It is June and that means it is LGBT Pride Month! For those of us who identify within the spectrum of LGBTQ, this is a time to commemorate our history. It’s a chance to look at where we’ve come from, what we’ve achieved, and keep in mind how far we still have to go.
Pride Month is more than a series of rainbow flag-waving Facebook posts and parades, however. This month-long celebration commemorates the June 28, 1969 Stonewall Riots that took place in Greenwich Village. These riots were a series of violent clashes over two nights between gay rights protesters and the police.
Why commemorate riots?
We like to say “violence doesn’t solve anything,” don’t we? As with the history of any civil rights movement, however, our homosexual citizens suffered decades of indignities. Their sexual “preference” was treated as a crime. And, as with an oppressed group that gets tired of the kind of treatment, this was one of those nights where they just weren’t going to take it anymore. All the gay community wanted was to live their lives without shame or having to resort to secrecy.
Instead, they were rejected from holding Federal jobs, fired, or kicked out of the military if suspected of being homosexual. There comes a point when people are tired of being treated like dirt and that is what happened the morning of June 28, 1969. What followed was a turning point, a moment when the gay community rose up and claimed their power…
…and didn’t back down.
Why does Pride Month still matter?
Pride and history months/celebrations serve many important purposes. As stated above, they generally commemorate specific events that were a catalyst for greater social change and victory.
They also are months that call us to greater awareness of civil rights. Whether it is Pride Month, Black History Month, or Women’s History Month, these observances are opportunities for education and to open a dialogue. This is our chance to understand what oppressed groups have endured – and continue to endure – here in America despite our supposed “inalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Pride Month challenges us to practice mindfulness, to realize not everyone has it easy in their lives. Something as simple as the color of our skin or who we love sets us apart from the Anglo-Saxon hetero-normative. Physical, mental, and developmental challenges pose another unintentional barrier between the disabled and the abled.
Why are people punished for being born a certain way? My only answer is that because other people are ignorant and uncaring. Pride and history months give communities the opportunity to rectify ignorance, if they care to do so. Unfortunately, it’s the lack of caring we cannot change.
But when we listen to one another and accept each other’s differences, that is when we have the power to come together for positive and revolutionary change.
Why Should Pride Month Matter in Genealogy?
LGBT people are spouses, descendants and ancestors too. They aren’t second-class citizens. They are in our family trees. I have same-sex marriages in my family tree and there is no reason why I shouldn’t. Because they’re my family.
Understanding gay history helps you better understand your gay ancestors’ lives. Were they in the military and, if so, was their enlistment cut short? Did they live in a place known for having a large gay population? Did they inexplicably cut themselves off from their families (or vice versa)? Thomas MacEntee offers many tips for researching your gay ancestors and his first point is that understanding gay history is vital to this endeavor.
And then there’s the fact that the person sitting next to you or presenting at a genealogy conference is also, potentially, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Understanding the history of what it took for them to get from there to here (and the struggles they still face in achieving equality) makes it that much easier for you to welcome them into our community without judgment.
Genealogy isn’t just about collecting ancestors. It’s about putting their lives in context. Pride and history celebrations help us do this.