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Pride Is a Time for Reflection as It Is Celebration

June is upon us, which means it’s time for the pool, vacation, and backyard barbeques. It’s also Pride, which means celebrating the achievements for equality and visibility of the LGBTQ+ community.

Pride, like any historical and celebratory month, is about observing and recognizing the fight, struggle, and advancements of a historically oppressed minority group.

That fight is ongoing. In addition to LGBTQ+ Americans fighting to maintain their long-fought rights, the threat landscape now includes protecting them from all forms of deadly targeted violence.

This month, however, we celebrate. Because even though the LGBTQ+ community continues to face threats from its very own neighbors, we must recognize that all progress is not linear, and the work is difficult. That is why we take the time to reflect on all that it has accomplished.

The history of Pride dates back to 1969 and the Stonewall riots, fighting for equal rights and the right to merely exist in public. Only 50 years ago, engaging in gay behavior in public was illegal and police openly and brutally harassed queer people in gay clubs and bars.

The fight for equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals long predates Stonewall, but the Stonewall riots served as a catalyst. In the over 50 years since, the LGBTQ+ community has made strides in securing and exercising their rights.

Just four years after Stonewall, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. In fact, it was Stonewall that galvanized gay and lesbian activists to disrupt the 1970 and 1971 annual APA meetings through symposia panels and protests.

The list goes on. Lawrence v. Texas ruled sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003. The Matthew Shepard Act of 2009 expanded federal hate crime law. In 2010 the Senate repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And in 2015, same-sex marriage became federally legal in all 50 states.

Unfortunately, like any social progress, it’s not without its setbacks. Across the United States today, members of the LGBTQ+ community are still not safe and face threats, harassment, and violence.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that threats against the LGBTQ+ community are on the rise and intensifying.

According to a report published last year by the Department of Justice, gays and lesbians are more than two times as likely to be victims of violent crimes as straight persons, and trans persons are more than 2.5 times as likely to be victims of violent crimes as cisgender persons.

The vitriol against our community has become mainstream. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Daily Wire host Michael Knowles proclaimed that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely….” The Texas GOP recently adopted a platform that calls homosexuality an “abnormal lifestyle choice” and rejects special legal protections for members of the community.

With the 491 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state legislatures across the United States, drag events threatened by far-right extremists and militias, and recent shootings targeting public spaces, the threat against our community is real and feels incredibly close.

Look no further than the tragedy in Colorado Springs last year or the 7th anniversary of the shooting in Pulse Night Club on June 12, which senselessly killed 49 and injured 53 more.

These horrific events affect more than those injured and wounded. Researchers and social scientists are only beginning to explore the vicarious trauma that mass casualty events have on members of the community – whether that be geographic or based on identity.

Vicarious trauma refers to the emotional proximity to any traumatic event, which can result in feelings of grief, anger, sadness, shock, and many others. No doubt these recent tragedies continue to haunt the LGBTQ+ community. Even more of a reason that this community feels welcomed, supported, and accepted.

Resilience to this kind of trauma requires more than activism. It requires mental and behavioral health practitioners to both prevent this type of violence from occurring as well as providing support to the innocent victims.

Building that capacity among practitioners across the United States is precisely what the McCain Institute sets out to achieve through its Prevention Practitioners Network.

June is full of spectacular Pride events throughout the United States, with millions of people celebrating each year. It’s important we reflect on this right that is such a privilege.

The reason we celebrate visibly and publicly is to show our support for those of us who can’t. Members of the LGBTQ+ community around the world aren’t so lucky. Same-sex relations between consenting adults are illegal in at least 65 countries.

A public celebration not only tells the kid down the block that it’s okay to be gay, but it also signals to suppressed people around the world that their fundamental rights are being violated. Lastly, it demonstrates to American citizens that our community will continue to fight for our right to live freely.

To be clear, there are still doors to knock down and glass ceilings to break through. But this month, we will celebrate.

Pride month is about acknowledging the achievements made – and the struggle – in advancing equality and the right to exist publicly and peacefully.

Neil Saul serves as the senior program coordinator for preventing targeted violence at the McCain Institute. He holds a master’s degree in U.S. foreign policy and national security from the American University, where he focused on human rights and mass atrocity prevention. 

DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Neil Saul, Senior Program Coordinator of Preventing Targeted Violence, McCain Institute
Publish Date
June 21, 2023