Pride hasn’t always been a month-long rainbow-everything celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans. Established in 1999 under President Bill Clinton, it originally only enshrined a part of the community, focusing on lesbians and gays. President Barack Obama expanded the proclamation in 2011, including the BTQ part of the acronym.
This move was a little ironic, considering the month of June was designated for Pride specifically to commemorate the riot against police brutality at New York’s Stonewall nightclub in June of 1969, which was part of a much larger movement buoyed by visible transgender and gender non-conforming activists like Marsha P. Johnson.
Events like Stonewall were happening in cities across America, with others like the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in 1966 providing animus and inspiration to queers from coast to coast, fueling decades of political activism and radical visibility for people who had lived in hiding for a long time. Pride was never just about gays and lesbians; it has, since its inception, been for and about the most marginalized members of the community.
That marginalization has only increased since Pride began its existence, with legislation making life harder for transgender Americans in over a dozen states and over 124 bills introduced nationwide in 2023 (so far) aimed at curtailing the rights of LGBTQ people in housing, employment, healthcare and public accommodation.
There’s never been a better time to be queer. And yet it is still a terrifying time to be queer.
So how can someone be a good ally to the queer community?
To members of the queer community like myself, these difficult times make even small gestures of support pretty valuable. In some cases, simply stating in public that you are supportive of the LGBTQ community, that you enjoy our art and our contributions to society, can be helpful. (Bonus points if you do so on a big platform.)
It’s just as important in private and intimate spaces as it is in public. Being a good ally means speaking up when a friend is misgendered by making the correction smoothly and moving on. Challenge people in your circle who speak out of ignorance about LGBTQ issues. You don’t have to be a lawyer; just say out loud that you’re on our side and that there are queer people in your life who are important to you.
Spend some money
While you’re talking about that art, make sure you pay for it. Seek out queer theater, buy tickets for queer musical acts, and patronize gay-owned cafes and restaurants. Rainbow-washed capitalism makes Pride gear affordable and mainstream, but your dollar goes a lot further on a queer artist’s Etsy than it can at Target — not to mention you’ll have something no one else will.
Go to Pride
Wearing your one-of-a-kind ally T-shirt and rainbow bracelet to a Pride-themed event is another great idea. If there are big plans for your city — a parade, a pub crawl, a series of queer author readings — seek out the parts that interest you most and show up with enthusiasm. There are lots of people who come to Pride to be the affirming parent that a queer person never had. Or, just go for the impeccable vibes and spirited dancing in the street. It’s a beautiful time of year to be outdoors with the colorful people — join us!
Be our guest
However, remember that as an ally, you’re a guest in the community. Listen more than you speak. Seek first to understand. Remember that not every space is designed for you, and queer folks sometimes want to be among their own more than they want to be seen. Lots of allies experience emotional moments at Pride related to their own oppression and sometimes to their own REpression, causing them to reevaluate the way they live in the world and how they feel about themselves. That’s cool too. But remember that this is not the space for your personal exploration, which you may want to do elsewhere with a trusted friend, a therapist, or your diary. Pride is a celebration of people being who they are, out in public and without shame.
Never forget that Pride is a month celebrating a movement that began as a riot. That riot ebbs and flows, but it has not come to an end. The best way to be an ally to a marginalized community is to become an accomplice.
If you’re a healthcare provider, search for resources that can help you move beyond value-neutral care and into affirming care for your LGBTQ patients.
If you’re a librarian, consider creating an “honor collection,” a small number of books on LGBTQ topics available to teens without a record of having been checked out to preserve their privacy as they figure themselves out.
If you’re an educator or an administrator and challenges arise in your school regarding books or materials that preserve the dignity of LGBTQ individuals and families, consult resources on how to answer that challenge.
If you’re a parent, have open conversations with your kids about the different ways that people love one another and form families and communities together based on that love. Many excellent books are available to help facilitate this conversation at all ages, and you may find that you learn something new yourself.
Pride represents a lot of things to different people. It’s a time of celebration, of remembrance of those who came before us, and to continue the fierce fight to make a better world for those who come after us. Even for folks who are not members of the LGBTQ community, it’s a great time to appreciate the unique contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in your community and in our nation.
Most of all, it’s a great time to remember that injustice and inequality done against any of us is a crime against us all. As queer and transgender Americans weather a difficult season of political opposition and societal vilification, we need our brave, vociferous, money-spending allies more than ever before.
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Meg Elison is an author and essayist living on the East Coast with West Coast sensibilities.