Today, President Biden signed into law a bill making Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday. The day honors June 19th, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned about their emancipation — two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln.
Our newest federal holiday may be 156 years too late — but it’s also not a moment too soon.
Just a year ago, during this same month, we witnessed the greatest civil rights awakening since the 1960s following the tragic killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Protests erupted across the country, and world, drawing critical attention to the mistreatment of communities of color — injustices which stem, directly, from our horrific practice of enslaving Black people in the United States for hundreds of years.
The holiday should serve as a welcome reminder to the queer community that before, Pride Month, there was Juneteenth — something many in our community came to realize just last year, thanks to the racial justice protests and an ongoing global pandemic that was ravaging Black communities in disproportionate numbers. We hit pause on the glitter and feather boas that have come to characterize our Pride celebrations. Across the country, we transformed our parades and parties into online activism and civil disobedience. And we were reminded that Pride began as a protest, too, against the over-policing and police brutality targeting the LGBTQ community.
Most importantly, we took a moment to recognize our community’s complicity, like many others, in upholding systemic white supremacy in this country— all too often, the LGBTQ movement has advanced its work without centering the needs of the most marginalized members of our community: queer, trans and gender nonconforming people of color, who face rates of violence, discrimination, harassment and death at rates that far outpace white queer people — and white cis-gender gay men, in particular. Many of us noticed, for the first time, that while corporations cover themselves in rainbows and support pride floats each June, few seem eager to wrap their logos in the Pan-African colors (black, green and red) each February for Black History Month.
As the country returns to some semblance of “normalcy” following the events of the last year, we should seize every moment we can to celebrate Pride however we want — out and proud — just as we did before the pandemic. The Supreme Court gave us a helpful reminder this week of why we need to continue to be bold and visible when it issued a decision upholding the rights of a religious child welfare agency in Philadelphia to continue discriminating against LGBTQ adoptive and foster parents.
But what should not return to “normal” is our knee-jerk response to celebrate Pride without recognizing the fullness of our diversity, the intersectionality that exists within our community — and the need for those of us who can to us our privileges to advocate for the most marginalized among us.
For this reason, I hope Juneteenth, our newest federal holiday, will become more than just another day off from work for the queer community during Pride month. Occurring smack dead in the middle of June, I hope it serves instead as a crucial reminder to us of the importance of centering racial justice in our community — this year, and every year to come.
If you’re looking for some ways to honor Juneteenth this year, below are some LGBTQ racial justice organizations you can learn about and donate your time and resources to. (Have others you’d like us to include in this list? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Happy Juneteenth, everybody.
Audre Lorde Project: community organizing group in New York City focusing on LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming people of color.
Black Lives Matter: Alliance of groups working to build local power of Black communities to eradicate racism and white supremacy.
Black Trans Travel Fund: Fundraises to ensure Black trans women can travel safely, free from violence.
Brave Space Alliance: A Black-led and trans-led LGBTQ+ service organization in Chicago.
Campaign Zero: policy and research organization working to identify solutions to end police violence against communities of color.
G.L.I.T.S: Group that provides support, housing, health care and more to transgender sex workers.
Marsha P Johnson Institute: A group working to advance the rights of Black transgender people.
National Black Justice Coalition: A civil rights organization working to better Black LGBTQ communities.
The Okra Project: A group working that cooks and delivers meals to Black, trans communities.
Sylvia Rivera Law Project: A legal organization working to advance the rights of LGBTQ, intersex, and gender non-conforming people of color.