Posted on: Jun 8, 2021

The month of June is recognized as Pride Month by the LGBTQ community in the United States and in numerous countries abroad.  As part of the VTLA Diversity and Inclusion Alliance’s ongoing commitment to educating and empowering our members through diverse voices, we took some time this month to undertake a closer look at the history of Pride and the ongoing LGBTQ rights movement. Thanks to Samantha Sledd, co-chair of the DIA, for sharing her thoughts below.

History and Celebration of Pride
Ongoing LGBTQ Movement
What Can You Do?

History and Celebration of Pride

To truly appreciate the importance of this celebratory month, it is necessary to first understand the history behind it, most of which centers around the 1969 Stonewall Uprising.

Beginning in 1965, the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO, originally ECHO) organized annual Reminder Day pickets on July 4 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  These pickets were one of the earliest organized LGBTQ rights demonstrations in the U.S. and were intended to remind the public that LGBTQ individuals were being denied basic rights of citizenship.

As of 1969, same-sex sexual activity was illegal in every state but Illinois.  In New York, and many other urban centers, the solicitation of same-sex relations could result in an arrest under charges of “lewd and lascivious acts” or “criminal mischief.”  Similarly, bars and clubs would lose their liquor license if they served persons engaging in “disorderly conduct,” which at the time would have included any manner of same-sex intimacy such as dancing or kissing.  Nonetheless, gay bars and clubs operated in New York in the 1960s as the only relatively safe space for LGBTQ persons to socialize.  Interestingly, many of these bars and clubs were operated by the Mafia.  More information about how the Mafia ran these establishments, often exploiting the LGBTQ community, can be found here.   

In 1969 in New York City, the Stonewall Inn was one of the more well-known social establishments for young gay men, lesbians and transgender persons.  Despite the fact that Stonewall’s Mafia owners routinely bribed the police, it and other such places throughout the country were the common targets of police raids and brutality under the guise of “cleaning up the community.”  Just a few days before the Stonewall Uprising, police conducted one such raid on Stonewall during which they arrested bar employees and confiscated liquor.  They targeted Stonewall for operating without a proper liquor license.  

Then, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, numerous police officers raided Stonewall again.  They cleared the bar, arrested employees for selling alcohol, roughed up many of its patrons, and—pursuant to a state law that authorized the arrest of anyone not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing—took several cross-dressing patrons into custody.  What marked this raid different from those that preceded it was the patrons’ refusal to respond passively to the ongoing harassment and abuse.  A crowd gathered and began to deride and jostle the police.  Two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were said to have sparked the crowd by resisting arrest.  The police set up a barricade that was repeatedly breached, and, at one point, the bar was set on fire.  Eventually police reinforcements arrived, and the crowd dispersed.

By the following evening, word had spread, and thousands of protestors gathered at Stonewall and in the surrounding area.  Similar encounters with police continued over the next five days.  LGBTQ activists took advantage of the opportunity to spread information and build the community that would help strengthen the gay rights movement.  Although there had been protests before, the Stonewall incident was perhaps the first time LGBTQ people saw the value in uniting behind a common cause on a mass scale.  

After Stonewall, the ERCHO organizers began to shift their focus from planning their annual Reminder Day picket to organizing an annual demonstration to commemorate the Uprising.  On June 28, 1970, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day was held (Christopher Street being the location of the Stonewall Inn).  The event was considered a success as thousands of people ultimately joined a procession that stretched approximately 15 New York City blocks.  Thereafter, New York and other cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago quickly began planning for 1971.  Soon other locations across the country began to establish their own annual Pride traditions.  

Early Pride events were often lightly attended and encountered protests.  In 1978, the rainbow flag made its debut at a San Francisco Pride event.  The original rainbow flag, designed by Gilbert Baker, and its subsequent manifestations are meant to reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ community.  

Pride events have always been intended to celebrate the LGBTQ community, the diversity of this community, and individual freedoms; however, over the years, political and social activism has become central to these events.  In the early 1990s, beginning in Washington, D.C., Black Pride emerged as an alternative to the largely white mainstream LGBTQ movement and provided an opportunity for Black LGBTQ people to gather and celebrate their own unique experiences and identities.  In more recent years, Pride events specifically intended for other communities of color, particularly the Latinx community, have developed in some locations.  There are also special Pride events in many cities directed at different groups within the LGBTQ community, including women, transgender people and young adults.

Today, Pride is celebrated across the globe, often with the support and involvement of LGBTQ allied businesses and politicians.  Pride celebrations may occur over several days, or even up to a week, and often include rallies, marches, speeches, festivals, concerts, film screenings, parties, meetings, workshops and other experiences.  In the biggest cities such as San Francisco, London, New York, Amsterdam and São Paulo, Pride events usually attract hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of celebrants.

Ongoing LGBTQ Movement

While many Americans can freely celebrate Pride without fear of consequence or repercussion, there are many others in this country and across the world who still face persecution and discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  Even in the most liberal of American communities, LGBTQ persons continue their fight for equal protection and equal rights.

In recent years, the LGBTQ community has seen significant progress by way of Lawrence v. Texas, Obergefell v. Hodges, Bostock v. Clayton County, federal policies, and state legislation.  Nonetheless, LGBTQ persons continue to face a myriad of issues.  

By way of illustration, and by no means exhaustive, such issues include:

•    the absence of federal and state anti-discrimination law in the realms of housing, public accommodations, education, healthcare, federally funded programs, and access to credit; 

•    the absence of hate crime laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous states; 

•    ongoing hatred, intolerance and harassment of LGBTQ persons in many communities and workplaces; 

•    multiple states have anti-LGBTQ curriculum laws that limit instruction and discussion of LGBTQ issues in the classroom; and 

•    the absence of protection for incarcerated or detained LGBTQ persons, including immigrants.  

Most glaringly, the transgender community faces a vast array of ongoing problems including:

•    violence and hate crimes, disproportionately directed at Black and Latinx transgender women (at least 37 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed in the U.S. in 2020; nearly 70% of those deaths were Black and Latinx women); 

•    homelessness and poverty; 

•    disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration; 

•    governmental/bureaucratic barriers to transitioning (identity documents and surgery requirements); 

•    economic and societal barriers to transitioning (the high costs of medical care and the frequent denial of care); and 

•    equality in sports. 

The fight for LGBTQ rights and equality is far from over.

What Can You Do?

Pride serves not just as a celebration of the LGBTQ community, but also as a call to action and reminder of the ongoing struggle of LGBTQ persons.  So, that brings us to the question of what can we do, as lawyers and members of the VTLA, to join in the celebration and promote equality for the LGBTQ community?

You can start by making changes in the workplace that will affect not only your employees and coworkers, but also your clients.  Here are some suggestions:

Update your workplace policies to ensure they are gender neutral and inclusive of LGBTQ employees.  Consider adding or updating a nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity.  Consider using health insurance policies that offer coverage for transition-related health care.

Undertake training on inclusivity and neutrality in language.  Lambda Legal has a great curriculum that can be used by legal professionals.

Listen and take action when LGBTQ persons speak out.  Make sure they feel heard and seen.  Ensure your workplace has and enforces a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate jokes and comments.

Help your employees and colleagues to access LGBTQ networks and communities.  Examples include the Virginia Equality Bar Association, Lambda Legal and the National LGBT Bar Association.  If you operate a larger firm, start your own in-house LGBTQ networking group.

Lead by example.  Take time every day to be thoughtful, sensitive and inclusive toward your LGBTQ colleagues and clients.  This includes their partners or families—take the time to ask about LGBTQ partners and families just as you would with a non-LGBTQ colleague or client.

React positively when an LGBTQ colleague or client first discloses their sexual orientation or gender identity.  LGBTQ persons are very aware of verbal and nonverbal reactions.  In many situations, the most positive reaction you might have is a non-reaction—continue the conversation uninterrupted, without pause or signs of discomfort.

Do not use workplace dress codes that are gender specific.  If you believe a dress code is necessary, ensure it is gender neutral.

Make your workplace a safe space.  Be vocal about your support for the LGBTQ community.  Some companies post magnets, stickers or posters to help LGBTQ employees feel supported in the workplace.  You can do the same on your firm websites to encourage and welcome prospective LGBTQ clients to reach out to your firm.  Additionally, ensure employees and clients have access to a restroom that matches who they are.

Select a day during the month of June to celebrate Pride.  Allow employees the opportunity to use the day as a paid holiday.  If there are Pride celebrations in your area, try to ensure the date coincides with one or more of the scheduled Pride events (such as the march, rally or festival).  Or, take the opportunity to schedule a work social event that acknowledges and celebrates Pride.  

Here are some links to various local Pride events and organizations in the Virginia area:

o    Richmond: VA Pride and Black Pride RVA

o    Hampton Roads

o    Fredericksburg

o    Loudoun

o    Charlottesville

o    Winchester

o    Bristol

o    Washington, D.C: Capital Pride and DC Black Pride

And, most importantly, educate yourself.  This article is a good start, but there are endless resources out there to help.  

Here are just a few recommendations:

Lambda Legal Publications and Resources

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation Reports and Professional Resources

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Resources

National LGBTQ Task Force Reports & Studies

Equality Virginia

Virginia Equality Bar Association