When you’re constantly struggling, it can be hard to see how far you’ve come.
Such as it is with the progress made by the LGBTQ+ community. Every push forward has been met with resistance, and some fights were harder and lasted longer than others. And it seems like every step that has been taken forward is about to be shoved two steps back.
But as Pride Month begins, we want to take a moment to celebrate how far the LGBTQ+ community and its allies have come since the first Pride march on June 28, 1970 — the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.
Sometimes referred to as the Stonewall riots, the Stonewall Uprising was five days of protests in support of LGBTQ+ rights — sparked after multiple raids on a popular LGBTQ+ hangout, the Stonewall Inn — led by transgender women of color. It gave birth to a new, more organized movement to advance LGBTQ+ rights.
Headway has been slow — “homosexual acts” weren’t decriminalized until 2003 and same-sex marriage wasn’t made legal until 2015, then reaffirmed last year by the Respect for Marriage Act — but it’s gaining steam. As evidenced by the increasing remonstration, “We didn’t have all this LGB, plus, plus, plus whatevers back in my day!”
Actually, we did. It just wasn’t safe for them to exist in public, so they hid the truth of themselves. They were the spinster aunts and bachelor uncles who cohabitated with “dear friends” of the same sex. They were the maiden sisters who never seemed interested in marriage or children and the playboy brothers who never did settle down. They were the people who were never quite content in their marriages, even if they had grown to care for their spouse. They were the neighbor down the street labeled “eccentric” or “quirky” because their clothing choices and behaviors didn’t quite match what society expected of their gender presentation. They were the residents of asylums and homes for the mentally ill, or prisoners in our jails, because someone discovered what society forced them to keep secret.
Lesbian, gay, transgender and nonbinary people have existed for thousands of years: We see them in love poetry of Sappho, whose island home of Lesbos gave us the word “lesbian”; the Galli priests of ancient Greece and Rome, who opted for castration and dressed in women’s clothes; the recorded same-sex relationships of prominent figures such as the Roman Emperor Hadrian and the Chinese Emperor Ai; the god-blessed “third gender” in Mesopotamia and the “two-spirit” of Native American cultures.
For thousands of years, LGBTQ people not only lived openly in society, but they thrived. Somewhere along the way, we lost that. Homosexual and gender-nonconforming people were relegated to the shadows and punished if they dared step into the light — people like writer Oscar Wilde and mathematician Alan Turing.
So we did have LGBTQ+ people “back in the day.” We’ve had them for a long time. And the fact that we see so many living openly now — as gay, as trans, as nonbinary, as bisexual — shows just how far we’ve come from those dark days of living in the closet. How much progress we’ve made toward making it safe for people to exist as their true selves, though there is still work to be done.
Happy Pride Month to everyone in the LGBTQ+ community — to the ones who are out and proud and the ones not quite ready to reveal themselves. History shows there is a place for you in this world, no matter what anyone else says.