Why We Need to Celebrate Pride
June is observed as Pride month around the world. This month holds a deep significance for the members of the LGBTQIA+ community. LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual/aromantic/agender. The plus at the end symbolises other identities, such as pansexual, omnisexual, gender fluid and more. It is used as an umbrella term for people with non-heterosexual orientations and non-binary gender identities.
Pride commemorates one of the first movements demanding recognition and equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community. Since then, the movement has grown and June is a month dedicated to the activism, recognition, appreciation and celebration of members of this community.
A closer look at the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community
The LGBTQIA+ community has faced a lot of challenges in the past and continues to do so even today. In many countries around the world, homosexuality is considered to be a crime. In such societies, if people are found engaging in homosexual activities, or are even suspected of the same, they face criminal charges, imprisonment and police brutality.
Social stigma is widespread even in countries where being LGBTQIA+ has been legalised, and members of the community are subjected to discrimination, bias and even violence. As a result, members often live in an abusive, hostile or stressful environment. They may face several violations of their rights, microaggressions and discrimination on a daily basis. More often than not, they fear coming out to others as this often leads to consequences like social exclusion, job loss, or expulsion from educational institutions.
Being open about their orientation or identity can also make them a target for violence and harassment. Most countries do not have any legal process to protect the LGBTQIA+ community from such discrimination. Going to the police may not be an option as they may face ridicule and further violence from them as well. Due to poorly formulated policies, they may not have any way to redress their grievances.
For a very long time, being a sexual minority or being transgender was classified as a mental disorder. It wasn’t until recently, after facing immense pressure from activists, that this stand has been changed. Even then, some medical practitioners perform conversion treatment on members of the community in attempts to “cure” them.
The stigma faced by the community has caused members to struggle with several emotional concerns, including loneliness, low self-esteem and negative self-image. The lack of cultural, structural and social support along with struggles around self-acceptance make the LGBTQIA+ community highly vulnerable to concerns such as depression, anxiety, stress, substance abuse, suicidal ideation and self-harm.
Pride: A response to the oppression
After facing discrimination and stigma for years, the LGBTQIA+ community started fighting back against the oppression and inequality they experienced. This eventually led to the birth of the Pride movement.
In June 1969, a gay club in Greenwich Village in New York was attacked by the police. Such clubs were often the only safe haven many members of the LGBTQIA+ community had at the time. The attack on their club led to protests by the bar patrons, staff and management. They were led by Marsha Johnson, a black, bisexual drag queen. The movement continued - and soon, nationwide protests were taking place. Protestors demanded that they should be allowed to meet freely and express their identity and orientation without the fear of arrest.
A few years later, in 1978, gay politician Harvey Milk commissioned a designer friend of his to come up with a unique symbol to highlight the Pride parade. The designer went on to create the rainbow flag which has become an international symbol for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Why all of us need to celebrate Pride
This year will be the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March that took place in New York. The community still continues its fight for equal rights. As their struggle goes on, the Pride movement has gained momentum and become a vital part of their lives. Their participation in and celebration of Pride positively impacts their self-confidence, social lives, resilience and overall mental health. But they’re not the only ones who stand to benefit from this movement.
Let’s take a look at the mental health benefits of celebrating Pride.
It brings visibility, validation, and awareness
When people organise Pride marches and parades, they have the opportunity to acknowledge and validate their sense of selves. Young queer persons may not be able to identify with the people around them and may end up feeling like an outsider. This can have a profound impact on their mental health. Pride provides them an opportunity to represent themselves and feel included.
For heterosexual, cis-gender people, Pride month provides an opportunity to educate themselves about the community and to address any misconceptions and biases they might have. Pride is a time to celebrate individual differences and to help people accept that even though others may be different from them, everyone is equal. This can help promote empathy and acceptance towards people who are different from us.
It creates a sense of community and social support
A major challenge for many members of the LGBTQIA+ community is the rejection they often experience from others. Being a part of the Pride movement helps members of the community find people like them who can offer support, care and love. This social support in turn can have a number of benefits for individuals of this community. Social support can help people better deal with their challenges and setbacks. Having a strong network of individuals to rely on has also been found to reduce the chances of developing depression or anxiety.
It promotes self-confidence and self-acceptance
Over the years, Pride month has expanded from celebrating Gay Pride to now celebrating various sexual orientations, gender identities and gender presentations within the community. Essentially, the movement provides a safe space for people of all identities. Normalising different orientations or gender identities can help individuals feel more comfortable in their own skin and more confident about themselves.
It encourages resilience and assertiveness
The Pride movement encourages its members to express their identities assertively. The movement extends beyond national borders and religious, socio-cultural and linguistic differences.
Despite the stigma and discrimination that they face on an everyday basis, during Pride month, members of the LGBTQIA+ community still celebrate their identities and stand together against societal barriers. They continue to express and take pride in their own identity, which in turn promotes assertive self-expression and self-advocacy.
It promotes creativity and self-expression
During Pride month, people find different ways to express themselves through their clothing and accessories. Many queer and heterosexual artists create paintings, sculptures and music to celebrate the community. Both within and outside the community, people have found creative loopholes to overcome structural barriers to expressing themselves. An example of this was when a group of men in Russia, a country which has criminalised homosexuality and banned rainbow flags, circumvented the ban by dressing in different coloured football jerseys and travelling across the capital together. Each jersey represented one colour of the flag - so these men ended up forming a human rainbow.
It provides a sense of purpose
Pride is a social, cultural and political movement. The LGBTQIA+ community has used this month to raise awareness for other causes as well - such as citizenship and immigration laws, suicide prevention, body positivity and mental healthcare. When people volunteer to support Pride movements or become LGBTQIA+ activists, they become a part of something larger than themselves. This helps them find a sense of meaning and purpose, which in turn can improve psychological health and boost life satisfaction.
Celebrating Pride is important - not just from a societal perspective, but from a mental health perspective too. The values that the Pride movement stands for - self-acceptance, body positivity, equal rights, and more - actually apply to and benefit all individuals, even those who may not identify with the community.
This Pride month, let’s think of how each of us might be able to express support to the LGBTQIA+ community. Let’s also celebrate this special month by taking action for ourselves - to build awareness about who we are and to experience pride in our own identity.
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