people at pride event

PRIDE – A Protest, Not a Party

Over the years, Pride Month has evolved into an international celebration for the LGBTQIA+ community and allies. However, Pride is not merely a party but also a time to stand in solidarity, protest, and commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion — the birth of Pride.

Early in the morning on July 28, 1969, outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the riots ignited. At that time, it was still a crime to be gay. The Stonewall Inn was an underground scene and one of the few establishments in New York City where gay men, drag queens, and trans people found community.

But the police often raided these establishments — brutalizing and humiliating people. Those arrested often found their photos published in newspapers and lost their housing, jobs, and even families.

On that night in 1969, the community finally had enough, and a raid turned into a riot. It is unclear who pushed back first, but Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, is often attributed to being the first to resist.

Then in 1970, on the first anniversary of the rebellion, marchers protested ongoing hostile conditions for LGBTQIA+ people everywhere. And every year since, Pride marches have been organized worldwide to recognize our continued fight for full equality.

I remember hearing the story of Stonewall for the first time in college and feeling grateful that conditions were better. While it was still illegal in Iowa to be gay, the laws were never enforced. We could dance in the one gay bar we had, and I felt safe in my college community.

A Backstep in the Fight for Equality

Over the years, our community witnessed significant changes that advanced equality. I was proud to help overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell and pass marriage equality in Washington. On June 26, 2015, the Obergefell decision secured our constitutional right to marry. Like millions of us all over the country, I reacted in awe when the Obamas lit up the White House in rainbow lights to celebrate the landmark decision. It felt like we were at a turning point, leading us to a future where full equality and security was inevitable.

Pride flag at the top of Seattle's Space Needle

Unfortunately, I was wrong. Today, powerful forces are working nonstop to strip LGBTQIA+ people of their right to exist. So far this year alone, more than 490 bills have been introduced in state legislatures around the country designed to ban books and criminalize trans healthcare, the right to discuss being gay or trans in education settings, the right to use restrooms consistent with one's gender expression or identity, and more. Some states have even passed laws to criminalize drag.

In Florida, where such laws have passed, cities including Tampa canceled Pride events for fear that a drag queen would be seen in public. The continued discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community has motivated some to stay away from the state for their safety.

Throughout the U.S., strict laws have been passed to prevent young trans individuals from accessing lifesaving care recommended by every major medical association. Texas passed some of the country’s most strict anti-trans laws. For example, gender-affirming care is illegal for anyone under 18, schools are prohibited from acknowledging LGBTQIA+ people exist, and drag performances are now regulated under obscenity laws. The list goes on and on.

Even here in Washington state, Arlington’s Pride was postponed by the city because of their fear of drag queens.

Building Bridges: WE’s Commitment to LGBTQIA+ Advocacy and Support

That’s why at this moment in history, when our LGBTQIA+ colleagues are terrified for their lives and fear they will lose their right to exist, we feel incredibly fortunate to work at a company like WE. Thanks to the support from our DEI team, this year the WE Pride Employee Resource Group (ERG) was empowered to engage in the movement for equality in new and profound ways.

In the spring, my WE Pride ERG co-lead, Michelle Micor, and I attended the Creating Change Conference in San Francisco. While it was Michelle’s first time, it felt like a homecoming for me. I participated in the conference regularly during the peak of the marriage equality movement. That’s where I connected with movement leaders, including President Obama’s team dedicated to advancing equality. I was eager to return to help connect WE with the next generation of leaders working to protect our right to exist.

It was an inspiring event, and diversity and inclusion were intentional in the programming. Trans people and strategies to protect trans lives were central to every event. Thousands of attendees came from all over the United States, Mexico, and Central America. Leaders with decades of experience trained the next generation, and the next generation schooled the older generation.

Michelle, a power networker, identified an incredible organization called Gender Cool that amplifies stories of trans youth and is focused on supporting families with trans children. And on March 31, WE was proud to support their vital work with a $2,500 donation on Transgender Day of Visibility. I encourage you to get to know their brave trans youth champions who are willing to tell their stories.

I am also grateful that WE cares about the quality of life of LGBTQIA+ employees. Our benefits are some of the best in the business, especially for an agency of our size. This includes coverage for gender-affirming care; and for those who live in states that no longer allow access to this lifesaving medical support, employees can opt to either travel to another state for the care they need or take advantage of a one-time relocation benefit to move to a safe harbor state.

Also, WE recently launched its first LGBTQIA+ Mentorship Program as part of signing on to the Project 47 pledge to provide mentorship for LGBTQIA+ employees.

As communicators working with some of the most influential companies in the world, each of us needs to understand the issues I’ve outlined in this post. Companies and brands with long histories supporting equality are under targeted attacks by Southern Poverty Law Center-identified hate groups. These hate groups are well-resourced, know how to make their voices feel loud, and have successfully encouraged major brands to back away from supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. But public opinion sides with love, not hate — a vast majority of Americans support equality.Pride protest

That’s why, even though for me this Pride feels more like 1969 when the Stonewall uprising began than 2015 when Obergefell secured our right to marry, I still have hope.

And I have a reminder for us all, that Pride must remain a protest, not just a party. If you attend Pride events, know that you are connecting to a movement fighting for their lives. Yes, we can celebrate, laugh, dance, and reconnect with friends. But more than anything, we must show up to Pride to demonstrate our commitment to a society where all of us are treated equally under the law, regardless of who we are or whom we love.

June 06, 2023

Joe Mirabella
VP, Executive Digital Communications Strategy and WE Pride ERG Leader