June has and will continue to be associated with freedom and liberation. The recent, long fought-for recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday speaks to the continued struggle for historically marginalized groups to obtain visibility and equity in America. As witnessed through their lived experiences, liberation does not come without struggle.
Pride Month symbolizes and represents the continued fight for freedom of identity and expression for the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersexual, Asexual, Two Spirit and Ally) community. Pride Month, celebrated each June, marks the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, a landmark event in civil-rights history.
The Stonewall Inn was one of several bars in New York City where it was safer for LGBTQIA+ individuals to congregate. However, the New York State Liquor Authority prohibited liquor licenses to establishments that served these communities. On a late June evening in 1969, when Stonewall was raided by police, one of the arrested patrons challenged the bystanders to stand up to the injustice. For the next six days, there were demonstrations and skirmishes between the police and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Although this was not the first time the LGBTQIA+ community had resisted its oppression, the Stonewall Uprising is widely recognized as the start of the Gay Rights Movement. Since then, progress has been made—through the passing of laws prohibiting discrimination and protecting individuals’ rights, celebrations such as the Pride Parade and the ascension of leaders in government, business, athletics and the arts who identify as LGBTQIA+. Even so, there are still areas where LGBTQIA+ identification, and the intersection of LGBTQIA+ identities, are not accepted. The struggle continues.
There are those who have silently and overtly identified as LGBTQIA+. In 2014, Michael Sam, a drafted linebacker with the St. Louis Rams, became the first Black, masculine-presenting professional football player to publicly announce that he was gay. Unfortunately, he did not make the full roster. Continued evidence of this struggle can be found in the recent announcement by Las Vegas Raiders football player Carl Nassib. Nassib courageously stated to the world that he identifies as gay, and that he has been struggling with sharing his intersectional identities of being a football player who identifies as gay for over 15 years. Warren Moon, one of the first African Americans to break the color barrier as a quarterback, tweeted his support, and many other past and present players have praised Nassib’s courage—a significant gesture within the context of a sport that can be stereotypically macho and homophobic.
It is commendable that Nassib made the announcement, however, there is discussion regarding how his race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status and masculine-presenting intersectional identities provided him the privilege of being more accepted. These disparities are far too common in the transgender and gender-nonconforming communities. The Human Rights Campaign has argued that there is an invisibility that historically tends to be attached to the lived experiences of those who have been the victims of harassment and violence. With intersecting co-identities, such as gender, race and ethnicity, ability, and overall insecurity, these names continue to go unnoticed despite resulting in increases in gun violence and undocumented deaths. Names like Marsha P. Johnson, Fifty Bandz, and Chyna Carrillo are just a few that have been important to the fight for justice and members of society who were family and friends of those who loved them.
Sports is one of many contexts wherein LGBTQIA+ individuals have to negotiate the intersectionality of their identities. On a daily basis, energy is spent on how to express oneself without receiving microaggressions, being misgendered or misunderstood. Within the arts, LGBTQIA+ voices and narratives have also been suppressed. In her lecture “Queer Art: 1960s to the Present,” art historian Tara Burk discusses how LGBTQIA+ artists historically had to express and share their identities through hidden codes in their work. The Stonewall Uprising sparked a movement within the art world to become more visible, audible and expressive with their identities.
During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, which continues to this day, diversely populated activist groups like ACT UP weaponized art to achieve their goals of getting experimental drugs to those who were dying, and they did so against all odds. As writer and activist Sarah Schulman states so accurately at the beginning of Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987 – 1993 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021), theirs “is a story of a despised group of people, with no rights, facing a terminal disease for which there were no treatments. Abandoned by families, government, and society, they joined together and forced our country to change against its will, permanently impacting future movements of people with AIDS throughout the world and saving incalculable numbers of future lives.”
Today we have artists and professionals expressing and celebrating the lives and histories of LGBTQIA+ people across multiple disciplines, to broad and widely accepting audiences. Yes, progress has been made. But the work continues.
At SVA, we continue to work toward creating a welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment for all, and to honor and celebrate the diverse achievements, experiences and voices of our LGBTQIA+ community members. On Sunday, June 27, the LGBTQ SVA student group took over the College’s official Instagram account, @svanyc, for a day of Pride-themed content. Click here to follow LGBTQ SVA on Instagram, and here for a list of Pride-friendly Instagram accounts selected by LGBTQ SVA student leaders.