You may see rainbow flags flying across the state, have heard about the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, and even know that it is Pride Month, but what does this month mean to people in the LGBTQIA+ community?
For many, like Holly and Taylor Walker, Pride Month is part celebration.
“I think it’s a really nice time to celebrate our family. I think there’s a lot of gratitude we have for the people in our lives and the community we’ve built, but also now with Roux our daughter,” said Holly Walker, from West Hartford.
But their celebration would not be as joyous without the years of hardworking people who came before them, people who championed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights and equality.
People in the mid-80s came out to lobby for the passage of laws at the State Capitol, including William Mann, who now works as the Central Connecticut State University LGBT Center coordinator and an associate history professor.
“We actually handed paper bags out to people [to put over their heads] so they could come and form the numbers we needed. They were afraid of being fired or being kicked out of their families,” said Mann.
Anne Stanback was also a part of that fight and fought for seven years with the Connecticut Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights to change the laws in Connecticut, so that as of 1991, people could not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
“Before that you could be fired from a job, you could be kicked out of your apartment, you could be denied service in a restaurant simply because you were gay or lesbian or bisexual,” said Stanback.
In 2000, her fight turned to family. Stanback worked for eight years advocating for same-sex marriage. She founded ‘Love Makes A Family,’ collected hundreds of stories from families around the state, and began a strategy of inviting legislators into the homes of LGBT couples.
“Telling our stories, that is what won the day in terms of every fight that we have fought, in terms of LGBTQ issues. Making ourselves human, making ourselves vulnerable to share our joys and our pains and letting other people see that we are much more similar to them than we are different,” Stanback said.
Connecticut was the second state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2008.
Then in 2011, another monumental highlight came when a bill was passed to protect transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
For those parents who wanted equal rights, on June 1, 2021, Governor Ned Lamont signed the Parentage Act that expanded on the rights and protections of the Parent Adoption Law in 2000 and made the law more gender neutral.
“We have a done a lot of good work in Connecticut, but there’s still work to do,” said Stanback.
Part of that work is an effort to bring more people of color into the fold.
“The nation is starting to recognize that people of color started the revolution, started pride, from Marsha Johnson and recognizing these were trans non-binary individuals who actually were fighting for their lives, fighting for their rights, fighting for their dignity,” said Adrienne Billings-Smith.
Billings-Smith is an activist and attorney in West Hartford and spearheaded the Juneteenth events, including helping with the design of a mural in Blue Back Square.
In that mural are the names of black trans women who were killed.
“Every year in this country, hundreds of trans women of color are victimized -- many cases they’re murdered and we need to get that fact out because if we don’t acknowledge that black trans lives matter, then we are doing a huge disservice to a large part of our population,” said Mann.
Billings-Smith said it is important to honor those people during Pride Month.
“Pride is part celebration, part survival. Part grieving. It’s an emotional journey for all of us,” said Billings-Smith. “There’s too many deaths that are going on, not just from murder, but health disparities.”
Billings-Smith said we can make changes through education, reforming our healthcare system, speaking up about trans rights and making sure everyone is included.
Pat Bingham has also been trying to be one of those agents of change as the university assistant for the LGBT Center at CCSU.
“I try and show my face just about everywhere to make that community feel more comfortable and be like look, there are brown faces there. We are evolving to get to that point where it’s not like oh, this is a white space, oh this is a black space. No, it’s just a safe space,” said Bingham.
And as the movement evolves and grows, so do pride celebrations. The events are no longer just in cities like Hartford, but can now be seen in pride flags waving and events happening in smaller towns all over Connecticut.
Moving forward, LGBTQ activists said it is not enough to say ‘all are welcome.’
“Look at your own circle, your own small environmental. Are these issues being discussed openly? It’s not enough to say all are welcome or we love everyone. You need to be explicit. That’s true in terms of race, and that’s true in terms of LGBTQ issues because we have not always been welcome,” said Stanback.