Celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month
June 7, 2021 11:45 AM
by Christopher J. Smith
Happy SaMo Pride!
In Santa Monica, we have reasons to celebrate. This Tuesday, June 8th, our City Council will recognize Pride Month with a beautiful video proclamation written by Terry Wolverton, a poet, novelist, editor, and lesbian activist.
We are a community that recognizes that gender and sexual orientation are non-binary, spectrums of identity. But for many, this remains a difficult concept to understand or accept. The more we embrace this spectrum, however, the more we embrace each other. As a Generation X, cisgender man, I grew up learning there are two genders – male and female. It was never questioned. It was accepted the same way the Earth is round.
This idea of a binary world was reinforced in all aspects of our lives. Girls played with dolls; boys played with trucks. Bathrooms were designed to service each gender. The stores at the mall created departments based on familiar gender norms, and our image of men and women were distinguished by what they wore - women in dresses and fierce shoes, men in suits with either black or brown shoes.
In all of this, we couldn’t see what we were missing. But gender non-conformity is not new. There is evidence of gender non-conformity in ancient ruins found as early as 7,000 BC. Roman Emperor Nero married two men, Pythagorus and Sporus in 54 AD, each wearing bridal costumes traditionally worn by women. Here in our own country, Native American cultures embrace the idea of a third gender, neither male nor female.
Cracks in the construct that gender is binary exist around the globe, but they were often suppressed and persecuted. Throughout Europe, it became illegal to wear clothing of the other gender starting in the mid-19th century. Forgotten were the fashion ideals of European courts in the 15th and 16th centuries, where men wore kitten heels, teased wigs, and powder. But then again, back then, you dared not question that the world was flat.
The fear of those not conforming to one of the two genders continued into the 20th century, even as gay ghettos started to emerge. The first was actually in Berlin Schöneberg, which came into existence between the World Wars. But the Nazis and the Holocaust quickly repressed this and gays, lesbians and trans were imprisoned in Concentration Camps along with Jews, atheists, certain Christians, and free thinkers. Tagged with a pink triangle (rather than the Star of David worn by Jewish prisoners), queer prisoners were the only group returned to prison, not freed after Allied Forces liberated the camps at the end of World War II.
The modern gay rights movement, starting with the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, has systematically worked to breakdown discrimination and create a broader awareness and understanding of gender and sexual orientation. And we have made progress. The US Supreme Court recognized same sex marriage in its 2015 ruling and last year affirmed gender and sexual orientation as protected categories in federal non-discrimination acts. And last year we saw the intersection of the Black Lives Matter movement with the gay rights movement to create the All Black Lives Matter mantra. A recent Gallup Survey of over 15,000 Gen Z’ers found that 1 in 6 identified as queer or non-binary, showing real growth in understanding about gender and sexual orientation among younger people.
Nevertheless, queer history has been laced with fear, violence, oppression, and suppression. One of the most tragic realities of this legacy of bigotry is how it infiltrated the queer community itself. Queer Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) who faced ostracization from their families and communities were also shunned by the White queer community. A very real fear of survival fed a desire to “pass” to be able to find work and housing. Passing meant conforming as much as possible to one of the two gender norms, avoiding drawing attention to oneself at all costs. This included marginalizing those marginalized by society. These fears also drove resistance to accepting the trans community by the queer cisgender community. This remains a painful history of the modern LGBTQ+ movement, and its effects very much remain with us today.
This Pride, we want to raise the voices of LGBTQ+ community members who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and those who are trans and gender non-conforming who continue to struggle to achieve acceptance, including from within the LGBTQ+ community itself.
Today, the LGBTQ+ BIPOC community continues to face racism and homophobia and navigates conflicting cultural norms and values. Many lead compartmentalized lives – separating their queer identities from their families and others.
Trans people are more often greeted with deep misunderstanding, fear, and hate, and far more likely to face job and housing discrimination than almost any group. This is even harder for trans people of color. They are the target of dehumanizing hate as 33 states have debated over 100 proposals to restrict Trans access to core medical services and use of bathrooms or denying young trans women the opportunity to compete in sports based on their true gender identity.
This month we’re offering a series of free, virtual events so we can collectively learn from these experiences and offer support. As we listen to their voices, my ask of each of you is to question the unquestioned and find ways paths to understanding that gender and sexual orientation are spectrums – so we can continue to expand our understanding of who we are and who we can be.
Over the past year, we’ve shown great resilience and witnessed stark inequities. And as we reflect on how much we had to change, and that we could do it, we continue to challenge our assumptions about what is possible, fight for progress for all in our LGBTQ+ community, and remember that progress for all makes our own lives better.
Join us for Pride 2021 events and visit smpride.com for more information about Santa Monica Pride events and resources.
SaMo Pride is a collaboration between the City of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Pier, Downtown Santa Monica, Santa Monica Place, and Santa Monica Travel and Tourism.