58° Good Afternoon
58° Good Afternoon

The evolution of gay pride

J.T., of Jericho, holds a rainbow-colored umbrella while

J.T., of Jericho, holds a rainbow-colored umbrella while helping to carry the famous Stonewall flag in the Long Island Gay Pride Parade in Huntington. (June 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

After being denied a parade permit in 1991 by Huntington because only traditional parades -- Memorial Day and St. Patrick's Day, for instance -- were allowed on town streets, we decided to go to court.

We eventually won the right to celebrate gay pride on Long Island. And today, the gay-rights movement's fight for equality continues to win court battles locally, statewide and in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1991, we marched down Main Street in Huntington as a call to arms. It was, and remains, our hometown, and we didn't have to go to Manhattan to be ourselves and live freely. We marched to the sound of both protesters and supporters with pride and for a cause. And nearly 25 years later, gay pride events have become more of a big party than a summons to action.

Attendance at Long Island Pride events has quadrupled in the last four years, even given dwindling parade spectators on parade -- thousands more can be found inside Heckscher Park in Huntington for the annual festival.

Gay pride must be festive and driven by political action. Their coexistence should shape our annual celebrations. The landscape for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families has significantly improved in the last 25 years, with increased visibility, legislation, support and opportunities to celebrate our love and identities. But for many LGBT people, the consequences and fears of being out are still too much of a risk, and the data show us why.

In U.S. schools, nearly two-thirds of LGBT youth hear anti-gay remarks daily, 30 percent report missing school at least one day because of feeling unsafe and more than 85 percent are verbally harassed, according to a survey from the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Nearly one-third of teen suicides are committed by LGBT youth. And up to 40 percent of runaway and homeless youth identify as LGBT.

While the conversation about transgendered Americans has taken a huge leap with the hiring of actress Laverne Cox, a cast member in "Orange Is the New Black," and Caitlyn Jenner's story, transgendered people still lack basic protections against discrimination in housing and the workplace.

While Suffolk County and North Hempstead town have adopted limited protections, Nassau County has not and the State Senate, led by Long Island Republicans, refuses to allow a vote on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.

Also, health disparities among the LGBT community are well documented.

Gay and bisexual men are the fastest-growing group in newly diagnosed HIV infections.

Lesbians are at higher risk for cancer and less likely to get preventive services.

Transgender individuals are less likely to have health insurance than heterosexual or LGB individuals.

And elderly LGBT people face additional barriers as a result of severe isolation and a lack of social services.

Despite the daunting challenges, there are reasons to be optimistic. In a landslide victory last month, Ireland became the first nation in the world to adopt same-sex marriage by popular vote. Although I oppose putting civil rights up for a vote, Ireland's tally proved that being out and visible can move hearts and minds in profound ways. And we are expecting a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could extend same-sex marriage to all 50 states.

There is a lot to celebrate tomorrow at the Long Island Gay Pride Parade in Huntington. But we must remember that our fight is not over; scores of Long Islanders will stay home, as the fear of being "out" is still too much to overcome.

During this year's pride celebrations, let's honor our past, celebrate the victories and be visible for those who can't.


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