Commentary By: TJ Edmund, Special to Follow South Jersey
NATIONAL PARK, N.J. — Many decades ago, some bold, charismatic individuals stepped forward to make strides for their community; most of these efforts remain relevant today. Prominent figures of the Gay Liberation Movement, including Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians in San Francisco, and Marsha P. Johnson, who played a major role in the historic 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn among others helped to pave the way for LGBTQIA+ youth then and now.
The year 2020 was filled with uncertainty and unsurmountable circumstances as the Coronavirus ravaged the world and forced businesses and culture spots to shutter their doors and hope for a chance to return. Everyone was isolated at home, fearful for themselves and loved ones and the normal events that celebrate trailblazers and progress alike were told to quarantine. Unsure of when it would be safe to return, parades and other social happenings were postponed out of caution for the participants and droves of onlookers. Now the following year, with the vaccine rollout and eased restrictions, that lively spirit that was darkened before can now see some light as more and more events are coming back to ‘a new normalcy.’
This year, the recognition and overall acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community has blossomed into a larger diverse and inclusive atmosphere fostered by an abundance of open-minded individuals who have poured their hearts into advancing legislation with protections in mind and promoting safe spaces in public schools and in their surrounding communities. With Title IX clauses now prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQIA+ students and the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs announcing that steps would be taken to ensure that queer people would have equal opportunities to their counterparts in housing and combating homelessness. These endeavors, among others, have been pursued by an American President who genuinely cares for those who identify as LGBTQIA+ and wishes to accelerate the progress towards full LGBTQIA+ equality, not just in June but all year round.
Unlike the previous Administration, Joe Biden’s presidency is dedicated not only to foreign policy and overall domestic affairs but the support and advocacy for marginalized groups like the LGBTQIA+, Asians, Latinos, and African Americans. This current Administration is making history with the first female Vice President and the first openly gay Transportation Secretary and moves America forward in hopes of bridging the gaps that have persisted for centuries. Our identities have been relentlessly attacked for years and are now prioritized by a President who seeks the best in all of the citizens of the United States.
Pride Month means so very much to vast numbers of people: it is love in the face of hatred, an enduring spirit not to be feared but purely embraced and an ongoing battle for justice and acceptance. We are reminded on the fifth anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida and the forty-year mark of the HIV/AIDS crisis that ran rampant in American cities in the 1980s and 1990s, on the heels of activism and giving voices to the voiceless. The light of courage and hope lives in each and every one of us as daring youth build the bravery to demonstrate their authentic selves and express their identities at younger ages. American veteran, Gilbert Baker envisioned progress nearly fifty years ago when he hand-sewed the first rainbow flag: a permanent beacon for generations of LGBTQIA+ people. As a nation, we have a long road ahead of us but representation and protection for our community has grown and supporters rally around us and instill integrity and promise in us for a much better tomorrow.
As a young gay man, I am thankful for the unconditional support that I have received as I have been discovering my true self and only five years since my Coming Out, now I feel more comfortable to express myself this way and while I always wished to embrace my sexuality it was challenging at the start. I give thanks to such nonprofits such as GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) which promotes national safe spaces in public schools for LGBTQIA+ students, and GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) which works to counter discrimination for the queer community in the public media domain serving a mission of understanding and equality. These organizations are just a couple examples that have set the precedent for better acknowledgement and acceptance of numerous LGBTQIA+ persons and I continue to express my gratitude for their support and unwavering attitudes for the community they serve with open arms and warm hearts.
Let the legacy of Harvey Milk, Edith Windsor, Marsha P. Johnson, and the other proponents of the Gay Liberation Movement live on and rejoice at the advancements in marriage equality and state/federal legislation made over the years. Their tenacity to aid those who were ostracized by society should inspire me and many others to join in and work towards change and equity for all. Some of the initial keys to diversity include recognition and representation and I gain a new sense of hope when I see gay, Asian, or disabled characters visible in today’s media. To make much-needed progress, we must recall the foundations laid by pioneers of the movement and incorporate that rigorous mindset into our own work to ensure dignity and full respect for all Americans, regardless of ethnicity or gender identity.
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