Pride is as much a celebration of progress as it is a celebration of the inspirational power of "being you, being us" -- living our lives openly and proudly as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.
We have a lot to feel proud of since we celebrated Pride last year -- from presidential executive action to provide more discrimination protections and some relief for undocumented immigrants; from winning marriage equality in state after state to more activists standing up to racial profiling and insisting that #BlackLivesMatter. Being you over the past year has meant being an advocate for positive change. Maybe you defended a law or talked with a friend in a way that moved their heart on LGBTQ issues, immigration, or reproductive justice. Maybe you simply survived to see another day.
This month, be uplifted too -- by the freedom of possibility, the aspiration to truly be ourselves. Seize the challenge of being you and the promise of being you. Yes we all know it's a balancing act. Do I hold my boyfriend's hand? Do I tell my teacher that I live in daily fear that my undocumented parents will be deported? As a black person, how can I be real about my anger when talking to my white friends? Do I tell my lesbian friends that I'm bisexual? Will I be judged? Or will I be celebrated and supported?
Along with our progress this past year came the challenges and tragedies that have made so painfully clear the hard work that remains and barriers we must tear down that get in the way of being us, of being our whole selves.
Standing at the forefront of this bittersweet moment in history are our transgender sisters and brothers. On the one hand, it was a year of extraordinary visibility. Laverne Cox graced the cover of Time,Transparent won a Golden Globe, and Caitlyn Jenner at last was able to be her whole self.
In a way Jenner's story illustrates the awareness challenge we face. When any high-profile figure comes out as transgender, it can help educate more people about the lives of transgender people across the nation. And yet, with all the publicity, it does not reveal the realities of most transgender people's experience in our nation.
Take employment, housing, and health care.
Our study Injustice at Every Turn, conducted in partnership with the National Center for Transgender Equality, found that transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to live in poverty when compared to the general population -- and these disparities are much greater for black and Latina transgender women. For transgender people who are able to find a job, 90 percent of them experience harassment, discrimination, or other mistreatment in the workplace. Of course it's practically impossible to apply for a job without an address to put on your application, and one in five transgender people have been homeless. Access to health care is also a problem, with 64 percent of LGBTQ people living in states where health care discrimination is legal and 29 percent of transgender people having been refused medical care.
Then there's the violence and murder epidemic. This year alone, the murders of nine transgender women of color have been reported. Many acts of violence and even murders have probably not been reported. This coupled with the senseless deaths of black men at the hands of police means we have a national tragedy.
As we celebrate Pride this year, we are on the eve of potentially resolving one of the most significant questions of equality under the law of our generation: Will every state in this country recognize the marriages of two people of the same gender? We are hopeful that the answer will be yes when the Supreme Court hands down its ruling later this month. But 50 years since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, we are still fighting county by county against voter suppression -- and we could be fighting for a very long time just to preserve marriage equality.
So if we win marriage, it does not change the fact that a married black transgender woman can still be stopped at the voting booth because her gender doesn't match her ID or because of the color of her skin.
If all of this were not enough, there is another challenge facing our community and many communities right now.
In our post-Hobby Lobby world, we witnessed politicians in states across our land using "religious liberty" to impose their beliefs and prejudices on everyone -- to impose blanket discrimination and to roll back nondiscrimination protections.
These laws have a devastating impact on all our lives and particularly those of trans people: You could be fired from your job as a janitor or cafeteria worker at a Catholic hospital, be denied basic emergency care because of the EMT's religious beliefs, or be denied the ability to fill a prescription for birth control. For all of our communities, these laws mean we are treated differently than our friends and neighbors when it comes to basic protections like housing, employment, or receiving health care. These laws are and will be a barrier between LGBTQ people and our lived freedom, justice, and equality, for the foreseeable future.
So many of us carry the pain of what we ourselves have experienced in our lives, being told we are "illegal"; being asked to leave our places of worship; being bullied for not "acting like a boy" or not "acting like a girl;" or the indignity faced by people of color being followed by security in the department store while simply shopping for socks or a tie. Many of us carry the pain of losing our entire circle of friends to AIDS. And so many of us also carry the pain of discrimination and violence experienced by generations before us.
Yet against all odds we strive to be whole, to heal. The dream, the drive to "be you" can be so incredibly difficult. But in those moments when any one of us feels whole, feels free, it is exhilarating, confidence-building, and life-affirming. And with every change we make, with every law we pass, with every heart we open, we ease the pain of discrimination just a little bit, making it that much easier for someone else to step forward and join this work.
Yes we want marriage equality and we need more -- from paycheck equality to the restoration of the Voting Rights Act; from an end to racial profiling by the police to an economy with good-paying jobs; from immigration reform to quality reproductive health care and reproductive justice.
We must, against so many odds, support each other in being you, being proud, being more inclusive, and being vigilant as we seek full freedom. We have a lot more work to do to finish the job started by our forebears in the Stonewall uprising.
Imagine all the possibilities when all the barriers to progress have been removed. It will be hard work, but just think about the future we can create and the pride we will feel when together we achieve freedom, justice, and equality for us, for all.
REA CAREY is executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.