Every time Pride month rolls around, it feels like we often forget about those that came before us. In the hubbub of Pride parades, drag shows, and gimmicky corporate marketing we forget that Pride started with a black trans woman and a stone.
As a young gay man, I believe it's important to give thanks to our ancestors who paved the way for us to be able to celebrate my identity and the identities of so many others. Going back even ten years before the legalization of gay marriage in all 50 states, being gay was still a taboo subject. What seems commonplace now, was still regarded as strange or even subversive. Going back even further, being gay or transgender was seen as something punishable by law. Events like the AIDS epidemic in the '80s didn't help to normalize the existence of queer identities in American society.
But, my people never gave up hope nor their desire to be recognized. They fought back against their oppression by being reactive to their own disenfranchisement. They celebrated their identities at the various Balls held throughout New York City in the '70s and '80s. At these events black and brown drag queens, gay men, and transgender women celebrated themselves by dressing in their best couture and voguing it out on the dance floor.
In the '90s, the representation of the LGBT community became much more positive. Films like "The Birdcage" and "To Wong Foo" sought to normalize the idea of gay relationships, drag, and the struggle of the community to be recognized by law. Madonna brought voguing to the forefront with her iconic hit single "Vogue" and the musical "Rent" discussed the lives of people living with AIDS in New York City. Ellen DeGeneres was making headlines by coming out as a lesbian on her sitcom, ultimately being shunned by Hollywood and embraced by the community. The '90s was only the beginning of our path to full acceptance in the world.
When I look back at figures like Martha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and countless others who helped paved the way for me, I get emotional. Without them, I wouldn't be able to celebrate who I am. Without them, my other LGBT friends and I couldn't party it up in openly queer spaces. Without them, I wouldn't be able to hold my boyfriend's hand in public. I want to give thanks to these true gay icons, these saints, who helped me be me.
Lord knows they're smiling down on us.