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An Open Letter to Young LGBTQ+ People on This Historic Pride Week

Pride letter

This year is the start of our next chapter, writes the heads of two influential HIV and LGBTQ+ organizations.

Dear LGBTQ young people,

Welcome to Pride as it began this time 50 years ago — a protest driven by our community speaking out against the impacts of oppression, inequality, and violence.

As LGBTQ and HIV advocates, it is our responsibility to link arms with those in Minneapolis and across the country who are speaking out against structural racism and white supremacy. The fights in our streets today are the very spirit and essence of how Pride began.

On June 28, 1970, thousands of LGBTQ people took to the street to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. That first Pride parade was born from protest and anger, a response to violence that disproportionately targeted Black, Brown, and transgender lives.

And throughout the 1980s and 1990s, LGBTQ people rose out of grief and despair and demanded what was needed to save our lives. The strides we have made in fighting the HIV epidemic would not be possible without HIV advocates taking to the streets and screaming their truth to those in power.

Fifty years after the first Christopher Street parade, the Supreme Court this very month finally recognized that our people deserve protection from discrimination at work.  We celebrate that ruling.

Yet, we have more fighting still to do to assure our right to survive.

Our progress as LGBTQ people and people living with HIV has always depended upon our willingness to put our bodies and livelihoods on the line to stand up to the unjust and discriminatory systems that neglect us.

Like the recent monumental Supreme Court decision protecting LGBTQ workers from discrimination, we know that change only comes through struggle.

The structural inequalities and racist systems that led to George Floyd’s death by law enforcement are the same ones that are responsible for the obscenely high death rates from COVID-19 in Black and Brown communities in this country. They are the same systems that have created a disproportionately Black and Brown HIV epidemic in America.

Pride has always been about speaking out for our right to live and to thrive.

We see Pride in the thousands of LGBTQ people that have taken to the streets to declare that Black lives matter.

We see Pride in creative and virtual ways LGBTQ people are making to stay connected and support each other.

We see Pride in every HIV test and prescription for PrEP that will help stop a new case of HIV.

Our community’s Pride and your legacy are not just one of survival but of strength. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign rightly focuses on how our connectedness builds the strength we need to survive and thrive.

And when one of us is not surviving or thriving our Pride is not complete.

Pride not only celebrates who we are, it lifts up all within our community who are at-risk and that others shun and ignore. Pride is for LGBTQ people who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color; those of us who are neurodivergent, deaf and hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired or living with a physical disability; HIV-positive and HIV-negative, those of us who aromantic and asexual, people of faith, youth and elders ⁠— and so many more of us who live at the intersection of multiple identities — and who want so much to live with Pride.

Pride is a celebration of everything that makes us different but also everything that makes us stronger.

We take Pride in how we’ve survived, and we take Pride in how we continue to show up and speak out when one of us is under attack. We take Pride in believing we will get through this pandemic together too.

We hope you find opportunities to learn from elders and long-term HIV survivors about how we have fought, but also that you teach us about your stories and where you see our future.

Our history is being made by you every day.

We see you leading us with our passion and conviction for a world that we couldn’t even imagine when we were your age.

And while we set a foundation, you are building a vision of queer liberation that is truly scraping the skies. Some of you have only just graduated high school and are blazing a trail we are humbled and honored to walk with you.

Together we can lean on the strength of our past and on the resilience you bring as we continue fighting against racism, stigma, discrimination, inequality and HIV in these times of COVID-19.

Together we will achieve queer liberation for all, to be able to live lives that we deserve, to be our authentic selves with our families of choice.

Because this Pride was the first page of the next chapter in our story.

Jesse Milan, Jr., is JD President & CEO of AIDS United and Rea Carey is Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

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Rea Carey and Jesse Milan, Jr.