By the front door of my house I have a painting by artist Micah Bazant. Along with an image of Marsha P. Johnson, one of the original leaders of the LGBTQ+ liberation movement, is a quote by Bazant, which reads, “No Pride for Some of Us, Without Liberation for All of Us.”
I think of this quote not just every Pride season, but every day.
To me, it speaks to the true meaning of Pride, and the values we should be holding onto as Pride becomes mainstream.
The origins of Pride also speak to the liberatory history of the month itself. Pride began in protest, with patrons of New York City’s Stonewall Inn — including Johnson — resisting ongoing harassment and a 1969 police raid on the popular gay bar, leading to a multiday uprising and advancing the gay rights movement.
But in the decades since, as the protests morphed into parades and have become big business, that original history and the possibilities it represents are in danger of being overshadowed by the rainbow-washing of rainbow-colored Doritos and Pride mouthwash.
For me, the movement for LGBTQ+ rights is about greater freedom for all of us and for fighting for the rights of every marginalized person, queer or not. (LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning, with the + denoting everything along the gender and sexuality spectrum.)
What queer culture has taught me is that I do not have to be confined by gendered or conventional expectations for how I should live my life.
I can choose to have kids, I can choose not to. I can choose to marry or not. Despite what Lady Gaga says about being “Born this Way,” I don’t have to be confined to one sexual orientation for life if I choose not to. I don’t have to follow sexist and gendered ideas of women’s household responsibilities or child care roles.
I am proud to be a queer woman of color and am proud of the ways in which our queer and transgender communities have opened up and held space for more freedom and choice for all.
This freedom is only going to expand and grow. According to a Gallup survey of Gen Z adults, one in six identifies as LGBT, an increase over previous generations, with 72% of LGBT Gen Z people identifying as bisexual. Further, the overall number of adults who identify as LGBT rose to 5.6% in 2020 from 4.5% in just 2017.
Not only is Gen Z leading the way in terms of sexual orientation, they are also pushing back on rigid gender constructs as well. A recent survey found that half of Gen Z believes the gender binary is outdated.
But while I feel no shame about being queer, I am still often afraid. In a city like Seattle, where over 10% of the population identifies as LGBTQ+ and our last two mayors were LGBTQ+ and that fact is barely raised, it might be surprising to learn that hate and bias incidents increased 63% from 2019 to 2020, with sexual orientation being the second most common type of attacks after racially biased incidents. And of course if you are queer or trans and also a person of color, you are at even greater risk.
While situational awareness and hypervigilance are a constant part of life as an LGBTQ+ person, when you leave a liberal urban area like Seattle, “physical affection in public is an act of deliberate courage,” as one person put it. Even more courage is needed if you are a person of color or gender minority in addition to being LGBTQ+.
I remember the first time the Seattle Pride parade filled the streets of Fourth Avenue in 2006. It brought tears to my eyes to see hundreds of thousands of people packed into downtown to affirm that I and the people and community I love were welcome and celebrated. I had never seen anything like it.
Yet in the 15 years since, I have come to understand that rainbows without an accompanying commitment to social and racial justice are just ephemera. Could we harness the energy of those hundreds of thousands of people to achieve “liberation for all of us” versus a vodka-company-sponsored party for some of us?
I think we can. Our ancestors like Marsha P. Johnson showed us how.