There is so much rich history surrounding the fight for rights for LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and other identities) individuals. We have come so far in the past century and most progression has been achieved in my lifetime. Homosexuality was not only criminalized (till 2003) but also deemed a “sociopathic personality disturbance” by American Psychiatric Association till 1973.
Why celebrate PRIDE in June? On June 28, 1969, in New York City, riots broke out after a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, which was a gay club. One key figure in initiating the riots was supposedly a black, transgender woman, Marsha P. Johnson who was said to have thrown the “shot glass that was heard around the world.”
Although these riots marked the beginning of the gay civil rights movement, it wasn’t till 1978 when Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California. He was assassinated later that year but not before leaving his mark and inspiring Gilbert Baker to create the rainbow flag which is now a symbol for LGBTQ+ worldwide.
In 1993, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was enacted as military policy and was followed by the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
Obama’s presidency made great strides for gay civil rights. In 2009, Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act. For nearly ten years (2004-2015) same-sex marriage became legal, then ruled unconstitutional, and back and forth in various states and courts throughout the nation. The most notable of these is Proposition 8 in California. Most individuals associate PRIDE with the Supreme Court’s Marriage Equality ruling stating that same-sex marriage was legal in the United States.
On June 26, 2015 I was driving to work at the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas and my brother called me telling me that the Supreme Court had just ruled same-sex marriage legal in the United States. I cried all the way to work out of pure happiness. Two days later Krystal and I attended our first PRIDE celebration in Houston, Texas. I remember the energy being palpable with the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage just a few days before. We sat at a bar with an older lesbian and colleague of mine. There were tears in her eyes as she told us that her wife (which she had married in California years earlier) was now legal in the state she called home. There were many celebratory shots and joyful tears shed that PRIDE. What impacted me the most was the safety of the event. No, not the police presence, but that I could hold Krystal’s hand surrounded by crowds of people in the middle of downtown (even at dark) and have no fear because I was surrounded by my rainbow community. Having the freedom and safety to kiss and hold the woman you love in public is a rare experience even in today’s society. A privilege we didn’t enjoy often after having spent our college years at time Texas A&M who was ranked in the top 20 for the most “Unfriendly Schools for LGBT Students.”
In the years that have followed, I cannot count the number times Krystal and I have been asked if our (same-sex) marriage was legal; even in the past year. When we were engaged and planning our wedding it was a question we were bombarded with. This became such a topic of discussion with businesses and vendors that one of the first question I asked to “vet” a vendor was if they were comfortable providing services to a same-sex couple.
Although Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, transgender individuals were still banned from joining the military till 2016 and the first transgender individual didn’t join till 2018. However, this ban was put back into effect in January of 2019 under the Trump administration. The next year in 2017 the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Civil Rights Act prohibited workplace discrimination against LGBTQ employees. Three years later the Supreme Court agreed with this ruling for the United States on Monday, June 15, 2020. It stated that sexual orientation and gender identity were protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As an out, lesbian, teacher the significance of this decision is monumental. I am privileged enough to be out to all my students and administration. This does not mean I do not experience homophobia among my students, parents, and community. There have been moments over the last 6 years of teaching that there has been a pit in my stomach wondering if I would still have a job at the end of the school year. This ruling by the Supreme Court means I cannot be fired for being lesbian. For being married to the woman I love. There are no words to express the relief.
This is not a complete version of our history nor is it the end. Many people assume that because LGBTQ+ individuals have marriage equality and now protection under the Civil Rights Protection Act, we are equal, both legally and in society. That is not the case.
At our wedding Krystal and I lit a rainbow candle with this note next to it:
We cannot let our history stop here. We cannot let our PRIDE history end with these victories so many before us have fought and died for. There are still so many injustices that happen to the LGBTQ community.
It is still legal in Texas to use the “Gay Panic Defense” which is “a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.” Conversion therapy of our youth, lack of classifications of hate crimes, second-parent adoption for the same legal protections heterosexual couples receive as a right of their marriage.
If you would like a more complete list the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has a great visual map for other issues that are still haunting our legal system today. If you are curious as to how the Coastal Bend scores in terms of LGBTQ+ civil rights, this is HRC’s score card for 2019.
So this June celebrate all we have achieved and vow to continue the fight for equality. There is so much room for growth and improvement in our government and in our society. How can you be an Ally to the LGBTQ+ community? Here are a few tips.