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The lesson of ‘Pride’ on its 50th anniversary: People can change. Let’s use that to protect Black lives.

The first gay pride march took place in New York 50 years ago on June 28, 1970, with just a few thousand protesters in attendance. It wasn’t the decadent street festival with millions dancing to music that it is today. The first march was a courageous act by LGBTQ people of affirmation and self-declaration against being criminalized by the government, deemed mentally ill by the medical establishments, and brutalized by police.

A half-century later, it’s remarkable how a once-fringe movement shifted into a powerful and successful push for civil rights. It’s been five years since marriage equality became the law of the land, and this week the Supreme Court issued another historic ruling that protects gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Though the Trump administration is aggressively trying to erode this progress, public support for LGBTQ rights are at record highs, with 70% of Americans supporting transgender troops serving in the military and 67% supporting marriage equality.

There will be no parade this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the cancellation of parades on Pride’s 50th anniversary can provide us with a much-needed pause for reflection — a wake-up call for those of us who have been lulled into complacency by our own privilege.

The world we’re living in has been radically transformed by a global pandemic and daily protests over police brutality and racial injustice. We are living in a moment of history with great potential to channel pain into power. Much like the demonstrators for Black Lives Matter, organizers of the first Pride march were protesting against police brutality and a right to live freely. The symbolism is not lost on me that these chapters in history are overlapping during the month of June. The current moment we’re living in feels rooted in a similar pain that crystallized gay liberation into an organized civil rights movement. And this explosive moment we’re living in has transformed itself into a moment of profound catharsis and reckoning.

I’ve been fortunate to have largely been insulated from the ills of bigotry. I have long known to be careful in certain settings, sometimes for being gay, sometimes for being Jewish, sometimes for both. The difference though is that I have the luxury of choosing when to make these parts of myself known and visible. And I’ve been lucky to have always lived in places where I could find belonging.

The same is not true for LGBTQ people of color, particularly black trans women who face a crisis of being murdered at astonishing rates.

This past Saturday, a rally in Brooklyn affirming that #BlackTransLivesMatter mourned the recent murders of Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, 27, of Philadelphia, and Riah Milton, 25, of Cincinnati. A total of 26 trans people were killed in 2019, and trans women face higher rates of homelessness and incarceration.

This is where the focus of Pride today should be: on the most marginalized segments of the community. This is how we honor our history.

Let’s remember that it was once illegal to be gay and the majority of Americans still held that belief 30 years ago.

Let’s remember that celebrating pride means honoring the history of the trans women of color who risked their lives for the sake of the movement. Learn the names Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. The legal rights I enjoy today as a gay man were not afforded to any of these trailblazers, and I am forever indebted to their memory.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being openly gay, it’s that people are capable of transcending their old beliefs. Prejudice changes to acceptance and shame turns to pride when we face a new reality that no longer ignores the truth. That comes from personal connection. We all have a role to play in making the world more just, and it starts with a deeper recognition of the power we wield.

When the headlines move on to the next story, don’t forget the lessons learned from this moment in history and the action required to make it happen.

Much like how we celebrate Passover each year to remember Jewish liberation from bondage, celebrating Pride is an opportunity to keep retelling the story of freedom in all its color for future generations to pass on and learn from.

It’s time for us to recommit to our values in action. We have a moral imperative for Pride to be more inclusive of the full diversity that represents the community. For far too long the voices of LGBTQ people of color have been underrepresented. Now is a time to shine the light on how black LGBTQ people are faced with greater hardships.

Peter Fox is a writer who focuses on the intersection of LGBTQ identity and Jewish world politics. His writing has been featured in The Jerusalem Post, The Advocate, and Tablet Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @thatpeterfox.

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