Dear Straight People,
Next week marks the start of Pride Month, a global month long celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. Typically comprising pride parades, parties, workshops and other LGBTQ+ affirming events, Pride Month has grown to become a global phenomenon.
But this year is different. Everyone has had their lives stripped back to a shadow of its former self. A global pandemic that keeps people isolated in their homes will undoubtedly reorientate people’s relationship to society.
In a world of coronavirus where livelihoods are at stake and uncertainty is rife, does Pride Month still matter?
Pride Month was borne out of the desire to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which took place near the end of June in 1969.
Decades have passed since the first brick was thrown at Stonewall. Since then, the world has made considerable progress in the realm of LGBTQ+ rights. Same-sex marriage is legalised in over 20 countries. ‘Gender identity disorder’ is no longer classified as a mental illness by the World Health Organisation. Coming out stories are such a norm now that nobody bats an eyelid anymore when Dear Straight People pops one out.
Year after year, support for Pride Month has grown. Events such as Singapore’s Pink Dot has seen its support grow tenfold, from a mere 2,500 attendees in 2009 to over 20,000 people in recent years. In fact, corporate incentive for brands have become so great during Pride Month that it’s now commonplace for companies to churn out Pride merchandise to cash in on the growing movement.
But the rapid rise in support over the past decade have led to a growing disconnect between public perception and the actual experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. Many believe the LGBTQ+ community no longer face persecution. Some have even called for ‘Straight Parades’ in retaliation. A by-product of the glittering commercialised spectacle that Pride Month has morphed into over the years.
The pushback against Pride Month is nothing new. But with the world currently waging war against a global pandemic, it’s likely that opposition this year will be much greater. The increasingly loud cries for equality that is sure to come throughout the month of June would likely trigger many. After all, who cares about Pride when people all over the world are having trouble putting food on the table?
Just take a look at this tweet by one of Singapore’s most prominent influencers.
Covid 19 has made life suck but let's share one good thing that came out of it. I'll start: People stopped talking about inconsequential crap like which toilet trans people should to go
— 𝓧𝓲𝓪𝔁𝓾𝓮 ♥ (@Xiaxue) April 13, 2020
It’s clear from her tweet that she deems the furore surrounding gendered toilets ‘inconsequential’. The tweet may have been posted in April. But as we make our way through June, I daresay we will be seeing more of such sentiments.
As a gay man myself, toilets have never been an issue to me. I’m clearly a cis-gender presenting man, so I would never experience any sort of anxiety in using a public restroom.
But for those who aren’t as privileged, using a toilet can be a nerve-wracking affair. Many have been subjected to verbal abuse by members of the public. Some have even had security called on them. Gendered toilets might not be an issue to some of us. But it definitely affects others. And therein lies my main point.
In a world of coronavirus, economic livelihoods and public healthcare take precedence. Everything else seems frivolous in comparison, including the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. This is further exacerbated by the increasingly popular notion that the LGBTQ+ community no longer face discrimination. That the status quo should be good enough for us.
The growth of Pride celebrations over the past decade have been a reflection of the progress of the LGBTQ+ community. But despite the astounding progress, there is still much to be done, especially in Asia.
Gay sex is still criminalised under S377A of the Penal Code in Singapore. Indonesia has permitted a state-sanctioned crackdown against the gay community, including police raids and arrests. Censorship against the LGBTQ+ community is still widespread across Asia. And contrary to popular belief, discrimination against the community is very much still prevalent.
There are numerous reports of how coronavirus have impacted marginalised groups such as the LGBTQ+ community the hardest. Many are forced to quarantine with hostile unsupportive family members. Oogachaga, Singapore’s most established LGBTQ+ community organisation, reported a sharp increase in demand for its counselling services.
So in a world of coronavirus, Pride Month still matters.
Global pandemic or not, acceptance, equality and diversity are all important hallmarks of society. Their absence leads to discrimination, abuse and even violence. Pride Month fights for these values, and so much more.
Pride Month may have moved online in 2020. But its overarching goal remains the same; to raise visibility and awareness of the plight of the LGBTQ+ community. Dear Straight People will be doing our part by launching a month long project during Pride Month called ‘Letters To My Closet’.
This project will feature publicly ‘out’ participants of various ethnicities, sexualities and gender identities, writing a letter to their closeted self. Not only will this raise visibility of the LGBTQ+ community. It will also showcase the issues they’ve each had to overcome in order to be their authentic selves. Most importantly, the letters will hopefully inspire the LGBTQ+ community in Asia, many of whom remain closeted due to discriminatory laws and conservative societies.
Pride Month may one year, lose its relevance. But it is certainly not this year.
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