With marriage equality recognized in all 50 states; a Republican president who has been pressured into symbolic commitments to equal rights; and members of the LGBTQ community beginning to serve openly in clergy, the Boy Scouts, and the US Armed Forces; it is readily apparent why some erroneously see “the end of the culture wars” on the horizon. Yet, the thought of full equality for the LGBTQ community has, at the same time, never been more distant.
To be sure, the last three decades have witnessed victories of substance as well as symbolism. The lives many members of our community now lead would be scarcely imaginable only a generation ago. Public opinion has shifted rapidly toward a more open and inclusive society. The U.S. has rescinded bans on immigration (1990), sodomy (2003), adoption (2015), and marriage (2015). Today, the CEO of the world’s largest private company, politicians from New York City to Salt Lake City, and anchors on each of the Big Three news channels (CNN, Fox, and MSNBC) are LGBTQ.
Still, for every advancement in public life another remains incomplete, and a myriad of issues of structural inequality linger outside the national spotlight. Personal safety, healthcare coverage, and equal treatment are just as integral to our daily lives as marriage, but get disproportionately less airtime. It was just a year ago that the deadliest recorded mass shooting in American history took place at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and the epidemic of anti-trans violence has continued for decades unabated. America still has no national law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and our policymakers often seem more concerned with banning our youth from bathrooms than protecting them from bullying, homelessness, or suicide.
It is in the spirit of Stonewall that we recognize the battle for LGBTQ equality did not begin or end with the fight for marriage rights. Populist fervor has been shifting the terms of political discourse away from us since Obergefell v. Hodges, but our lives, families, and communities are no less important today than they were in 2015. Thus, in an era of reactionary politics, it is imperative that Pride be as much a protest as it is a party.
Of course, there is a natural inclination on the part of some to push back against this line of thought. They argue, sincerely, that a demonstration of our existence is sufficient resistance, that politicizing Pride risks alienating supporters, and that protests distract from more pressing issues. With respect, such reasoning is both naïve and misguided.
Celebrations of our identities are warranted and vital, but they are not an end in themselves. Direct action has always been critical to social change. Refraining from protests is an invitation to complacency and, as our community learned from the crisis of HIV/AIDS, indifference to our cause can be just as destructive as opposition. It is, therefore, essential that pride parades be complemented with the legitimate frustration many feel with the slow pace of progress, particularly for the most marginalized parts of our community.
Well-intentioned fears about losing allies are, likewise, misplaced. Anyone claiming that a majority, acting alone, will foreground the concerns of a worse-off minority is arguing against most of American history. To further the advancement of LGBTQ equality, allies must understand that our issues are urgent whether or not they speak about them. After all, our rights and dignity are not gifts from the generosity of public opinion; they are owed to us because we are human.
Perhaps most pressingly, a culture of protest is indispensable for keeping narratives about our lives in our own hands. Particularly at a time when political leaders are keen on using LGBTQ people as a wedge, raising our voices is more important than ever. We cannot allow social conservatives to use our safety as a cudgel to stoke hatred toward refugees and Muslims. Nor is it acceptable to allow gender identity to become a dividing line, beyond which cisgender members of our community tolerate apathy and inaction. We rise together, or not at all.
In San Diego and at UCSD, we bear a special obligation to be organized and involved. Our city has historically been a center for LGBTQ political power, electing members of the community to represent us in the State Senate, the State Assembly, the school board, and two city council districts in 2016 alone. Because we have an opportunity to make a change, we have a responsibility to make a difference. Representation is, after all, nothing without results.
Undoubtedly, we’ve come a long way since the days when someone could be denied a license for being too gay to drive, but our journey remains far from over. The march toward freedom and equality will continue as long as there are people who are still willing to fight for a better world. With San Diego Pride fast approaching this weekend, let us answer the call to action.
Daniel Firoozi recently graduated from UCSD in 2017. The featured photo comes from Flickr user ufcw770; it is presented here unchanged and licensed under Creative Commons. This article does not necessarily reflect their opinions. The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.