A massive crowd of around 1.8 million turned out to watch the annual NYC Pride March on Sunday, June 30, 2013. The march is held each year to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969. It provides an opportunity for LGBT people to express pride in an identity which has historically been shamed. It also offers a unique platform from which to share powerful messages and/or promote particular causes, to a large audience, through the display of sociopolitical signs. Below are ten of the signs I photographed at this year's march and my commentary regarding the important topics and issues they refer to.
1. "RIP DOMA & Prop 8"
A number of signs featured in the march made reference to the recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in relation to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8. While it is true that Proposition 8 is now part of history, DOMA is not completely "dead." Section 3 of DOMA was struck down. This is the section of the law that previously allowed the federal government to deny legally-married same-sex couples all federal rights and benefits associated with marriage.
Section 2 of DOMA, however, remains firmly in place. This means that states which do not permit same-sex marriage can continue to ignore the validity of such marriages performed in other states and can continue to deny state-based marriage rights and benefits to same-sex married couples.
2. "100 Percent Whole Milk Marriage! Now With Green Card!"
During the DOMA hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2013 Justice Ginsburg made a distinction between "full marriage" (all rights and benefits) and "skim milk marriage" (partial rights and benefits). Same-sex married couples in the U.S.A. will from now on have access to the federal rights and benefits associated with marriage. This includes the right of a U.S. citizen (or permanent resident) to sponsor a same-sex marital partner from another country for a green card which is a significant change from the past.
There are still obstacles, however, to achieving "whole milk marriage" nationally. Same-sex married couples who reside in non-equality states will continue to be denied state-based marriage benefits. They will also not have full access to some federal marriage rights and benefits which are tied to one's state of residence such as certain social security benefits. Lambda Legal has a list of factsheets which outline how the abolition of Section 3 of DOMA impacts on same-sex married couples who reside in an equality state (eg. New York) or a non-equality state (eg. Texas).
3. "Just Married Today"
When some people hear the words "marriage" or "just married" they automatically think of a male-female couple. Given that same-sex marriage is now legal in fifteen countries and in fourteen states of the U.S.A, the assumption that "marriage" automatically refers to male-female partnership is increasingly flawed and inaccurate. One way to challenge such assumptions is to publicly and visually portray the reality of same-sex marriage (as done so in this featured image).
The more common it becomes to see same-sex married couples the more likely it will be that people will update their beliefs and ideas about marriage and start realizing that "marriage" doesn't always refer to that between a man and a woman. The goal of marriage equality advocates is for both opposite-sex and same-sex married couples to be treated equally under the law and by society in general.
4. "Homophobia: Now That's A Choice"
While it is clear to most people that sexual orientation is not "chosen" those who oppose equality continue to push this myth of "choice" to bolster their claims that LGBT people do not deserve full equality in society. It is time to shift the focus to where the problem really is - within those who promote and support discrimination. While homosexuality is definitely not a choice, choosing to believe in discriminatory ideas and engaging in discriminatory behaviors are choices.
Those who continue to promote homophobic views and ideas should not expect LGBT people to remain silent in the face of such demonization. It is not an act of "bullying" to criticize those who support discrimination. Rather, it is a necessary and essential action to help reduce the impact of homophobia (and transphobia) in society.
5. "Married Gay Catholics USA"
The Catholic Church is one of the most outspoken religious opponents of same-sex marriage and LGBT equality in the U.S.A. In state after state the Catholic Church and its unofficial affiliates (eg. the National Organization for Marriage) have waged a war on marriage equality, demonizing LGBT people and belittling the validity and worth of same-sex marriage. Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the Archbishop of the Catholic Church of New York and the leader of the Catholic Church in the U.S.A. He has consistently spoken out against the legalization of same-sex marriage, disgracefully referring to the overturning of DOMA as a "tragic day for marriage and our nation."
What is most absurd about the Catholic Church's opposition to same-sex marriage is that a clear majority of Catholics actually support marriage equality. It is important for gay Catholics to speak openly about their marriages and for straight Catholics who support equality to continue to speak up both within and outside of the church.
6. "Straight: No H8"
Given our smaller numbers in society LGBT people have historically relied on support from straight allies in efforts to achieve change and equality. Without the support of many straight people recent advances in marriage equality in the USA would absolutely not have been possible. An increasing number of straight people are recognizing the importance of LGBT equality as a civil rights issue and are demonstrating their support accordingly.
Messages of support from straight people carry significant weight and power given they are part of a much larger majority of people who can literally make or break efforts to achieve LGBT equality. As straight men are comparatively less supportive of LGBT rights than straight women it's particularly important and powerful to draw attention to displays of support from straight men.
7. "Log Cabin Republicans of New York City"
The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) contingent of NYC included three people, one of the smallest groups in the entire march. While NYC in general is a Democratic stronghold, the small size of the LCR group is a reflection of a broader national problem that exists between the Republican Party and LGBT people. The GOP has long been associated with opposing same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. While a minority of LGBT people are willing to give their vote to a party that doesn't support their rights, most are not willing to vote for a party that can justifiably be referred to as the Gay Oppression Party.
While in some respects the GOP is becoming less vocal in its opposition to LGBT equality, it still has a very long way to go in shedding its anti-gay reputation. In a recent poll only 36 percent of Republicans expressed approval of DOMA being struck down and only 29 percent said they approved of the Supreme Court's decision to dismiss the Proposition 8 case (which effectively legalized same-sex marriage in California).
8. "I Love NY" (with rainbow heart)
LGBT equality and pride have been embraced in NYC in recent years and the city has demonstrated a strong interest in reaching out to LGBT tourists. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 cemented NYC's place in history as a key location in the story of the modern gay rights movement. The legalization of same-sex marriage in New York state in 2011 was arguably a key trigger event in assisting other states such as ME, MD, WA, RI, DE and MN to achieve marriage equality.
Under the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, marriage equality and LGBT rights in NY state and NYC respectively have received major attention and support. It was also fitting in many ways that Section 3 of DOMA was eventually struck down due to the courageous and tenacious efforts of a New Yorker, Edith Windsor.
9. "Quinn: Make History With Pride"
The 2013 NYC mayoral race is heating up and all of the key mayoral candidates featured contingents in the NYC Pride March. Council Speaker Christine Quinn (Democrat) tops the list of candidates and is already the second-most powerful local politician in the city. Quinn is openly lesbian and is married to her partner. Recently the mayoral race has tightened and former U.S. Congressman, Anthony Weiner (who resigned from national politics after an online photo scandal), is gaining in popularity.
In 2009 Houston, Texas, made history by becoming the largest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor (Annise Parker). NYC would overtake Houston in this regard if Quinn is elected as mayor and the city would become the largest municipality in the world to elect a mayor who is openly gay. Quinn would also become the first female mayor of NYC.
10. "Coming Soon: Full Equality"
In recent years there has understandably been significant focus on the legalization of same-sex marriage both at the state and federal level. Achievement of state-level same-sex marriage rights is an ongoing and unfinished project. There are, however, a number of other areas where significant work remains in order to achieve full LGBT equality, most notably in relation to transgender rights (discrimination on the basis of gender identity) and employment-related discrimination (on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity).
Despite the fact that full LGBT equality has not yet been achieved, the trend towards achievement of that goal is definitely clear. I expect that in the coming years, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 2019, we will see continued gains in LGBT rights bringing us closer and closer to the overall goal: full equality. Holding World Pride in NYC in 2019 sounds like something great to aim for!
* All Photos by Murray Lipp