LifestyleCapital Pride 2024: Grand marshals and a commitment to equality

Capital Pride 2024: Grand marshals and a commitment to equality

While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many annual celebrations like Gay Pride to either be  reduced in scope or canceled altogether, District leaders have declared that events and activities slated for this year will be bigger, better, more inclusive and packed with star power. 

The Capital Pride Alliance (CPA) announced celebrated performers Billy Porter and Keke Palmer as grand marshals for the 2024 Pride Parade on June 8.

“With Billy Porter and Keke Palmer leading the parade as grand marshals, we’re not only honoring their incredible contributions to the LGBTQ+ community but also amplifying their voices as fierce advocates for equality and acceptance,” said CPA Executive Director Ryan Bos. 

There have already been numerous sightings of rainbow-colored flags reported as the District prepares for DC Black Pride Week (May 20-27) and Capital Pride (May 31-June 9).

**FILE** LGBTQ+ advocate Earline Budd speaks during the Pride press conference on Saturday, June 10, 2023. (Shedrick Pelt/The Washington Informer)
Recent estimates indicate that around 700,000 individuals are expected to attend Capital Pride this year – a number that will jump to 3 million in 2025 when the District serves as the host city for WorldPride 2025. 

Meanwhile, businesses throughout the Greater Washington Area, including airlines, hotels, restaurants and nightclubs continue to lay out the red carpet in anticipation of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who have already started to arrive. 

“In D.C. we celebrate our LGBTQIA+ community 365 days a year,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in a press release last year.  “We are a city that loves and values the LGBTQ+ community, and we are a city that knows we are stronger when we stand together and when we celebrate together.”

Impact of Stigma and Threats of Violence Ever Present 

Despite the excitement surrounding Pride, lingering in the minds of many are numerous examples of stigma directed at LGBTQ individuals. From extreme acts of violence, such as murder, to more subtle yet pervasive forms of marginalization and exclusion, such as being socially rejected, denied employment opportunities and given poor healthcare, the LGTBQ community remains in an ever present fight for freedom, justice and equity. 

Stigma has been identified as a fundamental cause of global LGBTQ health inequities, according to the National Library of Medicine’s “Mental health challenges of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people: An integrated literature review.”

Just under eight years ago, on June 11, 2016, Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was hosting “Latin Night” – a weekly Saturday evening event. With about 320 people still inside as bartenders announced “last call,” an alleged Islamic extremist, Omar Mateen, entered the building and began shooting indiscriminately. Forty-nine people died during the mass shooting, including Mateen, while another 53 were injured, some critically. 

On Friday, May 17, the U.S. State Department issued a global security alert warning Americans abroad that terrorists could target lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people and LGBTQ-related events during Pride Month in June. 

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises United States citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” the warning said. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”

The announcement did not specify if there are any countries or regions of the world that are of particular concern, nor did it name any foreign terrorist organizations who are suspected of potentially planning attacks. 

Even without declaring specific sites of danger, discrimination, harassment and various forms of stigma have long remained prevalent and potentially deadly for members of the LGBTQ community. Just last year, the LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD recorded at least 145 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assaults which targeted LGBTQ people and events during June 2023. 

Transgender Americans Say they Feel Particularly Vulnerable 

Several hundred transgender citizens, allies and advocates from the DMV gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Northwest on Saturday, May 18, for the Trans Pride Washington, DC Conference.  The second time it has been held as an in person, post-COVID event, the daylong conference included community empowerment workshops, support and resources and inclusive entertainment.  

By definition, transgender describes individuals whose inherent sense of their own gender doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. Many transgender individuals have experienced some degree of gender dysphoria, which is an intense and persistent sense of distress or discomfort with their birth sex. 

In a panel “Surviving Transphobia,” Dana, a transgender man (a person assigned female when they were born but who identifies and lives as a man), a retired officer in the U.S. armed forces and a father, addressed the challenges that he has faced over the years.

“I transitioned to male while in the military and I joined the armed forces during the ‘don’t ask-don’t tell’ era,” Dana said. “So, in the beginning I identified as a lesbian. But it took a toll on who I was and who I wasn’t. For those like me who are trans and in the military, we would often be recognized for the stellar job we’ve performed but never recognized for who we truly are.”

Progress was short lived for Dana and other transgender people serving in the armed forces.

“For one brief moment, the Secretary of Defense, in 2016, changed the policy so that open transgender could serve in the military. We were elated. Then, one year, the policy was rescinded – I was devastated. The military was full of rules, regulations and bigots,” he said.

During a conversation with Theo, a 20-year-old, Asian American transgender man, he pointed out the difficulty in explaining “who” he is to his family in his native language. 

“Gender expansive identities have survived in Asian communities long before we were colonized, but after colonization, that’s when some of us were stigmatized and viewed as abnormal,” Theo said. “My family is very religious, Catholic, and from the Philippines which collectively play a huge role in how my family views transgender people. But one of the biggest challenges is talking about who I am because in our language, there are very few words that explain what it means to be transgender – and fewer words that are positive.” 

Ashley Smith, the first African American to serve as the chairman of the board for Capital Pride, said it doesn’t matter which letter one represents within the LGBTQ pantheon because “we all face stigmatization.” 

“Yes, statistics illustrate that there’s been a recent rise in attacks against transgender but there’s been a rise in attacks on gay and lesbian individuals as well,” Smith said. “The places and the spaces don’t matter – we’re constantly under threat. Fortunately, here in the District, we’re working with the mayor, the City and the police department and they’re committed to providing greater safety to our entire community as we bring to light what we experience each and every day.”

Finally, one advocate for the transgender community who works as an infectious disease clinician for HIPS (Honoring Individual Power & Strength) in Northwest, D.C., has seen changes in needs for the LGBTQ community over the years.  

“HIPS is now celebrating our 30th anniversary and when the organization was founded, the goal was to advance the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drug use and to provide services and advocacy on their behalf,” said Phyllis Bijole, who first joined the organization as a volunteer. 

Bijole said one of the most difficult aspects she’s witnessed for transgender people is the fact that they cannot “hide” who they are. 

“We remain dedicated to the goals of our founders but now we have a lot more transgender women who utilize our services and who we therefore support. I think they face more examples of stigma than anyone because so many people still don’t understand them,” Bijole said. “And what makes it even more difficult for transgender, is the fact that unlike a gay man or a lesbian, transgender find it far more difficult to mask or hide the sex they were assigned at birth. Once they’re no longer behind closed doors, most transgender men or women find it all but impossible to blend in with the crowd.”

With stigma and hatred still persistent, so remains a heightened sense of danger for transgender Americans.

“In far too many cases, perpetuating violence against transgender [people] is almost a rite of passage for some Americans,” Bijole said. “It’s like America has carved out certain spaces and places where it’s okay to violate transgender individuals.”

Pride Takes Aim at Stigma and Ignorance  

Smith said pride celebrations serve as a way for those in the LGBTQ community who have been insulted or hurt because of their unique, lived experiences, to come together, address various forms of stigma and oppression and seek ways to defuse their impact within society. 

“You can’t erase or eliminate forms of stigma which target specific groups of people because stigma has always existed,” he said. “But for LGBTQ individuals, pride events provide spaces in which those who have had similar experiences can come together in community.”

While various celebrations now count as annual events held locally and throughout the U.S, in many ways, the pride movement took its cue from other successful initiatives led by those who were tired of having their rights ignored and suppressed. 

In America, the women’s rights movement of the 19th century, and the feminist and civil rights movements of the 20th century, served as blueprints for members of the LGBTQ community who were determined to secure rights that had been guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but denied due to laws, customs or behavior. 

U.S. pride parades and other related activities, including festivals, marches and protests, first occurred in June 1970, in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, to commemorate the Stonewall riots in New York City (1969). The events, which focused on LGBTQ social and self-acceptance and achievements, became annual celebrations and spread rapidly to other cities, both in the U.S. and abroad. 

“When pride events were first held, they served as a rallying cry – a celebration of life for the LGBTQ community,”  Smith explained.

Black Pride events started as early as 1988 with D.C.’s Black Pride first held in 1991 and cited as one of the earliest celebrations. The founders of Black Pride viewed their programming as an alternative to the largely white mainstream LGBTQ movement which many Blacks felt denied them equal access.  In addition, they were resolved to provide a forum for Black LGBTQ people to discuss issues more germane to their community and to celebrate the progress they achieved each year.  

Though there have been strides in LGBTQ rights since the start of pride celebrations in the late 20th century, the stigma and violence against the LGBTQ community continues. Today, pride celebrations continue to create a space for members of the LGBTQ community to feel safe, supported and valued.

“As the years have gone by, pride events have evolved to include safe spaces where LGBTQ individuals can be with and support one another,” Smith said. 

Source: Washington Informer

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