Blog by Jennifer Jones (she/her), director of the Change In Mind Institute at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities 

June is normally a time for celebration among the LGBTQ community. But in the age of COVID, there will be no Pride parades, parties, or other personal gatherings with our friends and loved ones. Instead we must consider other ways to celebrate our history and shared experiences.

As our nation joins voices together in condemnation of the systemic racism that led to the death of George Floyd, it is also important to hearken back to the prejudices of 50 years ago that launched the gay pride movement.

The first Pride march in this country was in response to police harassment and violence against the gay community. The Stonewall riots occurred on June 28, 1969 when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Same sex relationships were illegal at that time in New York, so gay people found ways to meet at gay bars and clubs. The police typically raided the gay clubs and both harassed and arrested the people inside. After years of persecution by police, catalyzed by the incident at the Stonewall Inn, gay people took to the streets for six days of protest, demanding fair treatment and equality.  

The Stonewall riots were the spark for the gay rights movement in this country. This month’s Supreme Court ruling offering workplace protections for the LGBTQ community based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a huge step for gay and transgender workers. Advances in marriage equality have also led to widespread changes in attitudes and acceptance of gay people in our society. While we have come a long way, there is still significant change that needs to occur. 

In 2020, Iyanna Dior, a 21-year-old black transgender woman was brutally beaten by a mob in Minneapolis; Tony McDade, a 38-year-old black trans man in Tallahassee, Florida fatally shot by police; Nina Pop, 28 found dead in her apartment in Missouri early last month; Helle Jae O’Regan, 20, a transgender woman was killed in San Antonio, Texas.  

These are names we don’t often hear because they rarely make the news. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in 2020, alone, at least 12 transgender or gender non-conforming individuals have been violently murdered because of who they are, the majority of whom were black transgender women. In 2019, at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people were violently killed; in 2018, at least 26 deaths occurred. In the Orlando Pulse gay nightclub massacre, 49 people were killed in the second worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Just last week, on the 4-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the federal government erased transgender civil rights protections in health care. Over the last several years, we have also witnessed hundreds of anti LGBTQ legislation introduced in state legislatures all over the country. LGBTQ people continue to experience discrimination, especially in the work force where nearly 28% of LGBTQ individuals have lost a job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We consistently take one step forward, and several steps back.  

LBGTQ individuals are also facing unique challenges in the wake of COVID. They are at high risk for loneliness and suicide because of “shelter at home” orders. Often times, LGBTQ youth are living in homes that are not supportive or safe for them. The Trevor Project hotline, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people, has experienced a significant increase in calls since the pandemic. According to HRC, LGBTQ youth are also more likely to be homeless (120% more likely than their straight peers) or in foster care (30% of youth in foster care are LBGTQ).  

We need to advocate for further information and data in order to get a better understanding of how COVID-19 is impacting LGBTQ communities in terms of health, mental health, and the economic recession. We also need to ensure our policymakers are taking into consideration the unique needs and circumstances of the LGBTQ population when they are responding to this global pandemic. 

The violence and health inequities that exist in this country against all of us who are not reflective of the mainstream is rampant and has been for decades. We can no longer tolerate the hatred and bigotry that is bestowed upon both communities of color and those who are LGBTQ. We must speak out about the hatred that is couched as religious freedom laws.  

Fifty years ago, a movement was born out of riots in New York City. Today, a similar movement is spreading across our nation for racial justice. Let’s work in solidarity to ensure that these movements survive and thrive until equity, justice, inclusion and diversity are experienced by those who have fought tirelessly for those rights for far too long. 

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin