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Pride movement keeps pushing

June is traditionally celebrated as LGBTQ Pride Month.

LGBTQI+ Pride Month is normally associated with joy, happiness, colorful parades and marches, people dressed in rainbow colored costumes, speeches by local, regional and national celebrities and leaders.

Out of all the months in the year, why June specifically? Last year, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots that rocked New York City at the end of June 1969 for three consecutive days and nights. Stonewall was a turning point in the LGBTQ movement here in the United States. It was a specific point in time when members of the queer community in New York City finally stood up for themselves and stated they would no longer tolerate the brutality, corruption and harassment as often inflicted by the New York City police force at that time. It was three days of often violent civil unrest and rioting led by some of the unlikeliest of citizens who finally said, NO more! No more to constant police harassment, no more to frequent police raids on the local bars, social gatherings and safe spaces. No more to being arrested, paraded out in the public, having their names, families and reputations ruined, and being jailed just for living their own authentic lives.

We look to some of the leaders of that time, including black queer drag queen Marsh P. Johnson, who was instrumental in leading the riots. Johnson was often outspoken as she railed against the injustices what were occurring in the NYC queer community at that time. Silvia Rivera, a good friend of Johnson, co-founded the Street Transvestite Actions Revolutionaries (STAR), becoming prominent figures in the movement.

One year later in June 1970, people from the Stonewall riots gathered in front of the Inn and began to march toward Central Park. The marchers started off with only few dozen people as they feared for their safety. Some of the very police who only one year previous were part of the police containment force against them were now once again out in force, this time allowing marchers to proceed peacefully. As the march extending some 15 NYC blocks continued, the number of participants steadily grew, reaching several thousand people once they reached their final destination.

The term “gay” was first used by a local newspaperman covering the story as a direct consequence of the riots.

Until recently, the LGBTQI+ community has made significant strides in demanding equal rights protections for our community members in terms of employment, housing, military service, access to health care and legal services. Gone was much of the stigma of coming out as homosexual, bi/pansexual, gender non-binary, transgender or any other letter of the vast LGBQTI+ alphabet soup.

In recent years the federal government has actively worked to deny LGBTQI+ people access to the most basic human rights and protections. We constantly see the federal government challenging long-established laws and precedents that directly affect our ability to live and exists in today’s society. This week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the LGBTQI+ community in matters pertaining to Title VII employment, stating that LGBTQI+ individuals ARE COVERED under the 1964 Civil Rights Act barring discrimination on the basis of sex. This is a HUGE win for our community!

Still pending is the Equality Act, a bill in that would amend the 1964 Rights Act to prohibit on the basis of orientation and identity in accommodations, education, funding, etc. Today, 29 states have not passed LGBT discrimination protections for their citizens. The Equality Act seeks to remedy this by applying existing state anti-LGBT-discrimination laws nationwide.

Within the past several years and especially the past several weeks, the federal government has rolled back basic protections specifically against the transgender community in terms of active military service, denying access to employment, education, health care, legal services and emergency shelter for homelessness, among many other basic civil rights. The government is once again redefining the concept of “sex” along strict biological appearance of anatomy at birth rather than on one inherent sense of self — gender identity.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically states, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Yet this is exactly what our federal government is doing today. This illegal and unconstitutional behavior of the federal government cannot be allowed to continue!

Here in New York, we are fortunate to have laws that protect our community members and families, beginning in 2002 with the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA), 2011 Marriage Equality Act, 2019 Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), ban on conversion therapy and ban on gay/transgender panic defense, among other protections. This year New York state passed protections for same-sex couples in the adoption process and surrogacy protections allowing gay couples to have and raise children of their own. Waiting for approval is the “Walking While Trans” bill to stop police profiling of transgender women of color for what they wear, where they stand and what they do in public spaces!

Thankfully there are several organizations in New York state — including Equality NY, Gender Equality NY, NYS Civil Liberties and many others — that have taken up the mantle to work with our New York state Assembly, Senate and governors office to ensure LGBTQI+ protections for our community and families.

As I’ve stated so many times in the past, the LGBTQI+ community is not looking for any “more” or “special” rights than anyone else in New York state. We are only demanding the same “equal” rights and protections as currently enjoyed by every other person. With that in mind, let’s go forward and celebrate — happy LGBTQI+ Pride Month!

Kelly Metzgar lives in Saranac Lake and leads the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance.

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