Commentary: It’s Important To Know Our History

The Minneapolis GLBT-plus community’s annual Pride Celebration just ended, and according to recent items in Lavender, it was a time to party!

In Lavender’s Pride Edition (June 2), a column by Justin Jones, (“Sugar & Spice”), recounts a conversation among several 20somethings, as they discuss their plans for Pride: drink, dance, drink, meet new friends, drink, take pictures, drink. Notice a theme?

As I read his article, I felt a twinge of disappointment. Not with Justin. I have met Justin. He is a very nice and likeable young man. So, this is not a criticism of him.

Rather, my disappointment was with others from my generation and me. If Justin’s column is an accurate portrayal—that most young GLBT individuals see Pride simply as our community’s Mardi Gras, and just another opportunity to get wasted on a three-day binge—then my generation has failed to pass along the important and very rich historical context of the GLBT community.

Please don’t misunderstand: I think it is entirely appropriate to publicly celebrate our successes, to identify ourselves to the larger community as a minority of consequence, to demonstrate our Pride in who we are, and to share the richness and diversity of our history and our community.

I also believe it begs the question: At least once a year, does the next generation understand where “Pride” Weekend comes from—what price was paid; what sacrifices were made by those before us?

Does the next generation know not just the story of the Stonewall Riots, but the history that produced that seminal event?

Do they know about Harvey Milk, his incredible contributions and ultimate sacrifice to our political identity?

Do they know about Minnesota State Senator Alan Spear, the first openly gay elected politician in Minnesota (his coming out and election drew national attention in The New York Times)?

Do they understand the importance of and what’s at stake in our civil rights agenda?

Even if one’s personal priorities for our community do not include gay marriage, do they understand that the existing state statute and proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage are a gateway to broader issues?

Have we adequately passed along the knowledge that more than 500 state statutes in Minnesota law discriminate against GLBT individuals, and that these statutes serve only to separate and subordinate our community?

These statutes are a constant reminder that while we are assimilated in many ways in the larger community, that assimilation is still merely a tenuous tolerance.

Now, honestly, I am not a total bore. (I really can be fun at a party.) I believe in celebrating our successes, and in taking our enduring spirit and optimism to the streets. Like most of us, I enjoy and celebrate Pride with enthusiasm.

It may have been unwitting, but thank you, Justin, for reminding us that we should not forget our history. We need to pass along the stories, celebrate the significant accomplishments, wear our scars with dignity—and, yes, enjoy the “Pride.”

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