We can’t turn back time on LGBTQ+ rights

LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June is a time to celebrate the impact of our LGBTQ+ community and the diversity of our sexual and gender identities. It’s also a time to recognize how far the LGTBQ+ community has come over the last several decades, particularly when LGBTQ+ rights are currently under attack in the United States, with over 330 anti-LGTBQ bills introduced so far this year alone. The roots of celebrating Pride and the movement for LGBTQ+ equality go back to June 1969 during the Stonewall Riots in New York City, when a group of LGBTQ+ citizens, led by transgender activists and drag queens, finally stood up to decades of police abuse and raids on LGBTQ+ community spaces. To commemorate the Stonewall Riots, and the birth of the LGBTQ+ movement, the first Pride March was held one year later in June 1970 in New York City.

LGBTQ+ rights have come a long way since 1969, thanks to those who stood up to discrimination and hate. Back in 1969, I could have easily been arrested not only for who I love, but for the clothes I wear. It was common practice for masculine women to be arrested for the “three-article law”, stating you had to wear at least three pieces of “female attire” to avoid being arrested for cross dressing. These types of “masquerade laws” were enforced around the country to punish gender variance. And now, when we have come so far and finally recognize the beauty and diversity of the sexual identity and gender identity spectrums, there are those who continue to seek to erase our existence. There is a vocal minority who want the LGBTQ+ community out of textbooks, out of children’s books, out of sexual education classes, out of sports and out of the doctor’s offices that they need to access life-saving care.

LGBTQ+ progress

Take a look with me at a brief history of the progress we’ve made, to remind us what we have fought so hard to achieve and how important it is not to turn back time on LGBTQ rights:

  • 1973 – LGBTQ+ activists successfully campaigned for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove the diagnosis of homosexuality from the official classification of mental illness, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
  • 1977 – Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors becoming the first openly gay man in the state of California to be elected to public Office. Milk was assassinated one year later.
  • 1980s – The public reaction to the HIV/AIDS epidemic stigmatizes many populations of people, particularly gay men. The movie “And the Band Played On” documents the ignorance of the government and medical community while 10% of gay men aged 25-44 died between 1987-1998.
  • 2003 – Massachusetts became the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.
  • 2010 – The “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law that prohibited LGBTQ+ people from serving opening in the military was repealed. During the course of the policy, thousands of service members were discharged for being their true selves.
  • 2015 – The U.S. Supreme Court issues a landmark decision that made full marriage equality the law, granting couples in all 50 states the right to marry.

As you think about that brief history, I want you to reflect on how many amazing LGBTQ+ folks we have already lost in our battle for equality. Think about how many of our children, siblings, family members, and friends have tragically taken their own lives because they felt they could not live as their true selves. Think about how many of our children, siblings, family members and friends we lost to HIV because of the stigma of homophobia that delayed development of prevention and treatment measures that could have saved thousands of lives. Think about how many members of the LGBTQ+ community have avoided going to doctors for routine medical care due to homophobia and transphobia and have had higher rates and deaths from cervical, ovarian and breast cancers because they were not detected early.

Given all who have fought, all who have died, all who have been denied equal rights under the law, the last thing we should do is go back to the way things were.  Activists and trailblazers worked tirelessly to ensure that everyone can step out of the closet to live their true self, without discrimination. We cannot pass on a legacy of homophobia and transphobia to our children.

New generation

On the backs of our LGBTQ+ ancestors, a new generation of LGBTQ+ young people are now able to explore their identities and live as their true selves in world that has finally begun to make language and space for their existence. A new report from the Williams Institute shows the number of young people who identify as transgender has nearly doubled in recent years. A 2022 Gallup poll found the number of adults who identify as LGBTQ+ has doubled over the last decade, from 3.5% to 7.1%. The poll found that 21% percent of adults who are 18 to 25 identify as LGBTQ. This increase in visibility is a direct result of how hard we have had to fight to survive and exist in a society in which we were not meant to thrive.

This month, during Pride, let’s join together to commit to moving forward. We can’t go back to how things used to be. We can’t turn back the clock on LGBTQ+ rights. Our LGBTQ+ ancestors didn’t fight and die for this future in vain. Those of us who have endured harassment and discrimination in personal and professional settings based on our identities cannot afford to go backward. We must continue to press on for a future in which we all have the safety and security to thrive. Even though we have achieved so much over the last 50 years, we still have work that needs to be done. So, grab your rainbow flags this month, put on your Pride gear and stand with me as we continue to work to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ kids, teens and adults now and into the future.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd, (they/she), is the chief education officer, chief of staff, pediatrician and medical director of the Gender Health program at Children’s Minnesota

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd, (they/she)
Chief education officer, chief of staff and medical director of the Gender Health program

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd, (they/she), is the chief education officer, chief of staff, pediatrician and medical director of the Gender Health program at Children’s Minnesota. Dr. Goepferd is an advocate for advancing equitable health care for all children – including trans and gender-diverse youth. They have been named a Top Doctor by both Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine and Minnesota Monthly for the last several years and gave their first TED talk, “The Revolutionary Truth about Kids and Gender Identity” at TEDx Minneapolis in 2020.
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