By: Priscilla María, Mental Health Advocate and Writer
Pride Month centers members of the LGBTQ+ community through social initiatives and the promotion of equality. This celebration is necessary because the LGBTQ+ community continues to face discrimination and stigma in many corners of this country. For instance, only four states require LGBTQ+ history to be taught as part of American history. In other words, the countless contributions made by LGBTQ+ individuals to humankind are regularly excluded from the American narrative. By observing both LGBT History Month and Pride Month, communities can provide role models for youth and foster a tolerant environment. For instance, research has found that hearing about and seeing images of trans people reduces transphobic feelings and increases support for trans rights. Put differently, visibility and representation, such as the trans women and gay men of color starring in FX's “Pose,” matters and can change lives.
Black excellence is represented across gender identities, sexual orientations, and lived experiences. For instance, James Baldwin was an openly gay Black man and world-renowned writer. Additionally, Baldwin worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to combat systemic racism. All the while, Baldwin was severely depressed and made several suicide attempts. Similarly remarkable, Alvin Ailey, a gay Black man, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his innovation in the world of dance such as bringing dance to marginalized communities. Lesser known is the fact that Ailey lived with bipolar disorder and with the psychological effects of racial trauma. Equally inspiring, gender-nonconforming Marsha P. Johnson was a key figure in the Stonewall Riots of 1969 when New York's LGBTQ+ community demonstrated against police violence. Johnson's personal life, however, was chaotic due to severe mental illness and drug addiction. The legacies of Baldwin, Ailey, Johnson, and countless other Black LGBTQ+ figures demonstrate that living with a mental health condition does not preclude individuals from making extraordinary contributions to society.
As we commemorate historical figures of the Black LGBTQ+ community, it is important to recognize the current sociopolitical climate that affects our Black LGBTQ+ family. The social injustices members of this community face are multidimensional because of the intersection of race, sexuality and gender identity. As a whole, the Black LGBTQ+ community copes with elevated rates of economic insecurity, violence, harassment, health inequity, criminal injustice and religious intolerance.For instance, at least 18 transgender people, all women of color, have been killed in 2019. In fact, the American Medical Association labeled the violence targeting the transgender community as an epidemic. Additionally, although Black youth are approximately 14% of America's youth population, they make up 42% of the incarcerated youth population, and 31% of the homeless LGBTQ+ youth population.
The Black community is not a monolithic group. Accordingly, diversity in culture, ethnicity, sexuality and gender identity adds to the richness of this community. It is important to recognize the brilliance and strength, both past and present, of the Black LGBTQ+ community. In addition, we must all extend ourselves to support the LGBTQ+ community in real time. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ+ community experiences higher rates of mental health issues; LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide and up to 65% of transgender people experience suicidal ideation. Although conditions are dire, there is power in solidarity and strength in numbers.