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    Pride 2023, Looking Back and Moving Forward

    By Dr. Marcy Adelman–

    It was the 1960s when I walked into my first gay bar in Boston’s Combat Zone, a sketchy neighborhood known for its adult nightlife of strip clubs, X-rated movie theaters, and adult bookstores. While I had known I was attracted to other girls since I was 16, I didn’t know any gay people, and I had no idea what being a bisexual or lesbian would mean, or what kind of life I could have.

    Those days, reading books and playing sports were my favorite activities. So, it was natural for me to look up anything and everything about being a “lesbian” and a “homosexual.” I quickly learned that research journals and clinical books on gay people were closely guarded on a shelf, and under lock and key, behind the reference librarian’s desk. You had to be a certain age, and present identification, to read them. Needless to say, I didn’t feel safe showing my driver’s license. How would I explain my interest in the subject without outing myself?

    The clinical material that I did manage to read made absolutely no sense to me. While the writers and researchers described gay people as morally deficient and mentally ill, I knew that wasn’t true because that description didn’t fit me. Something was terribly wrong but it wasn’t me. If it was okay to be me, then by extension, it was okay to be a lesbian.   

    In the 1960s there were no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, or housing, credit, education, in the military … . There was no marriage equality. Instead, there were the so-called blue laws that made it a crime to have same-sex activity, to cross-dress, and for gay people to congregate. If you were outed you could be incarcerated, put in a mental hospital or lose your job, your children, or the connection to your family and friends. It seemed to me that the only way to navigate the combination of social stigma and discriminatory laws was to be closeted. But that didn’t sit easy with me.   

    After some searching, I discovered a treasure trove of literature by lesbians and gay men: Gertrude Stein, Natalie Barney, Djuna Barnes, Colette, Virginia Wolfe, and James Baldwin, to name a few. These authors and their books gave me hope that I could find others like myself and with them create a meaningful and purposeful life.

    That day, standing outside the gay bar in Boston’s Combat Zone, alone with my fear and anxiety, balanced by a belief in myself and the hope that I would and could find my way, I finally stepped into my journey and my future. 

    My first Pride parade was in San Francisco in 1972. Like so many of my generation, I had moved to San Francisco to live an out life. The Pride parade, then and now, is a celebration of pride in ourselves and each other, and the joy of living an out life and being our authentic self, as well as a protest against those who would deny us our humanity and our civil rights. Every year, the parade has gone through a different mix of these two experiences that capture where we are as a community in that moment of time. The feel and spirit of the parade reflect both the progress we have made and the challenges we face.

    We’ve come a long way, from a profoundly troubled and difficult beginning, to securing legal protections and our civil rights. In 1972, homosexuality as a mental illness was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. In 1976, California decriminalized sodomy between consenting adults in private. Nationally, the decriminalizing of sodomy laws was passed in 2003. In 1994, there was the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, designed to prohibit military personnel from discriminating against closeted gay service members. A twisted policy that banned openly gay people from serving, it was repealed in 2011. Then in 2015, the Marriage Equality Act granted same-sex couples in all 50 states full equal legal recognition. We have much to celebrate and much to be proud of.

    When I contemplate how far we have come and in such a short time, I am in awe of what we have built together. When I contemplate the changes in my own life, I am filled with pride, gratitude, and love. We are everywhere and everywhere we are, we are out and proud and beautiful. There is strength and love in community and we have never been stronger. Each time that homophobes have tried to block our progress, we’ve come together as a community and triumphed. This year will be no different.

    This year, in 2023, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), more than 600 anti-LGBTQ laws have been introduced across the country. This hateful, right-wing backlash to our civil rights is unprecedented in its scope and coordination. But NCLR and other LGBTQ+ defenders are on the frontlines winning cases, protecting our rights, and protecting our trans children and drag queens.

    Going forward, we need to remember we are in this for the long haul. We need to come together in unity and with our allies to preserve our freedom and protect those among us who are most vulnerable and under attack. We need to support the amazing community organizations that we have built up over the years, which protect and fight for our rights. Each one of us needs to ask, “What can I do to help fight back?”

    This Pride, ask yourself that question and take an action. Volunteer for an organization, make a donation, write a letter to a legislator, find that action that manifests the best of you. Then don’t stop there. Do it again tomorrow, and the day after that. Step into your journey to make a change. And always remember to bring your joy with you. 

    Happy Pride.

    Dr. Marcy Adelman, a psychologist and LGBTQ+ longevity advocate and policy adviser, oversees the Aging in Community column. She serves on the California Commission on Aging, the Board of the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California, the California Master Plan on Aging Equity Advisory Committee, and the San Francisco Dignity Fund Oversight and Advisory Committee. She is the Co-Founder of Openhouse, the only San Francisco nonprofit exclusively focused on the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ older adults.

    Aging in Community
    Published on June 22, 2023