endure, and the shame many of us are still forced to feel today.
While we have seen a measure of progress since Stonewall, most of that headway has come in just the last few years.
I was 9 years old the first time a U.S. President even recognized Pride Month. I was 13 when the Supreme Court ruled a Texas state law that criminalized LGBTQ+ people was unconstitutional. I was 23 when Delaware became the only state in the nation to both fully legalize gay marriage and ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity. I was 25 when the right to marry was extended to all couples in the United States. And I was 30 when I became the first openly lesbian woman elected to the Delaware State Senate in 2020.
And yet, LGBTQ+ folks are still four times more likely to experience violence than our straight counterparts. Forty-four percent of lesbian women have been raped, abused, or stalked. Seven out of 10 LGBTQ+ people have been sexually harassed at work. A record-breaking number of trans people were murdered just two years ago, a majority of whom were women of color. Suicide is still the leading cause of death for LGBTQ+ people between the ages of 10 and 24. LGBTQ+ youth are still increasingly likely to face homelessness. A fate I was very close to facing when my mom learned about my own identity.
So while this month is a rightful celebration of those achievements, I hope we all can take a moment to think of the vulnerable young people who are still coming to terms with who they are and those who have come out but are still struggling to find a safe space in the world.
This Pride Month, my thoughts are with the people who have been rejected by their families and are homeless or living in poverty. My thoughts are with those young people who live in fear of being outed, of being shunned, of experiencing the hatred and persecution we still experience 52 years after Stonewall. It’s with the youth living in states that are openly rejecting them by introducing and passing harmful and discriminatory laws.
I know what that’s like. I know what it means to be rejected by those you love the most simply for who you are.
But I also know the power that comes from living your truth. I know the freedom that comes from being your authentic self. And I know the sense of pride that comes from building a community that is willing to step in and love you unconditionally.
I promise you that it will get better. I promise you that we are out here waiting to accept you. And I promise I will not stop fighting until everyone has the room to be proud of who they are.