By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
This year, President Biden signed a bill declaring every June 19th to be a federal holiday known as Juneteenth National Independence. It is an important day to celebrate the emancipation of African American people in the United States from enslavement. June 19th itself was the day that General Order #3 was announced that freed the enslaved people in Texas in 1865.
In addition, the month of June is celebrated as LGBTQIA+ pride month with several historical moments in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement having happened in June. Most notably of course is the Stonewall Riots that took place over several days between June 28th and July 3rd. During a “routine” police raid at the Stonewall Inn on the first night, a large group of LGBTQIA+ people gathered around the bar to protest the police harassment of the community. As the raid continued, the protest began to escalate with trans people of color including Marsha P Johnson pushing back against the bullying and harassment from the police officers and it escalated into a full-scale riot as more LGBTQIA+ people started pushing back. While there had been other protests and riots against the discrimination and prosecution of LGBTQIA+ people prior, the Stonewall Riots became a watershed moment in history. A moment where LGBTQIA+ people became more empowered to stand up for themselves and speak out against the systemic oppression and discrimination of the community.
The 1960s were marked by the several protest movements against the oppressive conservatism of the McCarthy era that sought to curb American freedom through fear mongering and vilification led by white, Christian, heterosexual, capitalistic supremacy under the guise of “patriotism.” The Civil Rights movement where black Americans stood up to the oppression and racial discrimination imposed onto them by Jim Crow laws and systemic racism was also watershed movement.
While historically, it is coincidental that these two major moments in history occurred in June, the history of these communities are well intertwined. Many of the protests and demonstrations by the LGBTIA+ community were led by people of color and their passion to stand up for equality and acceptance in American society is rooted in our history, which is why holidays like Juneteenth are important. They teach us and remind us of where we, as a country, come from and mark important events in our history that have defined who we are today.
It is also important to recognize that both for the LGBTQIA+ community and the greater African American community, there is still much work to be done to ensure equal representation, equality, and inclusion within our society. Systemic racism is still very much prevalent, and with the Black Lives Matters protests showing us that police brutality disproportionally affects people of color. In addition, 2021 has seen more anti-transgender bills introduced in state and federal legislatures in an unprecedented attack on the rights of these communities. the “McCarthy era” might have ended decades ago, the same arguments used then to oppress these communities are still prevalent today.
So, for Juneteenth and Pride Month, we celebrate our LGBTQIA+ and people of color communities, recognizing that the fight for equality and inclusion shows us that, through diversity, we are all connected and stronger together.