Published by Jedd Cohen on
Jun 29, 2023 2:45:10 PM
Why does any culture remember its history? To learn from the past and ignite possibilities for the future. With its month-long combination of memory, aspiration, connection, and celebration, Pride is a bit like July 4th, New Year’s Eve, and Christmas rolled into one. We celebrate pride for so many reasons, now more than ever.
There are so many stories to lift up that can, in turn, lift us up. A long-term historical perspective gives us evidence of same-sex romantic love and non-binary gender expression over thousands of years in cultures around the world. A near-term historical view typically focuses on the struggle for expression and civil rights of LGBTQ people in the United States over the past 50-150 years, often highlighting the Stonewall riots in the summer of 1969 in connection to current struggles.
An intersectional lens reveals overlaps in the ways that LGBTQ populations and others have suffered at the hands of police – African Americans, immigrants, and poor folk across American history. This lens also reveals the ways that colonists suppressed indigenous traditions celebrating the LGBTQ experience. It also lifts up the many times that one of the most vulnerable demographics in our society, trans women women of color, found themselves on the front lines of oppression and violence and assumed movement leadership because there was nowhere else to turn.
This matrix of identities and culture gave birth to vibrant countercultural communities and chosen families, often among those who were rejected by their biological families. These groups found ways to cultivate joy, celebration, and creative expression via artworks, drag balls, dance moves, and genres of music still prevalent today.
We can also view Pride through a spiritual lens, which resembles liberation theology, that shows us past victims as martyrs, drag queens as divine mothers, and activists and leaders as prophets. In this lens, the hiddenness of LGBTQ identity is analogous to the hiddenness of the miraculous in the everyday.
The recent history of LGBTQ rights is miraculous: In just a couple of generations, same-sex romantic relationships in the US went from being criminal to be required part of grade-school curricula in some states. A gay friend in his 50s recently shared a traumatic story of being assaulted, or gay bashed, in the 1980s. In the course of our conversation, I asked him if he knew that Gay Bash’d be now the name of a popular monthly drag show and queer dance party in Cambridge. It’s a play on the dual meaning of bash – violence, and celebration. (He didn’t know.)
Perhaps it's because of this incredibly rapid change that LGBTQ people, particularly trans people, now find themselves under attack. Groups more recently accepted in the mainstream, such as recent immigrant groups as well as particular ethnicities and religions, often find themselves to be easy targets, particularly for authoritarian leaders seeking to give common people a scapegoat or common enemy.
One of the greatest successes for LGBTQ civil rights over the past fifty years has been acceptance not just in the mainstream media, the professions, and science but in corporate America, which holds the bulk of economic power. The Boston Pride Parade is always full of corporate t-shirts, marching groups, and even floats. Parts of LGBTQ culture have become slogans, products, and binge-worthy reality shows. On the whole, it’s been a giant leap forward, but it often comes at the price of solidarity with other oppressed groups. Economic injustice, police violence, the prison system, immigrant detention centers, and other kinds of oppression still oppress many LGBTQ people, but they don’t hit everyone equally and don’t receive prime-time attention.
Even now, after all the distance we’ve come, LGB youth are more than twice as likely to report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness than their heterosexual peers, and LGB adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition. Transgender youth and adults are more than twice as likely as LGB youth and adults to face these challenges, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
For students and teachers alike seeking to educate, celebrate, and support, there are wonderful resources to learn more about Pride and LGBTQ history. This link from Educators for Social Change offers links to some of the best lesson plans, articles, and information websites available, from standbys like Facing History, Learning for Justice, the Anti-Defamation League, Teach for America, Time Magazine, and others.
Educators for Social Change: Teaching About LGBTQ+ Pride/History (Month), retrieved from: https://bit.ly/3FQauwB