By Senator Steve Padilla
Pride month was born out of a desire to live freely, openly and in dignity. While the Stonewall uprising in 1969 was the turning point in the fight for gay rights in this country, this month of remembrance has become a time for us to recognize and celebrate the contributions that members of the LGBTQ community have made to our nation and to our world.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of these celebrations — moments where walls can fall away, and where love is encouraged and embraced. At their core, our celebrations rejoice in every expression, every identity and every orientation, and are opportunities for us all to see the beauty in our shared humanity. They are a chance to break down the barriers of prejudice that generations before us have built.
While we celebrate, we can’t ignore the sad and alarming rise of open aggression and bigotry directed at the LGBTQ community throughout our country. California is certainly not immune to this prejudice. In our region, public officials from the La Mesa City Council to those overseeing Chula Vista Elementary School District have tried to ban public institutions from flying the Pride flag for even a few days during Pride month. Some even succeeded at the Carlsbad City Council. These officials have tried to promote the same kind of erasure that the LGBTQ community has faced for centuries, preaching “unity” and resurrecting old and discredited scapegoating, such as claiming the existence of LGBTQ people is a threat to children and families.
The truth these misguided people choose to ignore is that the Pride flag, like others that remember and celebrate the fallen and the captive or recognize community observances and seasons, is not a political statement. Rather, it is a powerful symbol of support to LGBTQ people, youth and families which exist in all our communities. Flying the Pride flag affirms to those whose rights have been historically denied that their government will protect their right to exist, free from discrimination or prejudice.
Every day in this country, our rights are under attack as extremists try to slander us, shame us and physically attack us for simply existing. This year alone, over 400 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation have been introduced — in city halls, in statehouses and even in the Capitol of our nation. There are those who seek to strip members of the community of our dignity, one right at a time. It starts with flags, but too quickly becomes denying health care or perpetuating lies about threats to children. Lives are taken every year as violence against queer Americans becomes more vicious and yet, somehow, more commonplace. This disturbing rhetoric normalizes hatred and incites violence.
This month marks the seventh anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the deadliest incident of violence against the LGBTQ community in the United States and the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. If we do nothing to stem the tide of the hate that has plagued our culture, there will come a day when the 49 lives stolen in the horror of that night will be overtaken by another act of barbarism. The way to stop that violence before it can ever occur begins when we reach out and share experiences with one another. Pride celebrations do just that. They are a way for LGBTQ people to tell our stories, celebrate our community and demonstrate our humanity.
Throughout history, mankind has sought to segregate, erase, devalue, and “other” the things we fear and don’t understand. Division builds toward resentment, and resentment gives way to hate. It becomes so easy to be violent and hateful when you don’t have to face the humanity of the people you seek to make invisible.
San Francisco County Supervisor Harvey Milk, one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials before his assassination in 1978, once said that when invisible, the LGBTQ community remains in limbo and without friends, a myth. He was right. If we let fear and bigots push us into the shadows again, we will remain isolated. But we will not be invisible. We will stand and we will fight for the same rights that those who seek to erase us take for granted. Who I love is not a political statement. It is who I am. This month, and always, I am proud of that.
First published in the San Diego Union Tribune: California isn’t immune to anti-LGBTQ hate. This Pride month, we’re fighting for love.
Steve Padilla represents the 18th Senate District, which includes the communities of Chula Vista, the Coachella Valley, Imperial Beach, the Imperial Valley, National City, and San Diego. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2022, Senator Padilla was the first person of color ever elected to city office in Chula Vista, the first Latino Mayor, and the first openly LGBT person to serve or be elected to city office. Website of Senator Steve Padilla: https://sd18.senate.ca.gov/