USA LGBTQIA+ Gender Policy Inequality

Never forget that the first-ever Pride was a riot against police brutality

Pride Month is a time of celebration for the queer community.

While the joy of Pride might still be struggling to gain a foothold in some places, in most major cities across the United States this month will be marked with parades and parties. Brands are rolling out rainbow-stamped merchandise and sponsoring parade floats. But Pride isn’t just a time of revelry; it’s also a time of remembrance.

We celebrate Pride in the month of June because it marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

In 1969, queer life was decidedly not something that could be celebrated by mainstream culture. Police regularly raided gay nightclubs, arresting people who were wearing clothing that didn’t conform to their assigned gender or were suspected of “soliciting” same-sex relations. Up until 1966, the New York State Liquor Authority would shut down or otherwise punish bars that sold alcohol to members of the LGBTQ+ community, arguing that a group of queer people was somehow inherently more disorderly than a group of straight people.

In 1969, homosexual acts–kissing, holding hands, dancing together–were still illegal in New York. So on the night of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar that is still open in Greenwich Village. 

In 1969, queer life was decidedly not something celebrated by mainstream culture.

Stonewall was one of the few bars that welcomed drag queens, who were often shunned from other LGBT spaces.

The police started arresting bar patrons and employees who were violating the law about gender-appropriate clothing. When an officer clubbed a Black lesbian named Stormé DeLarverie over the head for complaining that her handcuffs were too tight, the crowd that had gathered outside the club had enough.

Marsha P. Johnson, a Black drag queen, and Sylvia Rivera, a Latinx queen, were two of the first to actively resist the police that night, throwing bricks, bottles, and shot glasses at officers. Their actions sparked six days of riots in the neighborhood surrounding the Stonewall Inn and galvanized the nascent gay rights movement in the United States.

Johnson and Rivera later started Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR,) an organization dedicated to serving young, homeless drag queens and trans women of color. Sadly, today queer people of color and especially trans and gender nonconforming people of color continue to be the most vulnerable members of the queer community, despite the fact that we have Johnson and Rivera to thank for so much of our achievements since 1969.

Transgender people of color face the highest rates of violent crime.

Today, 60% of the victims of anti-LGBTQ violence and anti-HIV
crimes are people of color, despite the fact that people of color make up only 38% of the U.S. population. Likewise, while only about 3.5% of the U.S. population is composed of undocumented immigrants, they made up 17% of the victims in this study. It’s hard to get definite numbers on hate crimes, so there is certainly a margin for error in these numbers, but the trends here are clear and disturbing. 

Despite the rising acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in many parts of the country, rates of homicide against our community are also rising. And as you may have guessed by now, those rates are especially high for trans and queer people of color. Transgender people of color face the highest rates of violent crime of all queer people. The majority of victims of anti-LGBTQ violence said that police were “hostile” or “indifferent” when they reported the crimes.

As a result, many choose not to report, so the numbers are likely worse than we know.

While we have achieved marriage equality, other legal battles still remain. So far, only two states–California and Illinois– have banned the use of the “gay panic defense” in court. Essentially, the gay panic defense is used when someone has committed violence against a queer person because that queer person’s alleged sexual advances made the perpetrator so scared they lashed out.

While we have achieved marriage equality, other legal battles still remain.

Some people argue that the defense is uncommon and unlikely to succeed, so banning it is unnecessary, but one study found that it has been used in about half of U.S. states, with a mixed record of success–a man in Texas was acquitted of murder based on his lawyer’s successful use of the gay panic defense. More importantly, though, advocates for the ban argue that it is important not to allow queer identity to ever be sufficient cause for violence.

That seems especially important amid the increasing rates of homicide against queer and trans people.

In 28 states, it is still legal to fire someone based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Since there are no federal anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people, there are limited ways for people in those states to fight back.

Likewise, 28 states have no protections for the queer community against housing discrimination. Three of those states (North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas) have even passed state laws that block local governments from enacting housing protections for LGBTQ+ people. About 50% of queer Americans live in states that lack these kinds of protections.

And despite our gains in recent years, the rollout of “religious exemption” bills in states controlled by Republican lawmakers threaten our access to all kinds of services and rights, from adopting kids to receiving medical care.

I love celebrating Pride. As an introvert, it can feel like I save up all my energy for socializing to expend it this month at parades, demonstrations, drag shows, and dance parties. But now is a time to not only remember, but also revive Pride’s revolutionary roots.

Our rights and our very lives are still under attack, and the most vulnerable members of our community need not only solidarity but action.