My kid Harry – aka drag artist Amber Alert – flies home tomorrow from Berlin, Germany. Amber performed Saturday night at Bushwig Berlin, the drag festival held during Christopher Street Day Berlin, one of the biggest LGBTQ gatherings in Europe. And I realized that exactly one month ago, five million people and I took to the streets of New York City. We marked the 50th anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn, celebrated WorldPride 2019 and joined the NYC Pride March or the inaugural Queer Liberation March. (I so wanted to be in two places at once!)
In the weeks leading up to WorldPride, a number of my LGBTQ baby-boomer buddies and family spoke of memories over the last half-century. Remember that in 1969, the American Psychiatric Association considered being gay a mental disease. And being gay was a crime in every state but Illinois.
One gay friend spoke of a bartender who told him point-blank in the seventies, “You’re not going to get served here, so leave.”
Another close friend remains amazed at how far the Pride Movement has come.
“Not only do we enjoy hours of coverage on television,” he said, “but people say Happy Pride in the same way they wish their friends and family a Happy Thanksgiving!”
But he still remembers when the AIDS epidemic struck and people were afraid of gay people.
“Most didn’t want to shake hands,” my dear friend told me. “A lot didn’t want to be in the same room with someone who was gay. The Studio 54 days, when everyone wanted to be us, were definitely over.” He lost nearly 200 friends during the AIDS crisis, and spent most of the 80s visiting them in the hospital.
Yes, there’s been progress. If you have health care, AIDS is no longer a death sentence. Marriage equality is the law of the land. There are federal hate crime protections. And it started in the most impactful way when LGBTQ people, led mostly by trans women of color, decided to take a stand against police brutality and violence at a gay bar on Christopher Street.
But we have long way to go. You can still be fired today in 28 states based on your sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Violence against the trans community, especially black trans women, is out of control. The current Republican adiminstration has launched more that 100 attacks against LGBTQ people, including transgender kids in K-12 public schools. And in the context of WorldPride, being gay still makes you a criminal in 70 countries, punishable by death in 11 of them.
But culture can’t be stopped. That’s what made Stonewall 50 combined with WorldPride NYC so important this year. It is strength in numbers, demands for equality, fair treatment, and safety protections under the law for all citizens of the world that will continue to move us forward.
When Harry left for Berlin, I searched for how many Pride marches there are around the world. There’s an event somewhere in the world every month except December. That means thousands of people taking to the streets and A LOT of visibility. (In some countries, unfortunately, Pride events are illegal.) I like to think about WorldPride 365. Yearlong activations that bring LGBTQ people and their allies together to advance humanity. People see us and hear us when we march down the street.
Stories have the power to change hearts and minds. And activism helps enact legislation across the U.S. and around the globe. Each of us can make a difference in the lives of others.
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