LGBTQIA+ Rights: Why Pride Month is Important

June has been celebrated as Pride Month in the United States since 1999, and all over the world people are celebrating LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual) rights in addition to gender and sexual diversity. The name has grown to encompass many different identities since its inception, but there’s one thing that unites everyone involved in the LGBTQIA+ community: their shared experiences of not feeling safe or accepted because of who they are or who they love.

The History of Pride
Pride has a long and complex history, going back at least to June 28, 1969, when New York police attempted to raid a gay bar called Stonewall Inn. According to people who were there that night, patrons fought back against law enforcement, who were eventually forced out of their establishment. The raid would be considered a turning point in American history.

How Many People Are in the LGBT Community?
The acronym LGBT has been in use since 1969, and stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. However, it wasn’t until 1990 that Q was added to include those who identify as queer or questioning their sexuality. And in 2006, I was added to represent intersex individuals. So what does all of that mean? It means there are a lot of people in our community! Some estimates put the number at more than 10 million Americans alone. That’s a lot of people! But even though we may be one big family, we still have a long way to go when it comes to acceptance and equality.

Pride Is Necessary
It’s crucial that we don’t forget that Pride Month exists, and it’s just as important to make sure we don’t lose sight of why it exists. When one group of people experiences oppression, everyone else should feel proud to stand in solidarity with them. Queer people are a minority; they are an oppressed group by definition. In many parts of America, being queer can still get you fired or kicked out of your home. In some places around the world, it can get you killed. That’s not something anyone should be proud of. But it is something we all need to be aware of and work toward fixing—and Pride Month serves as a reminder that there’s still work to do.

Think About All the Prejudice We Face
We exist in a society where being anything other than heterosexual and cisgender (the gender you were assigned at birth) results in stares, dirty looks, homophobia, or even violence. Every year, during June, we celebrate Pride month to acknowledge how far we’ve come toward equal rights—and how much farther we still have to go. The first pride march was held on June 28, 1970, after police raided a gay bar called Stonewall Inn. It sparked what would become known as Pride Month as well as many important LGBTQIA+ movements like AIDS awareness and marriage equality. While there are many countries that have made great strides toward equality for all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, there are still plenty of others that haven’t gotten there yet.

The Importance of Recognition
Being transgender or part of a sexual minority doesn’t make you unique, but being willing to openly discuss it might. While bi, pansexual, and other members of sexual minorities make up a relatively large percentage of society’s population (the Williams Institute estimates that 1 in every 7 people identifies as bisexual), there are still plenty of misunderstandings and outright prejudice within mainstream culture. That’s why recognition and celebration are so important. You may not be aware of all of your rights, or even know that they exist at all—and without recognition from others, your rights don’t exist at all. That’s why Pride Month is so important—it gives us an opportunity to celebrate our existence with one another while also making sure we aren't forgotten by those who don't understand us. The more we talk about what it means to be bi/pan/trans/queer/gay/LGBTQIA+, the more our community can grow and thrive together.

Laws Vary from State to State
Laws related to transgender and LGBTQIA+ rights vary widely from state to state, with some states providing robust protections for these communities, and others being more vulnerable. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against workplace discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin or religion. While most courts interpret sex to also include gender identity and sexual orientation as protected under Title VII in many cases , there are exceptions. So far only 20 states (plus Washington D.C.) have laws that specifically protect transgender employees from employment discrimination—and even those may be difficult to enforce . Despite all of our advancements in legal rights, acceptance and visibility, there’s still a long way to go. In 31 states there are no state laws preventing employers from firing people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The federal government currently prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin—but it doesn’t protect employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. (And sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t part of most people's vocabulary.) Only 14 states have passed non-discrimination laws protecting members of both groups. And we still don’t have marriage equality across all 50 states. As recently as 2013, President Obama didn't sign an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT workers in companies that do business with the federal government because he said he couldn't get Congress to pass [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act]. We've come a long way but we've got a lot more work to do. That's why June is so important for us. This month represents so much progress for queer folks everywhere, but it also reminds us that we can never stop fighting for what we believe in. That includes making sure everyone feels safe and welcome at work—because everyone deserves to be treated equally regardless of who they love or how they identify themselves. Because Pride isn't just about celebrating being queer; it's about supporting each other through whatever comes next. It’s not only about remembering what we’ve overcome; it’s about fighting for what hasn’t been achieved yet. It doesn't matter if you're straight, bi, trans, gay or somewhere else on the spectrum—you should be proud of who you are too!

What Can You Do To Promote Love and Acceptance?
If you’re looking for ways to promote love and acceptance, it’s important to look at all angles. For example, supporting bills like HR1866, which is a piece of legislation that would prohibit discrimination on basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity by covered entities under Civil Rights Act of 1964, helps ensure equality and protections in multiple arenas. You can also support transgender individuals through donations to local organizations or just by having conversations with those around you. Remember that your voice counts! Having conversations with loved ones about what they know (or don’t know) can help foster understanding and acceptance in others—and that goes a long way. The National Center for Transgender Equality has plenty of resources on their website, including tips on how to have productive conversations. It’s also important to be aware of other cultures during Pride month. A lot of people may not realize that there are different cultural celebrations related to pride month, such as Dyke March, Black Pride and Trans Day of Remembrance. It's easy enough to do some research online before June begins—and even better if you plan ahead so you can attend an event near you! Whether you want to take part in an organized event or host one yourself, knowing about these additional events can help give more meaning to Pride month. Additionally, educating yourself will make it easier for you to share information with others who might not be familiar with specific celebrations and observances. There are many ways to celebrate and honor Pride month throughout June, but remember that celebrating doesn't stop when June ends—it's something we should strive for every day of the year. Being proud of who we are shouldn't be something we save only for one month out of every year; instead, we should work towards celebrating our diversity daily while helping educate others along the way.
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