Happy Pride Month!  While Pride celebrations are held all over the country and world at different times of year, June is the traditional and most commonly recognized month in the United States for LGBT Pride Celebrations.  Pride is celebrated in June in memory of the Stonewall Riots in New York City in June 1969, the beginning of the LGBT equality movement.  Pride in Denver is a major event and we are expecting more than 380,000 guests to join us at the festival this weekend.  Pride also has a major impact locally contributing around $25 million to the Denver metro economy each year.

Before I worked for RANGE Consulting and The GLBT Community Center of Colorado I cannot say that I fully understood the meaning or history of Pride.  Pride is an antonym of shame.  My favorite shame researcher, Dr. Brene Brown, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  She goes on to say that she “doesn’t see shame as helpful or productive” and that “shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure.”

Shame has been used as a primary method of suppression against LGBT people’s open existence in society and was particularly powerful in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  In 1950 Senator Joseph McCarthy started the “Red Scare” and the federal government and country was swept up in a wave of panic over the threat of government infiltration by communist spies from Russia.  McCarthy also alleged that there were homosexuals working for the federal government and that they were good targets for foreign agents to turn into their spies by threatening to out them as gay if they did not turn.  This was known as the “Lavender Scare”.  A senate committee investigated “the employment of homosexuals and other sex perverts in the US government” and concluded that they could not find even one example of an American gay or lesbian employee turning spy against their country.  The senate committee then released a widely read report alleging that gay and lesbian government employees had a “corrosive influence” on their peers.

In 1953 President Truman signed Executive Order 10450 making “sexual perversion” a disqualification for working for the federal government and a mass investigation was launched resulting in the terminations of all LGBT or suspected LGBT federal employees.   This environment of fear-mongering and propaganda continued until June of 1969 when the Stonewall Riots occurred in New York City and LGBT persons started fighting back openly against the smothering violence and discrimination that had prevailed before.   The federal prohibition against employment of non-heterosexuals was not lifted until 1995.

Actor and transgender activist Laverne Cox said “It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us that we should not exist.”  Being open and authentic about being LGBT in American society is still an act of courage and comes with risks and losses.  This was demonstrated tragically last year by the June 2016 Pulse Orlando massacre.  The following week at Pride the faces I saw in the crowds around me were not fearful but full of love and courage in the face of fear.  That’s the true spirit of pride I’m looking forward to seeing again this weekend.  I hope to see you there!

For information about LGBT workplace consulting or educational workshops, trainings, or speaking engagements contact Kelly Nichols at knichols@glbtcolorado.org.