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Celebrating Pride – the progress and the work ahead

Fifty-two years ago this week, the Stonewall Uprising took place in New York City in response to the police invasion of the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village. What started as a spontaneous act of resistance to routine harassment sparked six days of protests throughout the neighborhood. One year later, on the anniversary of the raid, thousands marched in Manhattan in what became our nation’s first gay pride parade.

In some ways, it’s astounding to have witnessed the speed and scale of the progress that LGBTQ+ people have made in achieving recognition of our rights, dignity and humanity. That progress is worth celebrating — the Stonewall Inn is now a national monument; gay marriage is legal everywhere in the U.S. and in many other democratic nations, and last week Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Early in my career, I thought it would be impossible for me to ever call my partner my wife or to be in a position of public leadership as an out lesbian. Yet both are now true, and I had the pleasure of sharing my experience — and learning from other LGBTQ+ people in academia — at a recent panel hosted by the APLU in celebration of Pride Month. Over the course of my own life, I’ve seen transformative change, and knowing that change of this magnitude is possible, I am even more committed to continuing the work of ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to live and thrive as their authentic selves.

Without a doubt, more work is needed. Progress in LGBTQ+ rights has been uneven and sometimes we have taken steps backward. In particular, LGBTQ+ people of color and trans and gender non-conforming people have not always experienced the same freedom and acceptance that white gays and lesbians have had, and they continue to suffer greater economic disadvantages and are more likely to be victims of violent crime. Their lives and experiences matter, and our fight for justice must continue as long as these disparities exist.

What’s more, the role that BIPOC and trans people have played in the fight for equality has often been left out or overlooked in our understanding of LGBTQ+ liberation. Activists like Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, who was present at the Stonewall Uprising and went on to advocate for transgender youth in New York, have been part of the fight from the very beginning. Her name, and that of many other trans activists and activists of color, deserve to be remembered and honored for what they suffered and worked for to enable so many to live, work, march and celebrate without fear.

As a University, we have a special duty to make our campuses welcoming and friendly places for LGBTQ+ students to be their authentic selves — and to meet them where they are when they become part of the UW community. College was once the first place that many young people first felt comfortable coming out; today, students begin college at many different points in their coming out journey. Everyone’s journey is unique, but everyone can still benefit from a supportive, welcoming environment that makes it possible to come out in their own way and on their own schedule. Perhaps most importantly, we must work to make our community more representative, so that young people can envision the limitless possibilities that await them.

As we conclude Pride Month, celebrating how far we’ve come as a society and in our own personal journeys is a huge part of what Pride is about. The joy of feeling free to be one’s authentic self is something that every human being is entitled to, and the substantial work that lies ahead of us must be in service of securing that liberating joy for all LGBTQ+ people. I hope everyone had a great Pride Month and I am grateful to be part of a community that is committed to the changes that are still needed for true equity to exist.