Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is celebrated each year in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. The Stonewall Uprising was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. It began a continuous effort to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against LGBTQ Americans. The objective of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that LGBTQ individuals have had on history internationally. It is also recognized that since the Stonewall Uprising, there have been many more reports and instances of violence against LGBT people in the United States, whether due to shifting religious and political views, increased community visibility, or other aspects.
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” This phrase, written in Harvey Milk’s testament, “to be read in the event of my assassination,” is one of the saddest and most striking statements made by him, aware of the hatred directed at gay people and the ensuing likelihood he may be killed for standing up for LGBTQ rights. “In the event” became a reality when he was assassinated on November 27, 1978. “The more gay people came out of the closet,” he believed, “the more their families and friends would support protections for their equal rights.”
Within a year of moving to the United States, I was first exposed to violence against LGBTQ people with the beating and ensuing death of 22-year-old Matthew Shepard. Many more have died before, but especially since; the list is far too long and probably incomplete, as many such attacks were not even reported as hate crimes. The deadliest event against Hispanic and LGBTQ people since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on US soil remains the attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016 – 49 people died, and 68 were injured. The latest mass anti-LGBTQ-motivated shooting occurred in late November 2022 at the Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado – 5 people died, and 25 were wounded.
Amidst all the hate and violence and limiting mentions only to the last 20 years, the US Supreme Court struck down the “homosexual conduct” law in 2003; in 2004, the first legal same-sex marriage took place in Massachusetts (the first state to legalize same-sex marriage). In September 2011, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, ending a ban on gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. In the following handful of years, more and more states recognized same-sex marriages. Many LGBTQ political candidates were elected to higher political offices in the 2010s. In 2015 same-sex marriage was recognized as a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, with the landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in Obergefell vs. Hodges. Five years later, in June 2020, the US Supreme Court ruled that federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination. And just last year, a wildfire of anti-LGBTQ bills hit record highs. Most of those bills specifically target transgender people and LGBTQ youths. The dizzying legal, political, and societal rollercoaster is set to continue for years to come.
Though the anti-LGBTQ bills skyrocketed just last year, research shows that support for LGBTQ people has also risen. Almost 8 in 10 Americans support laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations; 70% of Americans now support same-sex marriage. It is a standard view in LGBTQ advocacy groups and political experts that the continued and rising anti-LGBTQ state bills are primarily due to lobbying for conservative and religious groups than a reflection of public opinion.
The less-than-rational attacks on transgender adults and youths cannot be seen as mired in anything else but mindlessness and insensitivity, to put it mildly. Such bills cannot but result in anything other than mental health challenges, social life problems, emotional rollercoasters, and physical distress for the people they target – not to mention an increase in hate, crimes, and ignorance. In the name of what? Certainly not in the name of conscience. Even humanity has not found a generally accepted definition of conscience about ethical decision-making – it has views, and those, whether collective or not, vary depending on what people believe. There is no universal set of beliefs and thoughts; there is, at best, a fraction of consensus on right and wrong.
We need to do more, converse more, educate more. We can celebrate our victories and mourn our losses but cannot stop moving forward. We all have biases, whether consciously or unconsciously, whether we admit to having them or not. They result from background, upbringing, peers, schooling, social interaction, religion or creed, developmental growth, etc. We will only have a meaningful conversation or action if we communicate through different perspectives on the same issue, striving to understand ourselves and others equally. Finding our voices, fighting, and marching for what is a human right means doing so together – offering one another a chance at being human: not driven by indoctrination but by what we instinctively know and live by – our heart.