Pride + Juneteenth
by Karen Nelson
June is LGBTQ Pride Month! Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month commemorates the events of June 28, 1969 and works to achieve equal justice and opportunity for LGBTQ+ Americans. Fifty-two years ago, a courageous group of citizens resisted harassment and mistreatment at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. They set in motion a chain of events that would become known as the Stonewall Uprising and the birth of the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement.
It took until June 11, 1999 before President William Clinton issued Proclamation 7203 for Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Later, President Barack Obama issued Proclamation 8387 on June 1, 2009. That measure pointed to broader initiatives such as the response to the global HIV pandemic. It also invited the people of the United States to “turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.”
In 2013, Appleton became the third city in Wisconsin to prohibit housing discrimination based on gender identity and adopted comprehensive non-discrimination protections including passage of domestic partner benefits as well as employment and accommodations for trans and gender non-conforming people. In 2014, Vered Meltzer was elected alder person of Appleton, making them the first elected transgender official in the state of Wisconsin. More recently, on June 7, 2019, Governor Evers issued Executive Order #29 and raised the LGBTQ flag over the state Capitol building for the first time in Wisconsin’s history with conversion therapy banned in the city of Appleton on January 23, 2020.
The word Juneteenth was coined because of June the 19th. This international celebration is quintessentially American. On June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger led thousands of federal troops from Washington, DC to Galveston, Texas on horseback to announce that when the Civil War ended, all slaves had been freed. This date was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the executive order abolishing slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation which he signed on Jan. 1, 1863. This executive order meant immediate freedom for slaves throughout the nation. However, since the country was in the midst of the Civil War, those states that had seceded from the Union did not adhere to the Proclamation, and slaves in those states remained enslaved.
One of those Union soldiers, Horace Artis, with the 31st Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops, later became one of Appleton’s first black residents. In fact, approximately 250,000 Texas slaves had no idea that their freedom had been secured by the government. When these slaves heard the news on June 19th, they alternately sang, danced, and prayed because there was much rejoicing and jubilation that their life-long prayers had finally been answered. This jubilation is what the Juneteenth Festival is designed to replicate.
African Heritage, Inc. has presented the annual celebration for 10 years in Appleton, and a new non-profit, People of Progression, or POP, (https://www.facebook.com/People-of-Progression-100114451864733) held their first celebration in 2020. The festivals feature food and music and more.
This historic milestone in America’s history is where the saying, “We are not free, until we are all free,” comes from. These African Americans made the best of the situation by turning a confirmation of this nation’s unfair treatment into a celebration of our God-given right to “the pursuit of happiness.” Freedom Day has been celebrated in Texas ever since. This holiday, although born of deceit and inhumane treatment, now unites a nation in celebration of Black culture and Black achievement, and dare I say, a celebration of the fact that Black Lives Matter.
We cannot celebrate without acknowledging the pain that has brought us to this crucial moment in our nation’s history. As we find our way forward one-year after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis and many others throughout the nation, let us do so in the spirit of ALL who have sacrificed, because we’re BETTER TOGETHER!
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