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Looking back years ago when I was an impressionable little boy trying to learn and understand the many complexities and conventions of society, I remember a song that our music teacher, Mrs. Lewis, taught me and the rest of the third grade class.

Its lyric included the following phrase: “I’m proud to be me but I also see, you’re just as proud to be you.”

While I once believed it was just a silly little ditty that children are asked to perform on demand whenever visitors stopped by to monitor our progress, I now recognize why our learning that song was so important to Mrs. Lewis.

It was the turbulent ’60s – a decade defined by protestors demanding the end of the Vietnam War; African Americans confronting racism and white supremacy in their quest for full equality – the March on Washington highlighting numerous, life-changing events that would define the modern day Civil Rights Movement; and the burning of several urban cities across the country by people fed up with their status as second-class citizens.

The concept of “Black Power” was gaining momentum, fueled by ballads like the James Brown classic, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted, and Black.”

There’s something transformative that occurs within an individual as they begin to create their unique personality and are granted the right to be proud of who they are and their ancestors. As I grew older, I learned that being Black in a nation dominated by whites for so many years, meant that I could either walk in lockstep to fit the stereotypes about Blacks created by the status quo, or I could refuse membership, moving instead toward the margins of society – often feeling all alone because I was somehow “different.”

Ironically, America has long-celebrated its being a melting pot where differences are encouraged – where we welcome diversity. But in far too many cases, it’s pure rhetoric.

While storm clouds seem to disproportionately hover over Blacks, youth, and men in particular, every year in June, with its theme of Pride Month, we are reminded of the obstacles and dangers routinely faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community. At the same time, we celebrate their victories.

The concept of Pride Month began with the Stonewall riots, a series of riots for gay liberation that took place over several days beginning on June 28, 1969 in the Lower Manhattan section of New York City.

The year after the riots, the first pride marches were held in several U.S. cities. However, while the first marches bore far more characteristics of a protest than a celebration, these gatherings clearly lacked any significant participation of transgender women and people of color. Yes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

As the gay, teenaged-character Montgomery McNeil, a depressed, shy young man tortured by his sexuality, observes in the 1980 musical blockbuster, “Fame,” “never being happy isn’t the same as being unhappy. Is it?”

“It’s funny, gay used to mean such a happy kind of a word, once,” he adds later in the film.

In today’s headlines, we see transgender youth pushed to the brink of suicide because of laws and policies that prohibit them from using the bathroom of their choice and that only allow them to participate on sports teams as members of the gender to which they were born.

Still, little miracles happen every day. For example, while Republicans have recently zeroed in on anti-LGBTQ bills that claim to protect minors, a federal judge in Tennessee recently struck down a state law – the first of its kind in America – that banned drag shows in public or where children could watch them. U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker wrote that the measure violated the First Amendment freedom of speech protections and was “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad.”

One final victory of note took place in Chicago where health officials and LGBTQ+ organizations, including members of the leather community, recently collaborated to issue a health warning and to stave off another outbreak of the monkeypox virus which steamrolled through the gay community last year, infecting more than 30,000 Americans.

But in many ways, and glaringly so, the beat goes on.

On May 29, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed one of the world’s toughest anti-LGBTQ laws, including the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” drawing harsh criticism from Western countries and the risk of sanctions. Same-sex relations were already illegal in Uganda, as in more than 30 African countries, but the new law goes further, stipulating capital punishment for “serial offenders” against the law and transmission of a terminal illness like HIV/AIDS through gay sex. It also decrees a 20-year sentence for “promoting” homosexuality.

Perhaps “gay” may have once been a happy kind of word, but as tens of thousands of men, women and children from Nigeria to New York City can attest, after battling parents, siblings, school officials, politicians and peers just to be able to safely live in their truth, one is often so exhausted, so battle-fatigued and despondent, that it’s almost impossible to muster up the strength to be proud.


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