Why so loud June?
June has become an incredibly significant month in America. Companies are figuring out how to incorporate LGBTQ+ Pride into their daily existence visibly and boldly. It can get really colorful.
With the recent racial and social justice uprisings of 2020, America is also being asked to reconcile with its sordid past of enslavement. In that conversation, Juneteenth has been brought to the forefront for awareness, acknowledgement and reparation.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is the celebration of June 19, 1865: a day known as Emancipation Day for enslaved Africans in America. The first celebration of this day was June 19, 1866 celebrating the first anniversary of this original federal mandate.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and personal property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” (General Orders, Number 3 Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865)
After 250+ years of enslavement, African-American people were “free.” This notion is complex considering a few factors:
- The Civil War ran from April 12, 1861- April 9, 1865. The Civil War was fought on the moral issue of slavery. The South stood to lose their current business infrastructure with enslaved Africans and African descendants at the core of it, solidifying family wealth through the Cotton industry.
- Abraham Lincoln declared, “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free” in the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863.
- It took until June 19, 1865 for news of this Executive Order to make its way to the plantations and the ears of enslaved Africans and African descendants, now known as African-Americans and Black people. Some slave owners fought in the Civil War and did not tell the people they owned that they were free for months.
Juneteenth provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the freedom of an entire race of people. The notion of race is a categorization for people created by European settlers as they colonized American land. Juneteenth is complex because it requires us to acknowledge our American history with the reality and atrocities of slavery in America. To celebrate freedom would mean to acknowledge our ‘original sin’ as a nation.
It also mean reconciling with the disparity that African-American and Black people have faced in America since receiving freedom. Many slaves stayed on plantations and worked as indentured servants as conditions did not automatically improve for previously enslaved folks. These conditions did not magically improve for a long time, especially in the South.
We are still reeling from the impacts of slavery. 1865 was 165 years ago. Africans and African descendants were enslaved over 246 years when they finally received notice that they were ‘free’.
Americans are still just learning oral history and tradition passed down from actual enslaved Americans. Enslaved people were not encouraged to read or write, which makes curating history much more complicated. This is why we are just beginning to hear the stories of people whose ancestors were enslaved. Many movies, documentaries and series attempt to capture the history and stories of pre-Civil War America. Our work is to continue learning: acknowledging the truth about our past as a country and working to remove disparities and barriers in terms of access for African-Americans and Black people in this country. The acknowledgement and celebration of Juneteenth is just the beginning.
What does this have to do with LGBTQ+ Pride Month?
Did you know that Pride month began as a protest by a Black, Transgender Woman combating police brutality? Marsha P. Johnson was an activist, self-identified drag queen, performer, and survivor. She was a prominent figure in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Marsha went by “BLACK Marsha” before settling on Marsha P. Johnson. The “P” stood for “Pay It No Mind,” which is what Marsha would say in response to questions about her gender. Marsha, alongside Sylvia Rivera, began the work of civil rights for Queer and Trans people in America.
Sylvia was a tireless advocate for all those who have been marginalized as the “gay rights” movement has mainstreamed. Sylvia fought hard against the exclusion of Transgender people from the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York, and was a loud and persistent voice for the rights of people of color and low-income Queer and Trans people.
Following the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera started STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). They quickly began to get involved in advocacy for youth. STAR House opened late 1970, originally operating in a trailer serving as a shelter and social space for Trans sex workers and other LGBTQ+ street youth. The trailer was towed and it was then that Marsha and Sylvia decided to get a brick and mortar space where they continued their service.
June is about Civil Rights. We look toward race because race is the prism through which all other differences are cast. It is woven into the fabric of America as deeply as cotton. There is no coincidence that the most impacted by civil rights inequities are Black and Brown bodies. Black, Indigenous, and otherwise People of Color (BIPOC) experience disparities daily around their rights to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not only are there disparities with rights, there are disparities in terms of access to resources to secure life, liberty, and happiness.
It is important to celebrate and affirm. It is also important to address actual barriers folks have to equality. Kimberlé Crenshaw discusses how intersectionality has cumulative impact based on experiences had by folks with multiple diversity factors. Her original coining of the term was based on the experience of Black Women and the intersection of race and gender and its impact in the workplace. Thirty years later, we have a plethora of diversity factors contributing to experiences of inequity in America.
Pride Month would not exist as we know it if Juneteenth did not happen. It all comes together as we recognize that the most marginalized of any group is generally the BIPOC members of this group. If we can shift our focus to safety, providing access to the most marginalized, and centering their experiences, we can approach equality and equity in integrity as a country.
How do I participate if I am not a Black, Indigenous, Person of Color and/or LGBTQ+?
What we are all looking for are ways to exist right now. If you do not identify as BIPOC or LGBTQ+ there are ways for you to get involved and show your allyship. Here are a few opportunities to show up in the now so your June can be a celebratory one.
- Check out this Anti-Racism Resource List.
- Watch Happy Birthday, Marsha!, an introductory resource for LGBTQ+ Pride
- Personally research Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, 1969 Stonewall Uprising
- When creating or attending events, center BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices in planning and execution of said events. No one can tell you better what they need than the ones in need themselves.
- Listen and hold space a lot more; don’t make this about you and your lack of belonging to one of these groups of people.
- Donate to your local grassroots organizations supporting Black, Queer organizers and community members.
- Celebrate BIPOC and LGBTQ+ greatness all year long!
To African-American, Black, and Indigenous people (who are descendants of enslaved Africans): know that you are seen, celebrated, and affirmed for simply existing. Your contributions to society are absolutely necessary. Equality is the minimum and equity is on the horizon. Stand fast in your value, in your dignity, and in the greatness that you are.
To LGBTQ+ folks: celebrate this month. Celebrate your visibility and acceptance, knowing that visibility in and of itself is a privilege. The fight for equality does not end here. Stand up for your rights and let us not forget the past and the fight that got us all here.
“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.” -Marsha P. Johnson