Rainbow flags flap in the breeze, a huge crowd of celebrators milling about underneath them. It's a typical weekend in June, and Pride events are in full swing around the globe. The people who come to celebrate have one thing in common with each other. They are either in, or supportive of, the LGBT community.
If you're not familiar with the term, LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer. It is used to describe any person whose sexuality falls outside what most people consider to be norm. These events are festive and unique now, but their past is commemorative of a darker time in the community's history. June is considered Pride month in memory of the Stonewall Riots that took place that month in 1969.
50 years ago, the world had a very different view of homosexuals. Lesbians, Gays, and others in the community were treated very poorly by the rest of the world. There were very few places that homosexuals could mingle without being attacked for their orientation. Most bars and clubs outright refused same sex couples. The only safe places to meet were at specific bars, which were regularly raided by the police. Men were arrested, and the bar fined on a regular basis. When a police department raided yet another gay club, called the Stonewall Inn, it resulted in gay people rioting instead of just another crack down. The riots were violent, and spread much farther than the area just outside the Stonewall Inn. Riots started all over the map, in protest to the treatment of the LGBTQ community by police, and other people.
When the violence died down, that might have been the end of it if it hadn't been for a bisexual woman named Brenda Howard. She organized the very first Pride Parade, The Christopher Street Liberation Day March. A year later, she organized another march on the anniversary of the first one. It was the very beginning of Pride Month, and a wonderful way to turn a violent and stormy start into a productive new beginning.
Today, Pride Month draws attention to the inequality still present in today's modern society. Currently 74 countries completely outlaw LGBTQ relationships, and it is punishable by death in 12 of them. Even inside of some of the most developed countries in the world, homophobia can prevent members of the LGBTQ community from getting good jobs, or in some cases, even getting the medical treatment they need.
Many LGBTQ people find themselves harassed, or their medical claims denied, simply for their sexual orientation. In a situation such as HIV or AIDS, the denial of vital medications isn't just annoying or inconvenient, it can mean the death of the patient. Unfortunately, this kind of inequity is still going on today, inside the US.
Transgenders suffer in particular from doctors who refuse to treat them because of their chosen gender, or worse, wind up sexually assaulted during their attempts to get health care. Fear of discrimination can prevent the LGBTQ community from attempting to get health care at all, which can wind up deadly if the condition they are seeking treatment for is serious.
These issues are woven into the very fabric of nearly every nation. Events such as pride parades and festivals not only give people in the LGBTQ community a chance to express themselves in a safe atmosphere, they draw much needed attention to the neglect and abuse of the community as a whole.
Thankfully, events like these have already come a long way to helping the community gain equal footing with other sexual orientations. In 2016, the United States federal government ruled it unconstitutional to refuse same sex marriages, making it legal in all 50 states. Before this time, same sex marriages were up to the individual states, putting marriage out of reach for many long term partners. That same year, then President Obama declared Stonewall Inn, where the gay rights movement officially began, a national monument.
Currently, gay marriage is only legal in 26 countries, and legalization only started 18 years ago, with the Netherlands in 2000. Australia is the most recent country to do so in 2017. Compared to the huge number of countries in the world, the privilege of being able to marry whom you love is relatively rare around the globe.
There is still a long way to go before the LGBTQ community can truly be equal with traditional partnerships. Progress is fragile, and can go backwards as easily as it goes forward. President Trump recently endorsed a recommendation that would ban transgenders severing openly in the military. This in stark contrast to President Obama, who repealed the original ban.
Currently, President Trumps ban is not in effect due to court challenges, but illustrates the issues of today very well. Without continuing the fight and keeping gay rights in the forefront of everyone's mind, these issues will continue to plague the LGBTQ community.
Despite the challenges they face every day, the LGBTQ community is still alive and strong, and these festivals are a testament to progress. While a parade or festival may seem like an odd way to bring a bout social justice, it helps bring important light to what is going on in the community. It gives people a chance to think about why it is okay for one NFL player to kiss his girlfriend on television—but not okay for another to kiss his boyfriend in the same fashion.
These festivals give people of the LGBTQ community a chance to show themselves safely, and to give people a chance to see they are very real and very normal. With more support being gained through these festivals, they can change the world, and make it better for everyone, one rainbow flag at a time.