Column: Stand by Me

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This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the traditional celebration of Pride month in the United States and around the world. We celebrate through festivals, parades, and gatherings filled with rainbow flags where all parts of the LGBTQ community is out front, loud, and proud.

Last October marked the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, where the focus is on visibility and the understanding that everyone knows someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or gender nonconforming.  As we make the daily choice to acknowledge who we are, we become stronger. No matter where we are, we can make it when we stand by each other. 

Transgender symbol, originally designed by Holly Boswell (Wikimedia Commons)

Recent events  have marred celebrations for the queer community this year. These include a reversal in the gains for transgender health that were part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 that had been in effect for many Americans since 2014. Sex discrimination against anyone, and especially transgender individuals, damages society as a whole, as it sets a dangerous precedent: conform to a rigid interpretation of primarily Christian theocratic societal norms, or remain outcasts, both figuratively and literally.

During this Pride month, it is important to remember to keep the door open for all, including transgender individuals, every day of the year. The most intimate part of human existence revolves around our bodies and our right to accept their functions as we see fit. To have restrictions on our own bodies based on someone else’s ideology makes as much sense as trying to smash a square peg into a round hole: all parts become damaged.

Jennifer Butler argues that recent reversals are anti-Christian, stating that “[d]enying some people equal treatment to satisfy religious liberty for others in a civil society is a ploy to advance an agenda that has nothing to do with morality or Christianity.” I would argue that for those in our communities who experience discrimination in housing, jobs, health care, and overall societal judgement, the reality is that much of the pain is inflicted by policies or laws based on so-called religious or moral right. Too often that religious authority is primarily monotheist and Christian.

While the United States of America is a federal presidential constitutional republic with no official language, and nearly one-fifth of its population subscribes to no particular religion, too often the phrase “Christian nation” is heard in reference to America. For those of us on the outside, and especially for the transgender and gender nonconforming among us, this phrase is a painful reminder that it is not safe to be open with those who should have our backs – including our health care professionals, our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, and our larger communities.

The transgender flag, created by Monica Helms (Wikimedia Commons)

We are in a key transition period where there should be a positive correlation between more publicly visible transgender individuals and overall transgender acceptance outside the protective circle of Pride festivals and parades, yet we are not quite there. During this time of Pride, the biggest celebration is not waving a flag, but being an ally, finding an ally, and staying safe, even if one is part of the larger community that appears welcoming.

Two of the biggest invisible knives that may cut into transgender individuals on a regular basis is the act of misgendering by family and friends who know the individual’s preference and choose to ignore it and the act of outing the transgender individual.

As a lesbian, I stand with my transgender and gender non-conforming family members. It is hard enough to come out first to yourself, and then to others, without thinking that you have to fight those who should empathize, sympathize, and support you.  We are an army of silent supporters whose strength grows when we choose to stand by each other and to grow our neighborhoods where we can.

The Stonewall Riots were the result of a raid on the Stonewall Inn, at a time when public options to openly socialize with others was not an option. For some, to live as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender meant death. Unfortunately, today that remains the case despite advancements in legalization of gay marriage, the elimination of sex discrimination in health care in The Patient Protection and Affordable Care act, and the increased visibility of individuals from all parts of the rainbow in media, politics, sports, and entertainment.

I would argue that this time, this year, this month is the new continuation of the Stonewall Riots and the aftermath from 50 years ago. This time around however, the stakes are even higher. The door to full expression of gender and sexual equality has been cracked open, and there is no turning back.

We cannot pretend that the happiness we see with some in our community should not be the reality for all in our community. We cannot pretend that just because we have good experiences with our employers, and that we have affordable health insurance with provides who treat us with dignity and respect that we can ignore the reality that so many in our community do not enjoy the same.

We cannot accept that members of our community are left to die due to societal ignorance or worse to have a lingering suffering due to societal non-acceptance.  Each of us a light, and together we form the flame that brings hope to the rest of the community. We are playing a high-stakes poker game with each interaction: are we making ground or are we losing the pot?

During this Pride month, celebrations will be televised, live streamed, and the online world will blossom once again with visuals of the rainbow flag. Corporations will vie for the label of being a proud supporter of the LGBTQ community overall through their presence at Pride festivals, parades, and productions. In many ways, this reminds me of the fate of Black History Month: after a time, the month become an annual reminder to squeeze out everything that should be remembered about a particular people or culture just for that one month.

I am of two minds with this. On the one hand, it is good to have a special time period where everyone can reflect on key cultural events, historical moments, and important individuals. At the same time, if remembrance of why the LGBTQ community matters is only generally acknowledged in June, then we miss out on its relevance during the rest of the year.

For this year and this Pride month, I hope that the overall remembrance of the Stonewall Riots that occurred on June 28-29, 1969 are not just a historical marker given importance due to the passage of half a century. More than ever, we need to fight back against the raids that were not just at one local bar in Greenwich Village in 1969, but the raids 50 years later that are occurring daily, fueled by discrimination that prevents many of us from choosing where we can live, choosing who controls our access to quality health care, choosing how we make a living, choosing where we can worship, and in far too many cases, choosing whether we have the right to live at all.

For this Pride month, and all the ones that follow until full equality is reached, we must acknowledge that the injustices faced by trans people are injustices to every one of us. When one suffers, we all do. When laws are not in place to guarantee that access to quality living is for all, then we lose as a society. Each day that we choose to be allies to ourselves and for each other is a day when we stand by each other.

We choose our neighborhoods. We choose our flags. We choose to live proudly. And we are not going anywhere.

(Pixabay)

Happy Pride!


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