Rainbow Connection celebrates PRIDE

By Amy Moran, Ph.D. and Kate Okeson 

Parades, protests, and prom 

Highly coordinated, citywide LGBT Pride celebrations in major metropolitan centers around the globe serve to make a big splash in major news outlets and enhance a certain kind of large-scale queer visibility.  

This visibility can provide a welcome antidote to the queer marginalization and invisibility that many young people experience in their families, communities, and school curricula and culture on the other 364 days of the year.  

Along with thumping dance music and logo-enhanced giveaways thrown to throngs of spectators, gigantic LGBT Pride parades (such New York City’s on Sunday, June 26, 2022) also provide opportunities for LGBTQIA+ organizations to gather and march together, demonstrating their unique ways of celebrating queer people and their solidarity and allyship with other queer organizations.  

In New Jersey, where several communities mark Pride Month with flag raisings, parades, and other community events, we see some of our favorite groups often featured: SAGE, PFLAG, GLSEN, queer-affirming religious organizations, queer-celebrating athletic groups, queer marching bands, queer-affirming political organizations, and (Amy’s favorite) the womyn’s motorcycle groups like Dykes on Bikes. The energy of seeing so many expressions of our community together is remarkable! 

However, Pride as we know it did not begin as a parade, but as a protest. As history reminds us, Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco (1966), the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles (1967) and the Stonewall Inn in New York City (1969) were original sites of queer uprisings against police and their habitual brutality against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  

Many of us honor the ways in which LGBTQIA+ Pride wasn’t originally an expression of joyful acceptance by the rest of American straight/cisgender culture but an acknowledgement of the literal blood, sweat, and tears of queer Americans who would no longer tolerate being threatened, arrested, battered, jailed; to lose housing and jobs; and/or be physically and sexually assaulted in widespread attempts at silencing queer culture and forcing LGBTQIA+ existence into invisibility, underground and out of view.  

Today, Pride parades with corporate sponsorship are countered by Queer Liberation Marches that return the focus of these gatherings to highlighting discrepancies around representation, rights, protection, affirmation and autonomy (think: health care and education), and full equality under the law.  

Why are marches and parades still needed? 

What else do these marches and parades provide? Why do we still need them? Or more specifically, why are these demonstrations important to youth? We can’t give you every reason, but we can focus on one.  

Let’s go back into our collective memory, to middle and high school especially, and the communal experiences that balance out the academic parts of school; yearbook, athletics, clubs, plays, and perhaps most prominently, prom–a pinnacle of high school events.  

But what if prom doesn’t seem like an option? What if going to the event means you also have to consider how you dress—not just which dress—because it doesn’t align with your gender identity/expression? What if it means that you can’t bring a date because you aren’t out to your school community? These are the extra layers of complication that go into seemingly typical experiences for LGBTQIA+ youth.  

So how do we get spaces that are accepting and affirming of all?  

We do it by making and taking up space. By making sure that you and your community cannot be relegated to a footnote or forgotten in an archive. By being history itself and recording it.  

The picture of Amy and Kate at a regional LGBTQIA+ alternative prom is telling. The students present reflect a need to have these very normal youth experiences, and to be seen as perfect exactly As. They. Are. 

2022 is proving to be a fragile time, and young people around our country are watching adults around them restrict affirming health care, challenge the necessity of queer and trans histories and contributions, and move to handcuff the adults—their teachers—who may have been their only allies.  

Pride, therefore, is a call to all of us to hold that space for the youth we care about. For people like us. For those not like us at all. And for those whom we acknowledge and affirm.  

Join someone at an LGBTQIA+ Pride event this month. Show up at the Pride parade in Asbury Park or Princeton, Toms River, Glen Rock, Tenafly, Newton, Lodi, Ramsey, Blairstown, Mahwah, Red Bank, Lambertville, Montclair, Washington borough, Lodi, Leonia, Maplewood, Pitman, Haddon Township and others—and cheer for the youth or your colleagues or even strangers who are marching. Find a municipality that holds a flag raising—or better yet, start one in your own town. 

Rainbow Connection’s Year in Review! 

September – In Rainbow Connection’s inaugural column, we discussed back-to-school best practices and classroom culture considerations. Ways of honoring peoples’ personal gender pronouns, making your support of LGBTQIA+ people visible in classrooms, and clarifying the curricular-inclusion mandate (S-1569) were top on the list. We also honored transgender activist Sylvia Rivera during Latinx Heritage Month. 

October – It’s LGBTQIA+ History Month! Here, we discussed the importance of LGBTQIA+ history in schools and tips for incorporating it in classrooms. We also explored National Coming Out Day, offering tips for queer educators around affirming job security and benefits of being “out” at work in our public schools. Included were book recommendations for grade-level-appropriate teaching of the LGBTQIA+ movement and a list of queer people making history in our government.  

November – Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies were in focus this month. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making each support the development of empathy toward self and others. These not only help reduce incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB), but are useful tools for exploring sensitive issues. 

December – Following November’s NJEA Convention, this column served as a “glow up!” for our wonderful union, featuring testimony from LGBTQIA+ affirming workshop presenters. Workshops centered on best practices for special education folks, health educators, media specialists, and counselors; specific content-area educators; and GSA advisors. 

January – Happy 2022! Kate explored ways of looking at our content-area teaching materials for how they are (or aren’t) supporting queer-inclusion initiatives. Using a critical lens for noticing what’s missing, we offered suggestions transforming frustrations into inspiration and connection! 

February – For Black History Month, Amy interviewed Essex County’s SOGI Committee representative Micah Gary-Fryer. We got to know more about Gary-Fryer as an accomplished artist and teacher and viewed Black History Month from his perspective. By exploring the intersections of Black History and queer visibility in schools, we celebrate how he and his colleagues synthesize social justice issues and performing arts pedagogies. 

March – Women’s History Month let us survey states in which public education is being threatened by state legislatures hard at work to omit LGBTQIA+ affirmation in education and health care policy and practice. We shared excitement about Ketanji Brown Jackson’s imminent confirmation as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and mourned the loss of queer activist/author/educator bell hooks. 

April – This Rainbow Connection column focused on LGBTQIA+ youth and school-sponsored sports. The intersection of access, cultural competencies, and coaches that make sure everyone can play makes for healthier (mentally and physically!) and better-connected students.  

May – Borrowing from the Bechdel-Wallace Test (1985) which examines whether movies are inclusive of women, we created our own for use by curriculum-writing teams working to make their new curricula LGBTQIA+ inclusive. The Moran-Okeson Test asks that: 

  1.      LGBTQIA+ people and their contributions and/or issues are explicitly included in course curricula.  
  2.      LGBTQIA+ people and/or contributions are studied at least once per school year in each grade, content area, and class.  
  3.       LGBTQIA+ people are represented in a way that’s accurate, affirming, compassionate, and three-dimensional.  

How did your school district respond to the LGBT-inclusion mandate across content areas? Let us know at RainbowConnectionNJEA@gmail.com!

GSAs and Pride! 

How did your school’s GSA celebrate Pride–or anything LGBTQIA+ affirming–this year?  Let us
know at RainbowConnectionNJEA@gmail.com!

Message from NJEA’s officers 

“We are proud to lead NJEA as we continue striving to be an authentically justice-centered union. We are particularly proud of our many LGBTQ+ members, along with allies, who are doing brave and necessary work to ensure that our schools are safe, accepting and welcoming for all LGBTQ+ staff and students. We share that passion and support that work.  No one in our public schools—student or staff member—should ever have to hide who they are or who they love. That openness and honesty must exist for EVERY student and EVERY educator in EVERY New Jersey public school. Our state has made a public commitment to teach and celebrate the contributions of LGBTQ+ people, past and present, and to recognize and root out prejudice and bias of all kinds. We celebrate and support that commitment and stand alongside every NJEA member who is doing that critical work in our public schools.” 

 In proud solidarity, 

Sean M. Spiller, NJEA president  

Steve Beatty, NJEA vice president 

Petal Robertson, NJEA secretary-treasurer