Editor's Note: Guest blogger Keri Renault is a broadcast writer/producer credited with creating & distributing two PBS-oriented television series, and blogs on the power of self advocacy in personal & relationship transitions.
The burgeoning LGBTQ community has much to celebrate since the Stonewall Riots of 1969 gave birth to the Gay Rights movement. Over the past 40 years those seeds have sprouted effective grassroots community campaigns, statewide equality groups and national advocacy organizations which as a coalition have forged legitimacy, lobbying power and human rights equality.
Rightfully, June has been proclaimed "LGBT Month" by President Obama. It's long overdue recognition by the federal government and speaks volumes about just how far we've come. The community, its friends and allies across America celebrate the history of the equality movement, our struggles and achievements with jubilant Pride Festivals, colorful parades and special commemorative events throughout the month.
As a Wisconsin born and bred "Cheese head," my recollection of Pride is the beautiful Lake Michigan backdrop to Milwaukee's very own "PrideFest" on the pristine Summerfest grounds of Maier Park. I'm proud to know my home state was the first to ban discrimination against the gay community in 1982.
2009 marks my first Capital Pride event since my partner and I traded the Frozen Tundra for the tranquility of the Chesapeake Bay late last summer. Already I feel a sense of pride in our nation's capital that resonates back to 1979 and the first gay rights march on Washington.
It seems only right to be proud of these accomplishments and many other LGBTQ landmarks across America - but can pride go too far? What about being "prideful"?
While I agree it's healthy to celebrate what's been achieved over the past 40 years - a tip of the cap to those who have paved the rocky road we walk - I have to remind myself that too much of a good thing can be bad, including an over-inflated sense of "pridefulness".
For example, let's remember that while some of us hold the distinct privilege of being able to attend an event like Capital Pride, there are many in our community who do not. They won't be at Capital Pride - or any other festival - for many reasons. They don't have the economic means to celebrate for one.
More importantly they have little to celebrate as they struggle to subsist, hand-to-mouth, day by day. We in the LGBTQ community should be proud of who we are and where we've come from. Yet victory in equality is far from assured for many of us - even in 2009.
Access remains a troubling issue. The underprivileged of the LGBTQ community lack the resources necessary to inform themselves, so it's no surprise they cannot be opportunistic with information they don't possess. Things many of us take for granted - like the internet, cable television, current magazine and news subscriptions and even radio - remain outside their realm.
Among the LGBTQ's most disenfranchised are the homeless. Homeless transgender youth bear an even greater burden as they are routinely turned away from shelters that adhere to strict biological sex housing criteria. At a recent planning session for 2010 anti-discrimination strategy in Maryland it was reported that the number of homeless transgender youth could be upward of 800 in Baltimore City alone during the summer months. Multiply that by the whole Mid-Atlantic region. Now try the entire nation.
There are gay and lesbian partners who lie in harms way because of their committed "family" relationships with armed forces personnel. They are the real victims when tragedy strikes - unable to broker the privilege of respect, equal rights and government benefits which are reserved by the military for legally married spouses. They are outsiders living in perpetual fear of the unknown, of what may be happening to their partners stationed overseas. They bear the harsh reality that bad news will not reach them voluntarily - if it reaches them at all without extreme personal advocacy.
Same-gendered relationships may not share the same legal rights as the hetero community in most states, but we do have something in common: spousal abuse. At 25% of all couples, heterosexual marriage and same gender partnerships both suffer an affliction of domestic violence. Another commonality is that it goes largely under-reported, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.
In employment, there are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens fearful of being outed at work and losing their jobs even today. Many in the LGBTQ community do not have the safety net of employment non-discrimination rights. Their recourse may be a court of law, but it's an endurance contest of temperament, time and resources few can afford. Fewer know how to access legal aid even if representation is available pro bono.
The painful list of apathy and exclusion seems to get worse before it gets better. Access to health care is severely lacking in the AIDS/HIV population. Maryland reported the 2nd highest rate of AIDS diagnoses at the end of 2007 - a mere 0.1% - behind first-place New York and almost double the national average of 12.7 per 100,000. Think that's bad? The District of Columbia is at a level so horrific it's considered epidemic - with 3% of its residents having HIV or AIDS. That is the highest level in the nation. Again, that is the highest level in the nation. 75% of those with the virus are African American.
But the saga doesn't end there. Transgendered individuals are routinely denied access to gender-variant health benefits by insurance companies. These are crucial services trans-folk desperately need in order to attain a semblance of physical congruity to match their internal gender identity.
Trans-folk are excluded from receiving benefits comparable to the "usual and customary" services afforded to the mainstream. Even after the American Medical Association came out in support of transgender health care benefits in 2008. Unsympathetic Big Insurance continues to hold fast. Services related in any way, shape or form to "gender dysphoria," including gender-confirming surgery, hormone therapy, counseling and transgender-specific primary care continue to be denied by most carriers.
The health care playbook has been crafted by the cisgendered, cissexual mainstream for benefit of the "home team" while the LGBTQ community remains a locked-out minority "opposition". The only alternative for the desperate is black market pharmaceuticals, prostitution or street crime to survive.
However, make no mistake about one thing: The LGBTQ movement has made tremendous progress towards equality in the 40 years since Stonewall. But - as in 1969 - there is work to be done to secure equality for all. Today, as much as before, it remains the moral imperative of everyone in the community who has means and privilege, to "do the right thing" for those who don't have the ability to help themselves.
Attend Capital Pride. Visit the booths of our many coalition partners from DC, Virginia and Maryland that will be represented. Listen to their message of advocacy. Perhaps you'll be inspired to sign a petition to effect change. Subscribe to political updates available through email and snail mail. Donate your money. Volunteer your time. Every bit helps the cause of equality. And by all means, shop Capital Pride vendors.
These may be small, yet highly worthwhile contributions from which we can truly derive enduring pride. Not just gay pride or lesbian pride or bisexual pride or trans pride, but genuine community-wide pride that synergizes impact as it ripples out into the greater community and to those less fortunate.
We never know when we may need the same support. Let's demonstrate selfless pride through our gratitude to those who've come before us by paying it forward well beyond Capital Pride, and into the ever-changing rainbow seasons of the year.