As the old saying goes, you can’t know your future without knowing your past. During Pride Month, this is especially pertinent. We can never forget that Pride was born from resistance. Specifically, it originates from the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. This tide-changing act of rebellion occurred when patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a queer bar in New York, fought back against police who were raiding the gathering spot, which was common at the time because “homosexual acts” were illegal in almost every state. Not only did this uprising over multiple nights play a pivotal role in accelerating the LGBTQIA+ liberation movement we know today, it was also led by Black and Brown trans sex workers, a reminder that the burden of resistance often falls on the most vulnerable despite the spoils rarely flowing the same way.
Fast forward to 2021. Celebrations of Pride Month during June are now mainstream while societal knowledge of Stonewall icons like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera is slowly but surely following suit. On one hand, many institutions have embraced practices like using proper pronouns, younger generations especially have advanced society’s understanding and embrace of concepts like gender fluidity and queer identities, and there are more prominent examples of out LGBTQIA+ people in positions of power and influence in the US than in any other time in modern history.
However, anti-LGBTQIA+ bigotry and violence are still prevalent. The murder of Black and Brown trans women of color, especially, is an epidemic that continues to get ignored. Meanwhile, queer identity is cruelly treated as a political wedge issue just as much as ever. Throughout the country, politicians are pushing for legislation that bans trans students from participating in sports and freely using bathrooms, as well as advocating for curriculum that continues to erase LGBTQIA+ history and, quite frankly, existence.
The resistance that forged Pride is just as necessary now as it was during Stonewall. With that in mind, it’s important to note that this resistance wasn’t just about fighting back against police, but it is also about equity and justice in every aspect of organizational life. This resistance extended far outside of New York. In fact, in 1969, LGBTQIA+ students were making history here at the University of Oregon with the creation of the Gay People’s Alliance (GPA). The GPA was recognized as the first organization of its kind at a university on the west coast. It was also one of very few formal queer student organizations that was eligible for university funding. The visionary students who founded the GPA set in motion major changes both at the UO campus and throughout the Eugene community. This included the passage of laws banning discrimination based on sexual preference, the election of out LGBTQIA+ students to the highest levels of student government and the garnering of support from highly influential publications and elected leaders.
We see the fruits of that labor in a variety of places today. The UO provides a host of LGBTQIA+ resources for students and faculty, including Queer Studies, UO TeachOUT and a plethora of scholarships, as well as specialized student groups for LGBTQIA+ students focused on everything from STEM to Law to Greek Life. Campus community members can engage with queer history at the UO in a number of ways, including the Creating Change: Forty Years of LGBTQ Activism at the University of Oregon digital exhibit and Just Out: Oregon’s lesbian and gay newsmagazine digital archives available at the UO Libraries.
Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pride at the UO is still very much alive. We had to adjust to host many of our Pride events in May, but both last month and throughout the year, the UO’s offerings of social groups, movies, lectures and more have continued to bring people together and educate the campus community. This momentum is very much growing throughout June with Lavender Graduation and other activities happening in the Eugene area.
We hope you can join us in celebrating Pride during June and all throughout the year!