Each June LGBTQ+ voices, experiences and identities are lifted up and honored during Pride Month with festivities, parades and events. Not only an opportunity to celebrate but an opportunity to draw attention to the challenges and issues LGBTQ+ community members still face today. While a lot of work has been done, there is still more to do. It wasn’t until June of 2020 that it became illegal across the country to fire someone for identifying as LGBTQ.
PRIDE MONTH ORIGINS
In June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar frequented by New York City’s LGBTQ+ community. During that time businesses could be shut down for having LGBTQ+ employees or serving LGBTQ+ patrons. Violent police raids on gay bars, restaurants and establishments were common but that night in June the LGBTQ+ community decided to stand up and fight back.
As former employee and Big Brother, Avery Green shared last year, “The LGBTQ+ community is no stranger to riots. The first Pride was a riot, after all. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 served as the catalyst for the LGBTQ+ equality movement when Marsha P. Johnson, a Black Trans woman, threw the first brick at police officers who were brutally arresting LGBTQ+ people for just existing.”
Over the next few days the Stonewall Inn became a gathering place for the LGBTQ+ community and the site of multiple violent confrontations with law enforcement. The “Stonewall Riots,” as the protests are referred to, became a turning point for the gay rights movement.
In June 1970, the first Pride parade set off from the Stonewall Inn. Celebrations of Pride quickly spread to major cities across the USA. The “Stonewall Riots” spurred the development of gay rights activism and today, Pride Month is celebrated around the world.
At Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Michigan, we recognized the LGBTQ+ community in June with our Celebrating Pride campaign, featuring profiles and videos of local members of the LGBTQ+ community. Click on the links below to read their full stories or visit our Facebook page to view education and inclusion tips we shared throughout the month of June.
Each of our featured Pride community members are people who have made a positive impact in Southwest Michigan. Each of their stories includes messages they would have liked their “younger self” to hear from adults, mentors and community members.
Maggie Adams hopes that one day there is “no such thing as ‘coming out’ … that ‘normal’ is young kids feeling valid and accepted …”
Donta Andrews shares, “Women issues, race issues, LGBTQ issues are human issues. If you don’t care about them, you should be examining that.”
Avery Green wants LGBTQ+ youth to hear, “Be yourself, be unapologetic. It’s going to be okay, you’ll find your people and your place. Sometimes it can be hard and people may not understand you, but you are strong. Everything that makes you different or stand out- people will value those things the most.”
Denise Miller says they would tell their younger self to, “Trust your heart, your self, your intuition, and your relationship with God.”
Janelle “Nelly” Smith encourages LGBTQ+ youth to: “Live for you. Most people that are scared to come out … end up eating at themselves their whole life.”
Demetrias Wolverton wants BIPOC LGBTQ+ youth to know they shouldn’t, “… be afraid of occupying spaces as your authentic self, because queer people of color have been the pioneers of social justice and civil rights movements since the beginning of time.”
BIG PRIDE MENTORING
Pride Month at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Michigan is also a time for us to shine a spotlight on our Big Pride mentoring program. In conjunction with OutFront Kalamazoo, this program matches LGBTQ+ mentors (Bigs) with LGBTQ+ mentees (Littles). Learn more about our Big Pride program here.
The community members profiled last month are the tip of the iceberg in Southwest Michigan. Their impact on our community makes a difference every single day. Their influence and presence here makes our community a better place.
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