As we celebrate our annual LGBTQ Pride here in Rhode Island, I’m reminded how far we have come since the Congress of People with Gay Concerns founded Rhode Island’s grassroots movement in 1976. A court battle ensued to allow our community’s participation in celebrations planned by the RI Bicentennial Committee, which had requested participation from groups who were “encouraging activities leading to a better life, enhanced appreciation of opportunities for individual and collective freedom, and national cohesion and purpose." We won that battle and the first Pride marchers in Rhode Island took to the streets.

The modern Pride movement in the U.S. can be traced back to the Stonewall Riots that took place in New York City in 1969 􀀃at the Stonewall Inn, a tavern in Greenwich Village. These riots were a response to ongoing police raids conducted in an attempt to enforce an anti-homosexual legal system. This fact bears repeating as we witness the riots that have more recently taken place in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, both of which also have roots in a community's dissatisfaction with their treatment at the hands of the police and a skewed legal system. It is clear that our march to freedom and equality is not over and, in fact, has become much broader in light of recent events. Social media are opening the eyes of a younger, more socially-conscious generation, allowing greater awareness of inequalities suffered by our friends in our ever-growing, nationwide networks.

Here in Rhode Island, our biggest battle in recent years was for marriage equality. Having won that and enjoying greater acceptance, did we become complacent and lose sight of other inequalities that are still plaguing us? Recent hate crimes in Providence remind us that we still have work to do. A gay man who was being teased for what he was wearing, stood up for himself, and then denied asylum by the business he was patronizing, and forced onto the street at knifepoint only to be physically assaulted by his bullies and their friends, who were never caught.  Barely two weeks later, two gay men were subjects of drive-by hate speech while walking downtown.  In reply they shouted, "Don't spread the hate!" and were then followed and threatened for several blocks and eventually fired upon with a pellet gun before police were thankfully able to apprehend the perpetrators.

Rhode Island Pride provides opportunities for people to come out, express and celebrate their sexual identities, and in doing this we forge a path for change. Being visible is vital to our community's ability to affect change in our state. As downtown Providence comes alive for Pride month, our community must again take advantage of the platform that Stonewall has given us, reconvene our Congress of People with Gay Concerns, and continue to make our voices heard. We must come together and reaffirm our commitment to challenging all forms of discrimination and disparities endured by the LGBTQ community We face prejudice and violence against our trans brothers and sisters, high rates of HIV infection among our young men, workplace discrimination, bullying, teen depression and suicide, racial/ethnic invisibility and exclusion in the face of police and social bigotry, youth homelessness, economic inequality, and inadequate support for our elderly. It is important that we recognize and embrace our unique differences and needs, and realize that we are not the only community experiencing these inequalities. We must explore better solutions together.

Please join Rhode Island Pride in this commitment: As diverse and varied as we are as individuals, we must stand together, IndiVISIBLE, towards liberty, justice, and equality for all.

Yours in Pride,

Kurt Bagley

Rhode Island Pride is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the visibility, equality, and diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendere community and provides safe space to come out, express, and celebrate all sexual identities and genders.  For more information, email info@prideri.com, or call 401.467.2130.