14th June 2019,
Remembering as We Celebrate: The Evolution of Gay Pride
Every June, we come together in our communities to celebrate the identities and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world. At parades, parties and rallies, we lift each other up, reasserting the value of sexual and gender diversity. But we’ve come a long way since the first Pride parade in 1970.
Gay Pride began as a political demonstration to demand equality for the gay community in New York City, who had long suffered violence and discrimination in a highly homophobic society. Each year, more parades began to pop up across the US, spearheaded by gay rights organisations like PFLAG and ACT UP. Since then, it’s grown into an international movement that includes ethnic and sexual minorities from across the spectrum. In June of 2000, Bill Clinton publicly named June Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.
Let’s take a closer look at the origins, evolution and significance of Pride.
Stonewall: From Resistance, The Beginning of an Era
Pride is set in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots of June 1969, when 200 patrons of the Stonewall Inn gay bar in Greenwich Village fought back against a discriminatory police raid – the culmination of years of ongoing discrimination and violence. A watershed moment in history, Stonewall is considered by many to mark the beginning of the gay rights movement as we know it. On June 28, 1970, the Stonewall riots’ one-year anniversary, the first gay pride march (then called Christopher Street Liberation Day) was held.
The Inclusive Symbols of Gay Pride
The same year, the movement chose the phrase ‘gay pride’ as its slogan. Said its originator L. Craig Schoonmaker, “Anyone can have pride in themselves, and that would make them happier as people, and produce the movement likely to produce change.”
The rainbow flag was also chosen to represent the movement in 1970, when San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker was commissioned by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, to create a symbol for the movement. Each stripe is intended to represent an aspect of gay identity.
Minority Visibility at Pride
Since the ‘90s, black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander representation has increased at Pride, with parades like New York’s ‘Pride in the City’ and Detroit’s ‘Hotter than July’ celebrating the intersectionality of LBGT+ and ethnic minority identities. Minority visibility at Pride continues to expand as the LBGT+ umbrella does. Today, groups represented at Pride include drag queens and kings, Dykes on Bikes, bisexual+, trans and non-binary friends, activists, community organisations, religious groups and more.
Pride Holds Deeper Meanings
While the community has no doubt made incredible strides since the Stonewall era, Pride also serves as a reminder of the severe marginalisation LGBT+ folks faced just a few short decades ago. Pride Month is an opportunity to pay respect to those who led the movement to where it is, a safe space in which to take solace in each other, and a reminder of the work still ahead of us in the fight for equality.
In the words of one Pride attendee, Avi, “For me,Pride month is a symbolic recognition of LGBT history. It’s a chance to celebrate, which is important because being queer comes with a lot of anxieties that can take a big mental toll… at these events, I feel more free to be myself and I feel more connected to others who have gone through similar struggles.”
LGBT+ Mental Health: An Issue Still on the Table
The LGBT+ community’s vibrancy and inclusivity may be a shining beacon to all, but it’s not without its share of struggles. LGBT+ folks are disproportionately affected by mental illness and substance abuse disorders, largely due to minority stress: the undue trauma incurred as a result of their sexual minority status.
Studies show that sexual minorities are more than twice as likely to use drugs as the general population, gay people use alcohol at twice the rate of heterosexuals and LGBT+ teens are 90 percent more likely to abuse substances than their heterosexual peers. Overall, LGBT+ people are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, do so at higher levels and do so until later stages life.
Given what we know about the tendency to self-soothe mental health issues with substances of all forms, it’s no surprise that many in the community are self-medicating the discrimination and bullying that is unfortunately still a nearly universal experience.
Additionally, some parts of the community have increased exposure to a club scene that often includes substances. ChemSex, for example, is a result of a ‘party and play’ culture that encourages carefree, drug-fuelled sex with multiple partners – a practice that puts participants at high risk for addiction and sexually transmitted disease.
The Importance of LGBT+ Safe Spaces
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction treatment programs offering specialized groups for gay and bisexual men showed better outcomes for those clients compared to gay and bisexual men in non-specialized programs; but in one study, only 7.4 percent of programs offered specialized services for LGBT patients.” Clearly, this is a pressing need.
When you’re dealing with trauma specifically related to your minority status, it’s important that you do so in a completely safe space, where you feel like you can talk through your concerns with people who understand first-hand what you’re going through.
R12 understands – that’s why we offer a specialised, trauma-informed addiction treatment programme designed by and for the LGBT+ community. One R12 graduate had this to say about his experience: “For the first time in my life I am connecting to people in my (LGBT+) community and not pretending to be someone I’m not.”
This month, as we celebrate our collective accomplishments and the beauty in our diversity, let’s remember to take care of ourselves and those around us who may be struggling internally.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or mental illness, help is available – talk to us today to learn about your options.