by Vered Meltzer
June was Pride month, and I just want to share some reflections with you. We had a great Pride festival in Appleton on June 24th. It brought me great joy to see all the community members who came out to celebrate together, and all the businesses and organizations that contributed their support. One of the reasons we have Pride celebrations, is to visibly show to those who haven’t come out that there is a rich and welcoming community to support them. And to affirm to each other that our community is big and strong. We gather to celebrate each other. We gather to celebrate ourselves.
Pride month started with a riot called the Stonewall Uprising on June 28th, 1969. From a riot against police brutality, it evolved into marches and parades, demonstrations characterized by the refrain “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”. These marches and demonstrations continued the fight for LGBTQ rights. Now, Pride month is characterized by community celebrations in parks, rainbow displays in businesses, and rainbow flags flying from some government buildings. In half a century, we’ve made a tremendous amount of progress, but we are still fighting, and recently it seems like we’ve lost a lot of ground. It’s a scary time for queer people right now, especially for trans people. The news is full of book bans and trans athlete bans and bathroom bans and an uninterrupted legislative assault against bodily autonomy for everyone queer, trans, and female. But my message today is a message of hope. Progress is slow, and deep societal change is an ongoing struggle. In spite of continued attempts to marginalize us and erase us, we persist in the radical act of continuing to exist anyway. Those of us who have the privilege and opportunity to thrive are engaging in a radical act by thriving. And those of us who struggle and suffer without the opportunity to thrive are engaging in a radical act by surviving.
In 2014, I was elected to City Council here in Appleton and became the first out transgender elected official in the state of Wisconsin. I’m not telling you this to talk about myself. I’m telling you this, so that you can be proud of Appleton. Appleton is the place where this historic first happened. Appleton can also be proud of being one of the first cities to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance for sexual orientation AND gender identity in housing and public accommodations. Appleton is one of the cities in Wisconsin that has banned conversion therapy. In Appleton, we have LGBTQ representation in our local government. This city, this community, is not perfect, but we set an example for other communities in the Fox Valley area and beyond. There is a lot of work to be done, but we are actively engaged in doing that work, throughout our community.
Thanks to the robust engagement of community leaders and advocates, Appleton is a place where progress continues to move forward while the country at large is taking steps backwards. Appleton is a place where queer kids can look around their community and see successful queer adults owning businesses, advancing in their careers, serving in local government, and living their lives openly as themselves. This is so important. This is such a triumph. This wasn’t the case a mere ten years ago. We are celebrating the third consecutive year of this Pride Festival in Jones Park. I wish I could list the names of all the individuals to whom we owe thanks and gratitude for getting us this far, but that wouldn’t be fair to those who would inevitably be excluded due to their work being lower profile or unseen, their names being unknown. So I’ll just say thank you, all of you, for whatever role you play in our community and the continued fight for LGBTQ rights. And a big thank you to all those who support us and work alongside us who aren’t LGBTQ yourselves. This is a time, nationwide, when the support and strength of our allies is a more powerful voice than ever before against forces of oppression and bigotry. LGBTQ rights are not just an LGBTQ issue. Harm to LGBTQ individuals harms the whole community. Together we have a voice, together we have hope, and together we will build a future in which LGBTQ people all have the opportunity to thrive.
I want to close by repeating, again, that we NEED to celebrate ourselves and each other. Let us look around ourselves, and see all the queer joy evident in our community. This joy, this ability to celebrate each other and celebrate our survival, is what makes us strong and makes us resilient. Queer joy is the most radical manifestation of LGBTQ Pride.
Vered is an artist and gardener as well as serving on Appleton’s City Council. He graduated from Lawrence University and works for Fox Valley Literacy. He is passionate about community, sustainability, and cats.