Ways To Stand With The LGBTQ Community

Author: Zoltan (Left-Leaning Contributor)

Over the years, or over the last few weeks, or maybe even during the time it took you to read the Pride edition of Next Publius, you have decided your friends’ and family’s experiences as LGBTQ people are important to you. You realize your heterosexual privilege can possibly be used for good, but now what? It is Pride month after all, so today is as good a time as any to start to actively stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. 

This month, New York City celebrates 50 years of Pride parades, as well as 51 years since The Stonewall Uprising of 1969, which began after New York police raided the Stonewall inn in Greenwich Village. For 1960s New York, Stonewall was a typical raid where the state would go so far as to shut down establishments for serving alcohol to suspected LGBTQ people, even with a proper alcohol license. This time, the raid ended in 6 days of protests against anti queer policing, the catalyst of a gay rights movement like nothing ever seen before in history. 

The first Pride parade in New York was called the Christopher Street Liberation Day. In other cities, events used names like Gay Freedom March, and the day was called Gay Freedom Day. The events were a celebration and a statement for a new age of political activism, where LGBTQ voices could be heard and amplified. Many prominent gay rights groups were directly created from this elevated movement for LGBTQ rights including the Gay Liberation Front, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD (formerly Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and PFLAG. For a more detailed history of stone wall and the first pride parade check this analytical accounting of events from Forbes and this informative piece on The Stone Wall Riots themselves.

In the 1980s, the marches became “pride parades,” with less radical organizers and growing corporate support. Some have welcomed Pride becoming more of a celebration of progress with support from big businesses, but others feel Pride’s radical origins of grassroots mobilization should be at the forefront. One organization that holds this belief is The Reclaim Pride Coalition, which organizes the Queer Liberation March every year. Its mission states that their members “stand against the exploitation of our communities for profit and against corporate and state pinkwashing, as displayed in Pride celebrations worldwide, including the NYC Pride Parade.”

Wherever you stand on the current state of Pride, there is no arguing that political activism is at the core of Pride’s beginnings. We sat down with Jake Nill, an active member of Vocal New York and an Urban Affairs Masters student at CUNY focusing on addressing issues within the LGBTQ community, to get his take on a few steps you can put in action today across issue lines to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community during Pride 2020 and beyond. 

Start Conversations

A simple first step is having honest conversations with friends, family, and anybody you possibly can. “The best thing you can do as an ally is you need to have those uncomfortable conversations” Nill stresses. “Of course, it’s not a one and done conversation; you are going to be having them for a long time,” and this is even more important in small towns and communities where marginalized groups are greatly underrepresented and less accepted. 

As athlete Jason Collins brilliantly remarked when he came out while in the NBA, “Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.” Nill stresses the power of openness even when one is trying to start conversations as an ally. “I think sharing your personal experience and personal story goes a long way…” Nill notes that these conversations could  start with a more organic approach then just sitting your friend down across the table to have a serious dialogue right off the bat. “I think a great thing is just to go, ‘Hey, what have you been up to, what’s on your mind?’ Having that kind of conversation is a great opener to more on the topic down the line.”

Support Organizations Tackling The HIV & AIDS Epidemic

The first reported HIV and Aids cases in the U.S came to light in 1981, and 40 years later, we find ourselves still fighting the same global epidemic. In the U.S, adult and adolescent gay/bisexual men comprised 70% of the 38,739 new HIV diagnoses in 2017, according to the CDC, with 1 in 6 men not knowing if they had contracted it, making prevention and treatment that much harder. Nill notes, “There’s a lot of organizations in the U.S and internationally that work to make sure basic HIV identification and treatment is accessible for all.” He highlights the value of a daily medication called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a preventative drug taken by HIV-negative individuals that completely blocks HIV if it makes its way into your body. Another vital daily medication for HIV positive people is called ART (antiretroviral therapy) which keeps the virus under control and effectively creates zero risk of sexual transmission. 

You can help by signing up for organizations’ mailing lists and by following them on social media to find out about calls to action and other ways to donate time and money. Organizations like ACTUPNY and  San Francisco Aids Foundation give you an array of options for getting involved on a community level; by texting  “RESIST” to 52886, you can receive information on petitions and how to engage with proposed legislature. Nill also highlights the power of programs like Vocal New York’s positive leaders union, where HIV-positive members look at legislation that they feel would help them have a long and healthy life. Other good starting points are the Student Global Aids Campaign, AIDSUnited, The Rush Foundation and UN AIDS.

Advocate For Funding That Will Combat Youth Homelessness

Youth Homelessness is still a troubling phenomena within the LGBTQ community in the U.S., and tracking the severity of the issue has been a slow, and seemingly ignored, process. National studies are not precise, but researchers estimate that LGBTQ youth make up 20% to 40% of the homeless youth population, even though they only comprise 4% to 10% of the general youth population, according to a study by the Williams Institute in 2013. In New York, the last extensive study looking at young homelessness was in 2007 by the Empire State Coalition, which found that up to 42% of homeless youth in New York could identify as non-heterosexual, and that approximately 24% of homeless youth could identify as non-cisgender. “To put this into perspective, this data was taken before the 2008 financial crisis,” Nill points out, “and doesn’t take into consideration this last decade of potential displacement from COVID-19.”. 

Although this study and similar ones like it across the U.S. are often done by non-profit organizations, it should be the responsibility of the city and state to keep track of youth homelessness and keep the numbers up to date so that the necessary funding and resources can be given to those who need it most. There are many locally-based organizations that tackle youth homelessness including queer youth crisis centers, but one of the best things to do right now as the pandemic takes its toll on city budgets across the nation is to pressure your local city leaders to make sure money is allocated to their respective departments that deal with youth and community development.

Direct Financial Support to Black Trans Women 

Last year, advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) highlighted the fatal violence disproportionately affecting trans women and gender non-conforming people, and found that the large majority of victims are Black Trans Women, one of the most vulnerable groups of the LGBTQ community. The story of 27 year-old Afro-Latinx trans woman Layleen Polanco recently garnered attention within LGBTQ community when multiple guards at Rikers Island defied protocol and failed to check on Polanco while she was having an epileptic seizure. One year after her death, and following a 6-month investigation that didn’t bring any criminal charges, new video evidence in the case has recently brought potential charges against the guards to the table. “It was a blatant disrespect and disregard for her body and her needs as a trans woman” says Nill. “I think the best thing to do to help trans women, especially black trans women in this moment right now, is just to open your purse and you give the money directly to them.” With trans issues still not being widely seen as one of the important issues to tackle when moving the LGBTQ community forward, many organizations and government agencies have just not yet taken the necessary steps to have show proper respect for trans lives or let be even remotely equipped to take on what trans women are facing everyday. For now direct monetary support is seen as the best way to help. Follow this thread to find some of the trans women sharing their GoFundMe campaigns on Twitter; a good hashtag to start your search is #TransCrowdfund, where you can help women dealing with various issues, such as destructive housing situations.

Whether big or small, in whatever you decide to do to be a more active ally of the LGBTQ community, I implore you to keep asking yourself how the actions you are taking are truly helping to lift up queer communities and to think about  what possible stake you may have in the actions you decided to take.