In 1984, fifteen years after the Stonewall uprising, James Baldwin told an interviewer that he had no choice but to live an authentic life. “You have to go the way your blood beats,” he said when asked about coming out. “If you don’t live the only life you have,” he said, “you won’t live any life at all.”
This Pride Month, too many LGBTQ+ people are still battling for the simple yet profound right to march to their own rhythms.
They face an unholy alliance of discrimination and opportunism and are frequently targeted by fearmongers sowing scare tactics. Such people seek to gain power and profit by suppressing the humanity of others. They advocate bigoted policies that corrupt basic rights like education and health care, and they attempt to erase queer stories from history and queer people from the present. This year alone, states have introduced more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, unleashing a legislative assault on an entire community whose rights are never fully guaranteed and whose voice is so often silenced. Trans youth are in a heightened moment of crisis. As the Human Rights Campaign recently declared, “LGBTQ+ Americans are living in a state of emergency.”
Most insidiously, those attacking the LGBTQ+ community seek to pit us against one another; they pick apart our acronyms and our very identities, deliberately exacerbating and exploiting differences to divide us.
To be sure, we are no monolith, and we are not perfect. Our community has, unfortunately, also allowed racism, ableism, misogyny, and infighting. It’s time for this to end, and there has never been a more important moment to stand united. External assaults must harden our resolve to take care of one another. We must listen to the voices of our trans siblings and all who experience intersecting forms of oppression.
In the face of horrific discrimination, we must draw hope from the courageous LGBTQ+ pioneers who dedicated their lives to ensuring we would have more rights and the freedom to live the way our blood beats. They remind us that progress is possible.
Hundreds of people filled the streets for the 27th annual New York City Drag March, an annual drag protest and visibility march taking place as a kick-off to NYC Pride weekend.
Today, we stand on the shoulders of Baldwin and Audre Lorde, whose courageous artistry illuminates the intricacies of both Black and gay identities; of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk, and Bayard Rustin, whose radical humanity bent the arc of history toward justice, even when doing so accrued great personal costs; and of countless others who are unnamed by history but made it happen by loving, living, and even losing their lives for queer liberation. We celebrate those with the audacity to lay claim to our treasured American ideals of justice and equality, and in doing so, make them more real and more true.
These efforts revolutionized society. For so many others—and for me. As a gay man, I have experienced that Baldwinian joy of living freely and fully as my authentic self, loving another man. I have known the hope and healing of seeing the White House, a symbol of our national identity, transformed by beams of rainbow light to celebrate marriage equality. And today, I am inspired by a new generation of artists and advocates taking up the call to move society forward.
This month, let us honor our past by fighting for our future—and continuing to build and broaden the path to progress. Let us recommit to traveling that path as a united front, with the members of our community whose very existence is under grave attack. And let us realize, together, the promise of an America in which we can all take pride.