Pride: A Time to Celebrate Our Membership

It’s Pride. Rainbow flags are everywhere and there’s a parade every weekend in June in cities across Washington State.

But what does Pride actually mean? 

“For me, Pride means a sense of community and family. It’s a time to celebrate a community I’m part of, with allies. Having our union family together really shows the diverse membership that we have,” said Kodi Gaddis. 

WFSE members have been celebrating by marching in the Olympia Pride parade, raising the Pride flag at their workplaces, and more.

Gaddis invited WFSE members to attend a flag raising at his Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) office. It was a show of solidarity and a commemoration of the many people who have fought for the rights that LGBTQ people have today.

“It was really to show that the diverse membership is who we work with, and who we work for,” said Gaddis.

The History of Pride
Many don’t know that the roots of this monthlong celebration lie in a successful collective action by black and brown transgender people who were fighting for their right to exist.

“Before I learned the history, I just thought it was a celebration of everything and everyone I knew who was LGBTQ,” said Andrea Vaughn. “Then I learned the history of the Stonewall riot, and the fact that Pride wasn’t a celebration, it was actually a riot. People’s rights to be who they are as citizens were not being respected. Basic human rights weren’t being respected or adhered to.”

Pride commemorates the anniversary of the June 28, 1969 Stonewall riot, when a crowd of hundreds of gay and transgender people fought back against police brutality in New York City.

“I just learned about it this year,” said Vaughn. “The riots were started by a transgender person of color, which is amazing to me as a woman of color who identifies as queer. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, another person of color who was instrumental in starting what were the Stonewall riots, what has become a celebration and the freedom to, for at least for a month or a day, just be who you are without censorship, in public.’ We still don’t have the ability a lot of times to be who we are without censorship in public.”

At the time of the Stonewall riots, homosexuality was illegal in almost every state. Bars and other public spaces could be shut down simply for employing or serving LGBTQ people. Being transgender was criminalized, too—wearing clothing from a gender not assigned to you at birth was against the law.

Safe public spaces for the LGBTQ community were nonexistent, and often the bar scene was where folks found community. Greenwich Village was considered a haven for LGBTQ people, but even there, they faced harassment, discrimination, and outright beatings from police.

The Stonewall was a bar on Christopher Street in Manhattan frequented by gay and trans people. June 28 was a police raid intended to shut down the Stonewall once and for all, but that night, the patrons had had enough. When a police officer began beating a detainee’s head, the crowd erupted and began to throw pennies, shot glasses, and later bricks at the police.

Over the next several nights, the riots continued, with the bar staying defiantly open. Activists began to gather at Stonewall to resist, speak out, and plan. Protestors threw bricks and glasses over police barricades.

Trans activist and leader Marsha P Johnson is credited with having thrown the first brick at Stonewall. Passionate about the rights and lives of her trans community, many of whom were homeless sex workers, she later went on to cofound the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR (today known as the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries), a group dedicated to helping youth, homeless drag queens, young gays, and trans women.

This is the birthplace of the American gay rights movement. The first Pride parades were bold demonstrations in the streets by LGBTQ people who were fighting erasure, violence, and death.

Legacies of Oppression
This is recent history, and it continues today. The life expectancy of a black trans woman in this country is 35 years old, compared with 78 for a cisgender woman.

According to the Guardian, “At least eight transgender people have been reported killed in the US this year – all of them black women.”

It’s only June.

Trans women of color still face violence and murder in much higher proportions than the general public. They are fighting to access healthcare, to find safe places of employment, to stay housed, to build community. To survive.

Police harassment remains a feature of life for many trans women, too.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s survey, “26% of trans people lost a job due to bias, 50% were harassed on the job, 20% were evicted or denied housing, and 78% of trans students were harassed or assaulted. And the transphobia that drives the discrimination is exacerbated when the trans person is a person of color and also faces compounding racism.”

The Future of Labor
The labor movement has not always been a safe or supportive space for LGBTQ members. But today, AFSCME members are looking to the future.

In 2018, AFSCME passed a resolution that states “AFSCME will work to strengthen the rights, the ability to be treated equally, and fair access in employment, education, family law, youth rights, health care, housing, legal and civil rights and public accommodation for transgender and gender nonconforming people.”

“My hope is that [LGBTQ people] are actively involved, because they are members of WFSE. They are people whose voices need to be heard. We need representation and those eyes and ears, so that people who are allies know how to actually be an ally. How to become one, how to be a better one, how to remain one,” said Vaughn. 

“I’m hoping that having more people involved will get it out there that it’s time for a change within WFSE, within our accessibility, within our not just accepting, but making changes for people, to include them,” she continued.

“For me, it means that I need to push forward, to really educate other members that we do exist and we are in the workforce. Solidarity means being there and respecting everyone in the workplace,” said Gaddis.

That’s what Pride is about. Not rainbow tee shirts you can buy at Old Navy or the whitewashing of history. It’s about visibility, resistance, defiance, and survival.

It’s a loud, raucous, unapologetic celebration of LGBTQ people and our lives. It’s a declaration that we belong, we matter, and we’re not going anywhere—no matter what it takes to survive and persevere.