June is LGBTQ Pride Month, Come Celebrate with Us!

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Earlier this month, Milwaukee hosted its annual PrideFest celebration at the Summerfest grounds throughout the course of a weekend. This year, as I have for the past several years, I attended the festival with my partner and several of my LGBTQ friends and allies. We put on bright, rainbow-laden clothing, sprinkled glitter in excessive amounts on our hair and faces, and forced a caravan of amused (read: overwhelmed) Uber-drivers to listen to us "sing" (certainly it was more of a full-throated shout, but I digress...) ABBA's "Dancing Queen" and other LGBTQ anthems while being chauffeured to the grounds.

It was, you might say, a bit over the top.

But to be fair, we only get to celebrate like that once a year--for us in Milwaukee, it's the first weekend of June, but our community likes to claim the whole month as our own, slap a rainbow flag on it and call it Pride Month.

Unfortunately for us, some folks think we deserve even less than that. When I got back from the festival, I opened up my Facebook feed and scrolled for a while until I landed on a post from an acquaintance I knew from back home. This person was distraught, you see, because "the gays" had "stolen" June from the Dairy Farmers. It turns out that June is also Dairy Month, and gosh darn it, he they want it back!

Sorry dairy farmers, I promise we didn't steal June from you on purpose.

But it brings up a good point for my non-LGBTQ friends (and for my LGBTQ friends who may not know their history): what, exactly, are we celebrating? And why are we celebrating in June?

For very good reason, it turns out. Pride Month commemorates the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Manhattan, which happened (you guessed it!) in the month of June. The Stonewall Inn was a bar, a gathering place, and an altogether safe space for LGBTQ individuals in the 60's--particularly for gay and transgender men and women of color (i.e., the most targeted for persecution among an already extremely persecuted class of citizens) at a time when the community was absolutely reviled.

After the Inn was unexpectedly raided by the police (a custom which was out of sync with the usual routine of tipping off the bar owners before the raid), the police quickly lost control of the situation; the men and women at the Inn began rebelling against their inhumane treatment by the police, and violence eventually broke out, leading to widespread riots.

This event became an enormous turning point for LGBTQ rights. After the dust settled, the community felt more empowered than it ever had before, having proved to itself that it could fight back against oppression. A year later on the anniversary of the riots, Manhattan held the first ever Gay Pride Parade.

The parade was meant to prove to the world that, despite the prevailing attitude of the time, it was okay to belong to the LGBTQ community. It was okay to not fit in. That, at the end of the day, we belong to a community that has our back, even in the face of overwhelming hostility by the state and its citizens.

A decade later, when AIDS decimated the gay community, cities around the nation hosted Pride marches to celebrate the community and bring attention to an epidemic that was largely ignored by the government. A decade after that, when Bill Clinton signed Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage acts into law--stripping LGBTQ individuals of their dignity and the respect they deserved as people--the LGBTQ folks still came out in full force to celebrate their community in June, and to commemorate those who fought and died in the pursuit of tolerance, acceptance, and freedom.

And today, when the nation's highest officials pronounce to the world that our transgender brothers and sisters are not welcome or worthy to serve their country with honor and respect, our community will be proudly marching in the streets, dancing to Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, and making our voices heard across the country, because, at the end of the day, we are a colorful, diverse, and proud community, and we think that's worth celebrating.

And lest we forget, our community has also made incredible strides in earning more rights and mainstream acceptance since that first Pride parade in 1970, and we think that's worth celebrating, too.

So, while June is a month that is filled with history, pain, triumph, and joy for our community, it's also a month we can share with the dairy farmers, the candy-makers, the zoo and aquarium owners, the people who just really love balloons, and all the other groups of people who choose to celebrate in June, because ours is an inclusive community. There's plenty room for everyone here, and there's plenty of room for you, too!

Will you come celebrate with us?

Ben A. Lockwood is an Associate in the Health Law Group in the Milwaukee office.

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