The History: Pride started with a “riot”
Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman and activist, who founded one of the first known organizations to protect transgender youth and was profound in the historical Stonewall Uprising.
Ah, June. Pride month. When the sweet summer air rolls in, and the sunshine comes out to warm us. Rainbow flags erect themselves like colorful, watchful sentinels. Mid-month, throngs of people fill the streets of my hometown, Baltimore City, in a bright array of dancing bodies, parades and drag shows. You may find yourself in the midst of this vibrant event and wonder — what are they celebrating?
This month, June, we celebrate Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer, Questioning, Asexual, and Intersex+ (2SLGBTQAI+) Pride Month. It originally began with the Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969. Cisgender and transgender Black, Indigenous, and persons of color (BIPOC) activists, 2SLGBTQAI+ individuals and supporters stood up against brutal police raids, violence, and discrimination. This marked a pivotal change in the course of 2SLGBTQAI+ history for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Black trans woman and activist Marsha P. Johnson and others playing central roles in the uprising.
The Stonewall Uprising served as a catalyst for change in the gay rights community. Since then, we celebrate every June to honor our 2SLGBTQAI+ history and the many historical figureheads and activists who paved the way. Despite our celebrations, much more work and change needs to happen in our fight for equal existence, rights, and protections. There is a push within the queer community to add “2S” to the beginning of LGBTQAI+ for Two-Spirit. It is a step toward dismantling colonial history and the erasure and harm done by colonialism. This creates an umbrella term only Indigenous people can use to identify. To find out more about this, follow the lead of Indigenous folx.
The Alphabet: 2SLGBTQAI+ identities and beyond
“Intersectionality” was a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, to understand and analyze how discrimination and privilege affects our lives given different social categorizations and contexts.
According to Gallup, 5.6% of U.S. adults identify as LGBT. This number may be higher considering self-report bias, stigma, non-responses, and other factors. Out of these, 54.6% of the LGBT adults identify as bisexual, and 24.5% say they are gay. There are a number of definitions for the various sexual orientation identities we hold, all of which are important when talking about sexual orientation and gender identity. This is why we need the “plus” in our alphabet, 2SLGBTQAI+.
When we consider our identities, for many of us, being 2SLGBTQAI+ is just one part of our identity (sexual orientation and/or gender identity). There are many other social categorizations, such as race, nationality, education, and disability, to name some. Often, when discussing this, we use the term “intersectionality”, coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, to understand and analyze how discrimination and privilege (we all have it, in some way shape or form) affects our lives and overall wellbeing.
As a Still I Run (SIR) Ambassador, it is important for me to explicitly say I identify as a queer, pansexual, biracial Asian American cisgender woman. I use she/her/hers pronouns. My sexual orientation is not defined by the sexual orientation or gender identity/expression of the person I am dating. For me, gender identity and biological sex do not impact to whom I am attracted or romantically interested. The word “queer” as an identity was a way for many of us to reclaim our identities from those who historically used this word as a derogatory term for homosexuals. My definition of queer is very personal, but this may vary depending on who you ask. 2SLGBTQAI+ identities are diverse and come in all types of expressions, shapes, sizes, flavors, and colors — hence, our rainbow!
The Crux: 2SLGBTQAI+ youth, individuals, and mental health disparities
Intersectionality is critical as we consider health outcomes, especially for 2SLGBTQAI+ youth and individuals. This population was historically marginalized and ostracized by society. While there has been much progress since the Stonewall Uprisings, many obstacles and hurdles to equality and protections for 2SLGBTQAI+ individuals still exist.
Considering the poor mental and physical health outcomes we have when compared to our heterosexual and cisgender counterparts (Moagi et al., 2021), we must continue to make strides for positive change. 2SLGBTQAI+ individuals face stigmatization and discrimination from both individuals and society overall. This causes difficulty in navigating systems and receiving appropriate (and inclusive) healthcare (Moagi et al., 2021). This holds true for both mental and physical wellness. In some countries, same-sex sexual acts are still criminalized. There are fights across the board for equal protections and rights for all.
Many of us are simply fighting for the right to exist as our true, authentic selves.
2SLGBTQAI+ individuals experience higher rates of emotional distress, adverse childhood experiences, and negative mental health outcomes when compared to their heterosexual, cisgender counterparts (Moagi et al., 2021). Some studies indicate that 2SLGBTQAI+ individuals reported 14 times more suicide attempts (Moagi et al., 2021), along with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other negative mental health outcomes. 2SLGBTQAI+ youth, have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, obesity, bullying, sexually transmitted diseases, and youth homelessness (Hafeez et al., 2017).
According to the Trevor Project, on a survey they conducted in 2020, “48% of LGBTQ youth reported engaging in self-harm in the past twelve months, including over 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth”, and “40% of LBTQ respondents seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered suicide.” Research indicates that transgender and gender nonconforming individuals experience even higher rates of depression and other related issues (Moagi et al., 2021). When we look at intersectionality, how would these disparities show themselves when we explore race, socioeconomic status, disability, and others?
The Allyship: How to support your 2SLGBTQAI+ friends and family
None of these alarming statistics come as new or shocking to me. Living in Baltimore City as a queer person of color (QPOC) and clinical social worker, I could have told you about these disparities from my own personal experiences, and the experiences of my chosen queer family and loved ones. To me, they are not just statistics. They are people. They are traumas. We know them all too intimately — from stories of family rejection to even more violent stories of brutal assaults and attacks. We are still fighting to survive, even with the strides we have made since the Stonewall Uprising.
Beyond Pride Month
So, allies, what can you do, you ask? Celebrate with us during pride, but do not forget about us in the remaining 11 months of the year. Continue to support your 2SLGBTQAI+ friends and family. Speak up against bigotry. Uplift the voices and experiences of your 2SLGBTQAI+ community members. Educate yourselves, donate to critical causes, and, most importantly, express your love and support for our 2SLGBTQAI+ youth, explicitly. Ask about and respect pronouns. Love with all your heart, without conditions.
Family acceptance of our 2SLGBTQAI+ youth is shown to improve their self-esteem and promote good health in general. This support serves as a protective factor against negative mental health outcomes such as depression, suicide, and substance use (Hafeez et al., 2017). Wave your rainbow flag high and proud! Celebrate and love your 2SLGBTQAI+ children, family, and friends each and every day of the year, not just during pride month.
Want to learn more?
For 24-7 crisis support for 2SLGBTQAI+ youth through the Trevor Project, go here: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now OR call the TrevorLifeline 24-7 at 1-866-488-7386 OR text “START” to 678-678 to text confidentiality with a Trevor counselor.
For LGBTQAI+ & Two-Spirit specific resources resources from Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women, go here: https://lakotalaw.org/news/2020-05-01/mmiw-resource-guide
To learn more about important Black LGBTQAI+ activists and pioneers, go here: https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/black-history-month-17-lgbtq-black-pioneers-who-made-history-n1130856
To learn more about the history of 2SLGBTQAI+ pride, go here: https://www.history.com/pride
For guidance on talking to your children about sexual orientation, go here: https://www.chop.edu/news/health-tip/talking-to-kids-about-gender-and-sexual-orientation
Hafeez, H., Zeshan, M., Tahir, M.A., Jahan, N., & Naveed, S. (2017). Health care disparities among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: A literature review. Cureus, 9(4). doi: 10.7759/cureus.1184
Moagi, M.M., van Der Wath, A.E., Jiyane, P.M., & Rikhotso, R.S. (2021). Mental health challenges of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people: An integrated literature review. Health SA Gesondheid, 26(0). doi: 10.4102/hsag.v26i0.1487