Jun 25, 2021
Written by CJ
On June 28, 1969, a police raid at Stonewall Inn, a gay bar and Greenwich Village institution, sparked riots that led to six days of protests from bar patrons and neighborhood residents led by BIPOC transgender activists, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2020 and was updated in 2021.
It's impossible to talk about Stonewall and Pride without mentioning Johnson and Rivera. They became key figures in the events that followed the revolutionary riots at Stonewall, setting a new tone for the gay rights movement and fighting for trans inclusion within it. Their activism is responsible for LGBTQIA+ rights as we know them today, though trans individuals, especially BIPOC, still remain the most vulnerable.
A year later, on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, thousands of people marched in the streets of New York City from Stonewall Inn to Central Park—America's first Pride Parade. Fast forward 52 years to a future that's made so many strides towards equality, yet also looks strikingly similar. To celebrate and honor Pride Month, we asked CJ employees (oh, and the CEO!) who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community to share what Pride means to them, their experiences, inspiration, and when they feel like their most authentic selves.
What does Pride mean to you? Pride simply means being able to be yourself and being accepted and loved for the person you are. I am very lucky to work at a company with wonderful people where I felt more than comfortable coming out, however, we unfortunately still live in a world where people are treated badly for no other reason than the circumstance of their birth.
When do you feel like your most authentic self? When I am with friends listening to good music and having good times.
Any personal stories or anecdotes you'd like to share about your experience, the LGBTQIA community, allyship, or otherwise? I attended Pride in Cologne, Germany ten years ago when I was living there. I hadn't come out to a single person back then and had never been to a pride parade, and to see all the sights, sounds, and colors on display was a real eye-opener for me into the LGBTQIA community—it was so uplifting to see people being themselves and having a great time!
Who or what inspires you? People who stand up to homophobia and transphobia in all its forms, no matter their own sexuality or gender orientation. The UK human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has been a great inspiration, he has spent years fighting homophobia in all areas of UK society for years now, sometimes even at the risk of his own safety and wellbeing.
Who is your role model and why? I know it's a cliché, but my family (mum, dad, and brother) have been a great inspiration.
Any books, movies, Instagram accounts, etc. that you'd like to recommend? The film, Pride, set in the 80s in the UK tells the true story of how gay rights activists in London found solidarity with working-class miners in a Welsh village who were on strike and struggling to make ends meet. It's a hugely inspiring and uplifting film and is a great example of how people from different walks of life have more in common than they realize.
How have you celebrated Pride this year? It's obviously been a difficult year to celebrate pride but I hosted a virtual session on the History of LGBTQ rights in the UK for the CJ London office in February to celebrate UK LGBTQ history month and learned a ton of interesting stuff preparing for it. And when clubs open again fully here I will no doubt be out in Soho celebrating in full force.
Where have you attended Pride events and what has it meant for you to be a part of them? Cologne 2011, which was the first pride event I attended, was special, and London 2019—I had come out, albeit only to close friends, and it was the first time I felt comfortable celebrating as myself.
Are there any organizations or causes you want to highlight? The UK charity Stonewall, who've been campaigning tirelessly for years for LGBTQ rights in the UK.
What does Pride mean to you? Pride is all about celebrating the progress we've made and celebrating the beauty of human diversity, all while recognizing there's still a long, bumpy road ahead of us. Pride is about chipping away at oppression and working toward equality and equity within our communities. It's our duty to those who gave up so much in the past to continue to raise our voices for acceptance, respect, and understanding.
When do you feel like your most authentic self? I am my most authentic self whenever I'm able to express myself creatively. I love to take my camera out on a hike, do some digital sketches on my iPad, help a friend redecorate a space in their home, or cook up a new recipe. Anytime I stretch that creative muscle, I feel like I'm really tapping into my authentic self!
Any personal stories or anecdotes you'd like to share about your experience, the LGBTQIA community, allyship, or otherwise? I recently found out that a relative of mine died as a victim of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s. He passed away before I was born, so memories of him were always shared anecdotally and without much detail. Knowing now what I didn't know for the past 31 years—and as the only other gay male on that side of my family—has encouraged me to ask more questions, do more research, and pay tribute to his life as he truly deserves. In that time, I've learned a lot about myself and how it's not enough to just 'be' a homosexual in today's world; I need to use my privilege to help correct the wrongs of the past.
Who or what inspires you? Lately, I've been super inspired by the LGBTQ youth. It's so inspiring to see kids growing up with a sense of empathy toward others and continuing important activism while also being able to express themselves freely without fear of judgment or ridicule. Many are literally glowing with confidence and self-expression as they break down hetero-normative gender roles and continue to push the boundaries of the status quo. Of course, there are still too many kids struggling with their identities and face real danger because of it, but I can't help but recognize the progress we have made, and remain hopeful that the youth within the community will continue to pave a bright path forward for their peers.
How have you celebrated Pride this year? Having just returned to the US after a couple of years abroad, it was important for me to celebrate Pride surrounded by my closest friends; the friends who have been there since the beginning and have always provided a safe, secure environment for me to be myself. While we're returning to a new normal, it's been a low-key Pride month that has allowed me to reflect on the core meaning of the celebration and truly appreciate those who have supported me.
What does Pride mean to you? To me, pride is not just a month—it’s a state of mind. Pride is the celebration of authenticity and the freedom to be me without discrimination. It's community and visibility and because of those who have fought and rallied before me, myself and people like me are able to see themselves in spaces they couldn't before. I want to be the person who I needed to see when I was younger and make sure those lights are burning bright!
How have you celebrated Pride this year? I celebrate pride daily! Whether it’s supporting LGBTQIA+-owned businesses or watching Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, I don't need a parade to celebrate my true self. Though I have to say, Pride Parades are AWESOME displays of human love!
Where have you attended Pride events and what has it meant for you to be a part of them? What stood out as a favorite moment? I grew up in NYC, so the NYC Pride Parade was a part of my summer ritual for many, many years. As a teenager, it affirmed so many of my choices and already allowed for my voice to be heard. This year was going to be the first year I took my oldest daughter, but with the parade being canceled, we'll just have to countdown to 2021!
Are there any organizations or causes you want to highlight? Yes! The Trevor Project is a non-profit organization focused on suicide prevention of LGBTQIA+ and questioning youth. The lives of too many young people are being cut short due to a lack of support and allyship, so this is an organization near and dear to my heart.
What does Pride mean to you? Pride means self-acceptance—that I know who I am, and I love that about myself and nobody can take it away from me. Pride means a pause to remind ourselves of the courage and sacrifices of those who fought for us to have the rights we have today and the courage and sacrifices that continue to be made to keep those rights and win rights that many LGBT+ still do not have across the world.
When do you feel like your most authentic self? When I am not hiding my gender, race, cultural and sexual identity—when I recognize the contribution that these identities have made to who I am and who I want to be.
Any personal stories or anecdotes you'd like to share about your experience, the LGBTQIA community, allyship, or otherwise? I will always remember the feeling of belonging and safety I had 15+ years ago when I first hung out with a group of queer men In Mumbai, India—all of whom have become lifetime friends of mine.
Who or what inspires you? Individuals who feel compelled to act when they see or experience injustice.
Any books, movies, Instagram accounts, etc. that you'd like to recommend? Oh, I am the biggest possible fan of romcoms and if they're queer-themed, bring it on! I will watch them even if they scored 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Queer movies played a big role in my youth and coming to terms with who I am.
What does Pride mean to you? Pride to me means knowing that who you are is good enough. It's holding yourself together in the face of adversity because you owe it to yourself to live authentically no matter what the consequences may be.
When do you feel like your most authentic self? I feel like my most authentic self when I'm spending time with my girlfriend. She accepts me wholly and I know I never have to fear being judged in her presence.
Any personal stories or anecdotes you'd like to share about your experience, the LGBTQIA community, allyship, or otherwise? I came out in 2013 and didn't have the easiest time. My parents found it hard to accept me and for the next five years, I grappled with my identity and self-worth. Things have changed a lot since then and my parents now accept me and my girlfriend with open arms. While it did take some time for them to come around, I know I'm fortunate that they did and that other LGBTQIA individuals don't always maintain relationships with their families after coming out. I wish I could tell my younger self all that I know now and that things do change and get better in time.
Who or what inspires you? The voices of all those within the LGBTQIA community inspire me as they are voices that refuse to be silenced. They are plentiful and they are supportive, and I love being a member of this community.
Do you have any secret talents? I am secretly amazing at whistling.
Any books, movies, Instagram accounts, etc. that you'd like to recommend? In honor of pride month, I recommend the movie The Normal Heart.
Where have you attended Pride events and what has it meant for you to be a part of them? What stood out as a favorite moment? I went to my first Pride event ever last year in NYC. I did not know it until I was actually THERE, that last year's NYC Pride parade was also dubbed World Pride in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and individuals from all across the globe had come out to march. I was so overcome with emotion that I cried. I cried because for the first time in so long I felt relief—relief in knowing that I am not alone and that there’s an entire army of people out there fighting for equality.
Are there any organizations or causes you want to highlight? Human Rights Campaign
What does Pride mean to you? Pride is loving yourself. All aspects of yourself despite how frequently society reminds you otherwise. Pride is power and a true bridge to happiness.
Who or what inspires you? I'm a big TV/movie buff and I'm inspired by the stories that represent me, whether as an African American or a gay man. I look at younger people as they come out so early in life because there is a level of normalcy for them that was frankly non-existent when I was a child. Seeing black and/or gay (often not both) characters that are complex in their own right and who have personalities not entirely defined by their sexuality is something I don't take for granted today.
Who is your role model and why? I have a lot—I admire a lot of people for different reasons. I think you take away something specific from your role model, it’s not about carbon copying their path, life or success—it’s being inspired by their story. From James Baldwin to Marsha P. Johnson to drag queens such as Bob the Drag Queen, Monet x Change, and Yvie Oddly—these are individuals that carry themselves with Pride every single day and I find myself constantly inspired by their work and commitment to the larger community.
Any books, movies, Instagram accounts etc. that you'd like to recommend? For Pride, Giovanni's Room is beautiful. For general reading, I love most Liane Moriarty's books—but What Alice Forgot is a standout for me. I've read it five times as an adult.
Where have you attended Pride events and what has it meant for you to be a part of them? What stood out as a favorite moment? I attended Pride in several cities: New Orleans, LA, Dallas, Atlanta, and naturally Chicago. The pride that stands out the most is the one right after the legalization of gay marriage nationally. The energy was amazing!
What does Pride mean to you? Pride means so many things to me. I grew up in an area where you were expected to check off a box—what you wear, what you're interested in, the things you do, the people you associate yourself with—it was all supposed to fit into this mold. Most of the people around you looked, acted, and sounded just like you. I came out when I was 14 and for so long, I struggled to find my identity because I wanted to fit into that mold—I was a square trying to fit into the outline of a circle. So, for me, Pride means being true to myself, loving myself, and most importantly being proud of who I am. Pride means recognizing your differences, and also having empathy for others who may be different in other ways. To me, Pride means celebrating the uniqueness of every individual, loving them for their uniqueness, and giving everyone the platform to show their true authenticity.
When do you feel like your most authentic self? I feel like my most authentic self when I'm around others who celebrate me for being me. In my opinion, after 11 years now of being openly gay, I do a good job of not hiding myself or trying to conform to other groups when they don't look the way that I do, believe the things I do, or feel the way I do. That said, there's something about being a part of a community that's so loving and accepting that really allows you to push yourself outside of the boundaries, to think out of the box, and to really challenge yourself to become a better version of "you."
Any personal stories or anecdotes you'd like to share about your experience, the LGBTQIA community, allyship, or otherwise? In high school, I was bullied a lot because of my sexuality. There were days when I would eat lunch in a bathroom stall because I was afraid of being around classmates. I often found myself trying to suppress my sexuality or hide certain parts of myself to avoid any negative reactions. Once I moved to Chicago, I went to the Pride Parade with my best friend, Sara. It was my first time attending a Pride parade and seeing so many organizations, parents, firefighters, police officers, and members of the Chicago community walking in a parade to show support for the LGBTQIA+ community was so incredibly moving. I will never forget the feelings that overwhelmed me of being accepted, of being loved, and of being proud of myself and my LGBTQIA+ family.
Who or what inspires you? In my senior year of college I received a Facebook message from someone I went to high school with who told me that he recently came out to his family. They didn't have the best reaction, which is always heartbreaking, but that seeing me live my life authentically motivated him to push through and do the same. I think that situation inspired me to continue being myself with no apologies. Too often we don't realize that people are watching our actions and look up to us, so I think keeping myself grounded and knowing that someone could be looking up to my actions is what inspires me to be myself every day.
Who is your role model and why? This is a really hard one because there are so many people I look up to; however, if I had to pick one person, it would be Michelle Obama. I think that Michelle Obama—especially during President Obama's first campaign—was under so much scrutiny from the media and from the public. What I admire the most about her is that she never let what other people said stop her. She continued to fight for her beliefs, she held herself with poise, class, and grace, and she always held her head high with pride. She's an amazing person with amazing achievements, so I look up to her greatly.
Do you have any secret talents? Unless you consider binge-watching Ru Paul's Drag Race a talent, I'll probably have to go with a "no" for this one.
Any books, movies, Instagram accounts, etc. that you'd like to recommend? There are so many for each of these, but I guess I'll give my top two. First, is a book called The Velvet Rage. This book is a great read for both people in the LGBTQIA+ community, but also for allies who want to learn more about some of the struggles (externally and internally) that the community faces. It's a powerful, and sometimes intense, book that allowed me to be very introspective and sheds light on a lot of internalized homophobia that gay men especially face.
The second is a movie called Paris is Burning. This movie is a documentary focused on the underground ballroom scene in New York City that was filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s. It showcases members of the LGBTQIA+ community who performed in these balls and their "house" culture, which is essentially a family that they created as most of them were kicked out of their homes and shunned by their families. It does a beautiful job showing how the LGBTQIA+ community, specifically Black and Latino trans-women, paved the way for so many areas of pop culture, all while touching on topics of racism and poverty as well during those times.
How have you celebrated Pride this year? I think the "celebrations" are a bit different given the current circumstances with the pandemic. However, I did have a Pride celebration with some friends just to do something for Pride month. That said, I think it's also important to note that Pride doesn't have to fall just in the month of June and Pride can be celebrated year-round!
Are there any organizations or causes you want to highlight? The Trevor Project is one of my favorite non-profit organizations—they focus on providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQIA+ youth.
What does Pride mean to you? To me, Pride means acceptance and confidence in a community of individuals who not fit into a heterosexual, cisgender mold. Pride means love.
Who or what inspires you? Seeing more representation and validation of bisexuality/pansexuality within mass media has given me heart. Bisexual individuals often have a difficult time, receiving questions and invalidation from both the straight and queer communities. They're often seen as "selfish”, "kidding themselves", or as a "fake" orientation, especially if they're in an opposite-sex relationship. That perception comes from people who don't understand and are hateful, to those who claim to be allies but are just ignorant.
When I think about Rosa from Brooklyn 99, David from Schitt's Creek, Eleanor in The Good Place, April May in An Absolutely Remarkable Thing—and so many more—I smile. Having mass-media representation of complex and nuanced individuals and relationships in that community is crucial to helping people understand.
How have you celebrated Pride this year? Attending virtual Pride events!
Where have you attended Pride events and what has it meant for you to be a part of them? What stood out as a favorite moment? I normally go to pRIde (the Rhode Island Pride). The first time I went I took my younger sister, and it meant a lot for me to share it with her.
Are there any organizations or causes you want to highlight? The Trevor Project!
What does Pride mean to you? Pride means actively fighting for what is right. Pride is not a celebration; it is a protest of injustice and a declaration that the marginalized have a place and voice.
When do you feel like your most authentic self? I feel like my most authentic self when my identity, personality, and career intertwine without feeling the need to balance or restrict any three.
Any personal stories or anecdotes you'd like to share about your experience, the LGBTQIA community, allyship, or otherwise? I didn't come out until I was 22 years old. Building a career at CJ and being fiscally independent allowed me to be my authentic self without fearing the opinions or decisions of my friends and family knowing who I am. I didn't come out in the workplace well into a full year on the job. Having an LGBTQ manager and ally in a position of power made me feel safe in the workplace to be who I am. I want to pass that onto future co-workers and let the world know you are respected, valued, and accepted.
Who or what inspires you? Maya Angelou
Who is your role model and why? My very conservative, old-school, old-fashioned, hard-working Uncle Joe. Even though we are in a don't ask don't tell dynamic, he too followed a life that was the antithesis of what his parents and family wanted. Instead of going to law school or becoming an accountant, he bought a clam boat at 22 and pursued a full-time career as a fisherman after graduating college.
Through hard work and determination, he built a life for himself more successful than the path his parents wanted, proving everyone wrong, and following his dream. That kind of vision and hard work is a strong role model to me.
Do you have any secret talents? I speak fluent French and German! I think that's a secret talent that I don't get to work on much in anglophone North America.
Any books, movies, Instagram accounts, etc. that you'd like to recommend? @ch0mkus on Insta (the very best place for Possum meme content).
How have you celebrated Pride this year? Protesting the murders of Breonna Talyor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, David McAtee, and the countless other BIPOC who live in danger in the United States. Pride started as a Black trans protest against injustice and that is the same energy we bring to Pride 2020 with the unacceptable state of systemic racism.
Where have you attended Pride events and what has it meant for you to be a part of them? What stood out as a favorite moment? Boston, MA 2019 and Hamburg, DE 2018! Going to Pride in Germany stood out as a favorite moment to experience in person the global nature of people standing up to racism, discrimination, and marginalization.
Are there any organizations or causes you want to highlight? Bail funds for protesters making a difference and forcing action and national dialogue!