Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, June continues to be a significant month for commemorating observances in American culture. For many people, this includes Juneteenth and Pride Month. Both are two distinctive celebrations signifying freedom and the declaration of joy in one’s identity and full existence in society. The origins of these celebrations stem from different events and experiences of marginalized groups in this country (which should never be compared). However, one cannot deny the connection of the struggle for human rights tied to these landmark events observed in June.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is an annual celebration that marks the emancipation of Blacks from slavery in the United States. It was on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, declaring the freedom of all enslaved people. Although this executive order was not issued until January 1, 1863, Juneteenth remains a symbolic day in American history as a catalyst to affirming the liberation of Black people.

At the same time, June is recognized as Pride Month, a yearly celebration that was established to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots that took place in New York’s Greenwich Village. This uprising was a series of demonstrations that occurred after police raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar that provided a safe haven for gay patrons. It was illegal to provide such protections during this time. Since 1970, Pride gatherings for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities embody public acceptance and honor the strides in this movement toward equality. Progress has occurred, but much more advocacy needs to be prioritized to secure the civil and human rights of all people in this country.

Religious leaders continue to play a critical role in raising awareness about many social justice issues that impact marginalized people. This year, Americans United has joined a coalition of advocacy and faith-based community partners to co-sponsor “The Colors of Pride,” a week of activities that will bring together faith leaders and their congregations in support of LGBTQ equality. The Colors of Pride Week of Action (June 11-19) will provide opportunities for allyship between and within the queer community, Black and Brown communities, and congregations. Activities will focus on the intersectionality of queerness, racial justice and religious identity. These events include a virtual Juneteenth celebration honoring the resilience of African Americans as well as advocacy actions prioritizing trans women of color and voting rights. 

A report published by the UCLA Williams Institute found that 5.3 million LGBTQ adults are religious. Of the 1.2 million Black LBGTQ adults living in the United States, 71% identified as religious.

This is significant in remembering the legacies of Marsha P. Johnson and Bayard Rustin. Both were African American activists, people of faith, and members of the LGBTQ community who fought tirelessly to advance human and civil rights in a society that sometimes shunned their Blackness and queerness. Johnson was a transgender Black woman credited for being an instigator of the Stonewall riots. She was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ people and especially trans women of color despite the challenges that she faced, including homelessness. Rustin, a Quaker, was an influential leader during the civil rights movement who served as an adviser to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was the main organizer for the 1963 March on Washington. Unfortunately, the taboo associated with his sexual identity as a Black gay man during that era resulted in Rustin taking a less visible role in the movement.

Yet, Americans United is honored to work alongside Faith Advisory Council members like Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart who offered affirming words last week during the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference’s Pride Prayerdemic Facebook live event. Wearing a black T-shirt with the words “My Black Wife Makes Me Smile,” she offered an empowering prayer by saying, “God, thank you for making me Black and Queer … Thank you for allowing your imagination to run deep for molding us and shaping us in our blackness and queerness.” Toward the end, she said, “Push us all to Black freedom.” These affirming words resonated with the viewers as endless hearts and likes filled the chat. It served as a reminder for many that there is no contradiction in proclaiming one’s sexual identity or faith – both can, will, and do coexist – even in a world that creates a false narrative about LGBTQ people of faith.

Over the next month, more Faith Advisory Council members like Circle Sanctuary’s the Rev. Selena Fox will continue raising their voices in support of LGBTQ equality and racial justice. We are encouraging our Faith Leaders United members to join us in participating in the Colors of Pride Week of Action by showing their support for the Equality Act, racial and religious minorities of color, and LGBTQ people who are often discriminated against in areas of housing, education, health care and many more.  Click here to sign up for any of the week’s activities!

In the words of AU friend and Hindu leader Dr. Murali Balaji, “Being an ally means more than just putting up social media symbols and sharing hashtags. It means doing the work of empathy-based action, to ensure our LGBTQI+ family members know we will join them in causing ‘good trouble’ for equality. Most importantly, we need to be there for queer and trans community members of color who need our support as they practice self-care and resilience in the face of homophobia, transphobia, and racism.”