Jun 28, 2022
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 2022.
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 53 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 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 LGBTQIA+ 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. Today, just being with my husband and living a transparent queer married life brings me so much joy and of course, I have my loving partner to thank for that.
Who or what inspires you? Instead of gravitating toward famous leaders, I feel more inspired by people, acquainted with me or not, who act when they see or experience injustice and who participate in acts of kindness, no matter how small. I try to observe and see them around me everywhere. I make a mental note of it. I know it sounds cheesy, but I find reading a book by someone famous to feel inspired is so much more work!
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? A new beginning. I often reflect on the years I wasted hiding who I am but I'm so grateful to now be in a position where I can truly love myself and love who I want.
When do you feel like your most authentic self? Honestly, when swapping dating stories with friends and family. Dating was a topic I always hated out of fear I'd slip up and use the wrong pronoun, but now I'll happily share my failed dating history! It's freeing to not be silent anymore.
Who is your role model and why? John Madden - his coding skills
Do you have any secret talents? Laser tag!
Are there any organizations or causes you want to highlight? The Trevor Project
What does Pride mean to you? Pride means being able to be accepted and feeling comfortable in my own skin. Growing up I felt I had to hide who I was and lived in a state of near-constant fear that someone may "find out" I was gay. Today, I can feel comfortable knowing that I can be who I am, and I have the support of the community around me which lifts me up.
Who or what inspires you? Sabrina Kim - I mean... c'mon
How will you celebrate Pride this year? Street festivals, street festivals, street festivals. Chicago summer's run rampant with street festivals. They are a great way to get out into the sun and kick off the start of summer. Catch me with kombucha and a corn dog in hand—the pinnacle of health.
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've attended pride in Chicago and Denver, but my favorite memory comes from when I was in Chicago. It was 2015 and I was marching in the parade. Halfway through, my childhood best friend hopped the barricades separating the onlookers and those marching to come and march me with me. We were high-fiving people and handing out beads for a good mile or two, and in all honesty, I think he was enjoying it more than I was.
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.
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 celebration and uplift of all the things that make us different. Rather than fit into one mold or societal expectations, Pride demands we do the opposite. Pride isn't glitz and glamour, it’s a protest against the status quo, standards, and repression. Pride is my personal interpretation of the American adage: freedom isn't free.
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 on to future co-workers and let the world know you are accepted, respected, and valued.
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! And after three years of the pandemic, I have become an avid mushroom forager :) It’s almost chanterelle season!
Any books, movies, Instagram accounts, etc. that you'd like to recommend? The series Pose on FX if you haven't already seen it!
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? Community, boring everyday life without fear of reprisal, protecting trans people, safeguarding LGBTQIA+ youth from oppressive communities that lead to a suicide rate 6x higher than straight peers, positive voices, and celebrating that we've come this far.
When do you feel like your most authentic self? Laughing with my friends over a meal or board game. Playing in/near the ocean. Having a policy discussion. Imagining how my life with Ricky Martin might have turned out...if only we had met. (JK, Josue!)
Any personal stories or anecdotes you'd like to share about your experience, the LGBTQIA+ community, allyship, or otherwise? The moments always involve friends and feeling safe; that's not something I've always had the privilege to enjoy, so it's not taken for granted. A close second is seeing allies, ones I don't even know personally, show up at Pride with their whole family including kids with t-shirts expressing love and support and, in some cases, a heartfelt apology for the hateful rhetoric we've all heard. Those moments bring me to tears. It's some kind of healing balm.
Who or what inspires you? People with empathy. People with courage. Folks who have been hurt by society but choose to remain vulnerably available for love. Many straight friends never learn how hard it is when "their" love isn't rejected by society or labeled corrupt and perverse and evil.
Do you have any secret talents? I can make a box of a dozen plain Krispy Kremes disappear in several minutes.
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? Several cities around the world. It's always a reminder that we curate the content of our own minds; we choose the voice for better or worse. We can replay the trauma, or we can reject it. We have authority over our story, over our feelings, and over our destiny. We can commiserate about the shocking level of global hatred largely inspired by religions that hate and fear and condemn us. Or we can celebrate our individuality—bravely loving and singing and dancing for the whole world to see. It's a choice. Unlike my sexuality.
Who or what inspires you? My daughter is a CHEER Tacoma cheerleader. CHEER Tacoma is an LGBTQIA+ ally organization dedicated to raising funds through the sport of cheerleading for underserved populations in South Puget Sound.
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 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 LGBTQIA+ 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.
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 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.
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.
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