June has become the traditional month for Pride celebrations in honor of the gay and transgender people, including Black and brown gay liberation and transgender rights activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who fought back against harassment and abusive policing in June 1969. These protests became known as the Stonewall riots. They energized the LGBTQ rights movement and gave momentum to the demands for full equality for LGBTQ Americans.
Over the years, voices of clarity and conscience moved the civil and human rights movement to fully embrace the cause of LGBTQ equality. My mentor, the late civil rights champion Julian Bond, was clear that fighting for equality means fighting for equality for everyone. He knew that Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, was a gay Black man who changed history.
Another history-making leader, President Barack Obama, signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. That law was named for two people killed in attacks fueled by bigotry—Matthew Shepard, a young gay man beaten and left to die, and James Byrd, Jr., a Black man dragged from a truck in a brutal lynching in 1998.
Passing hate crimes legislation was a major victory, but fighting hate is unfinished business. Violence against Black LGBTQ people still takes far too many lives every year.
We mourn our losses and reaffirm our commitment to fight bigotry. But Pride is also about celebration. We celebrate progress toward the full equality and inclusion of LGBTQ people in our communities and country. That progress can be seen in public attitudes. Huge majorities of Americans, including three-quarters of Black Americans, support laws that protect LGBTQ people against discrimination.
One of my proudest moments as president of the NAACP was announcing the organization’s support for marriage equality in 2012. The press conference announcing that policy was emotional for me, because marriage equality is personal. My parents—my Black mother and white father—were confronted by laws that made it illegal for them to get married in some states. That was before the U.S. Supreme Court did away with state laws that banned interracial marriage in 1967.
It took almost 50 years, and a lot of hard work by equality activists, before the Supreme Court overturned state laws that kept same-sex couples from getting married. That 2015 ruling was another milestone on the road to full legal and lived equality for LGBTQ people in this country.
As we all know, progress often brings backlash. We see it everywhere.
Black voters turned out in key states last year to defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. This year, Republican legislators are passing new voter suppression laws. They want to punish Black voters by making it harder to register and vote in the future. That’s why Democrats in Congress need to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
We’re also seeing a backlash against equality for all. Right-wing legislators are passing laws to restrict LGBTQ rights. Right-wing legal groups are pushing Trump-appointed judges to roll back legal equality. That’s why Democrats in Congress need to pass the Equality Act.
You might hear some politicians raising false alarms about the Equality Act. Don’t listen to them. They told the same kind of lies when they were fighting the hate crimes law. And none of them came to pass.
What has come to pass, thanks to Black voters and everyone who helped put the Biden-Harris administration in power, is a return to equality as U.S. government policy. The administration wasted no time reversing some of the Trump team’s attacks on equality.
And last month a Black gay woman made history. Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre became the first openly gay Black woman to lead a press briefing at the White House. “Being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building, is not about one person, it’s about what we do on behalf of the American people,” she said.
It’s about what we do on behalf of the American people. That’s a good principle for all of us to embrace as we celebrate Pride and work to build a country in which we the people means all the people.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.