Editor’s Note: Allison Hope is a writer whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.
On June 28, 1970, thousands marched through the streets of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village to demand an end to the violence against LGBTQ+ people.
It was the one-year mark since the Stonewall uprising, the fated event when the LGBTQ+ community, led by Black, transgender activists, fought back against the police for their repeated raids of one of the few spaces they could gather: the gay bar.
It was a clapback etched in indelible ink in response to years of persecution, assault and demoralization against members of the queer community and our way of saying, “We exist and we will not be erased.” The protest marked the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.
“Everyone of us is important,” read the note signed by the Christopher Street Liberation Committee on the day of the first Pride March. “We are showing our strength and love for each other by coming here today. We are all participants in the most important Gay event in history.”
The first Pride March took place amid a climate of angst and fear and the criminalization of queer bodies and behaviors, and it helped to flip the narrative from one of victimization to one of agency and empowerment. I imagine most who were marching that day felt a host of emotions ranging from indignation to exhilaration, but never would have guessed they would be laying the groundwork for a whiplash few decades of stunning progress toward LGBTQ+ equality.
I benefited from the progress the generation before me bled to secure. In my queer lifetime, I have seen LGBTQ+ people come out in droves and the polls swing in majority favor of LGBTQ+ people, with a record 70% of Americans supporting LGBTQ+ marriage, according to a 2021 Gallup poll. I’ve also seen the ushering in of anti-discrimination laws, marriage equality, workplace protections, access to family-building resources and so much more.
But all of that feels under threat right now. There are coordinated efforts underway to erase us, once again.
As we kick off Pride Month this year, the clarion call to conjure the ferocious spirit of the very first Pride March more than 50 years ago is stronger than ever.
Back then, LGBTQ+ people were demanding to be seen, to be rendered visible after generations, centuries, of being forced out of view; or much worse, prosecuted, marginalized or beaten and killed simply for who they loved or how they presented.
This time, in 2022, we are once again at grave risk of being erased of the lives we’ve carefully, lovingly, painstakingly built getting callously crushed between the hands of ignorance, hatred and indifference.
Despite the rainbow apparel that will no doubt fill department stores this month, the legal, political and social groundwork has well been laid to rip the rug out from under us and take away the equal rights and protections we’ve gained. Indeed, the far-right exploiting misunderstandings about LGBTQ+ people and our heightened vulnerabilities stemming from a widening wealth gap, climate threats and late-stage capitalism, is attempting to boil us slowly like frogs that don’t realize they are cooked until it is too late to escape.
There is one thing those setting their sights on us may not fully understand.
We will not be erased.
We will not be rendered invisible, made to hide our family pictures at our work desks for fear of reprisal if our right to gainful employment gets stripped.
We will not stop saying “gay” despite attempts like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ law banning the discussion of gender and sexuality with students in Kindergarten through third grade, with copycat bills proposed in many other states.
We will not be made to tuck our Pride flags away because hateful and ignorant people have been given the pulpit. We will not allow our children to feel shame for having two loving moms or dads, or any combination that isn’t traditional, because bullies feel empowered by the vitriol they hear spewed in the news or from elected officials who pathetically use us as bait for reelection.
Our families will not be erased. Our humanity will win.
We will not be erased in the books that line our children’s classrooms and libraries homophobic misanthropes are trying to ban. We worked so hard for so long to earn a rightful place in the canon.
We will not be erased by the more than 240 anti-LGBTQ+ bills state legislatures across the country have proposed in 2022 alone. They can try to take away our health care and athletics, our ability to use bathrooms safely or teach our children we merely exist. But they will never erase us entirely.
We will not be erased and go back to a time when we were legal strangers to our children, as with the recent case of Kris Williams in Oklahoma, a mom who was removed from her child’s birth certificate by Judge Lynne McGuire after she and her wife divorced.
We will not be erased and go back to a time when we have to fear getting killed going about our business, like two men who were brutally attacked outside a bodega in Brooklyn and called gay slurs, or another who was recently attacked in the subway in broad daylight.
Hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people are up, according to Prism Reports, including outside the US in places like the UK and Germany, 100% higher in presumably LGBTQ+-friendly places like New York City as compared to last year, and they are at their highest recorded levels ever for transgender and nonbinary people, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
We cannot afford to be erased.
One in five LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered committing suicide in the past 12 months, according to a 2021 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. What does the number translate to in terms of cost to our health care system when 7% of all Americans, or more than 23 million people, identify as LGBTQ+, according to a 2022 Gallup poll?
What does it do to the ability of our citizens to be productive members of society? What is the impact not only on those vulnerable young people, but also on their families? What about the impact on our social systems, economy and society?
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We cannot be erased because we have always existed. We are famous philosophers and playwrights, scientists and astronauts, pop culture icons and CEOs and lawyers and doctors and teachers and preachers, and everything in between. We have survived censorship and genocide, conversion therapy and rejection, expulsion, legal discrimination, hate crimes, microaggressions and everything in between. Yet, we continue to be born, to live and to love.
We need look no further than to the determination and resilience of those who took to the streets on June 28, 1969, and one year later, and every year after that, to understand how erasure simply isn’t an option. We will continue to show up en masse to be seen because our lives and our families depend on it.