We need to celebrate LGBTQ joy this Pride Month. Lives depend on it.

·5 min read

Imagine your high school baseball team banning you from playing. Your local DMV barring you from changing the name on your driver's license. Your neighbors darting their eyes away from you in public.

The transgender community faces hardships like these on a daily basis – not to mention a wave of discriminatory legislation. Trans people are like Sisyphus, forever barreling a boulder up a never-ending hill.

But what if that hill wasn't so intimidating after all, and they were given encouragement, smiles and support along the way?

In the face of trauma, trans people – and the LGBTQ community at large – often persevere and find joy. Experts say the two are inextricably linked, and putting emphasis on LGBTQ joy this Pride month is especially crucial given the wave of persecution against the community.

We need to celebrate LGBTQ joy this Pride Month. Lives depend on it.
We need to celebrate LGBTQ joy this Pride Month. Lives depend on it.

"It is not only important but essential to celebrate," says Sara Warner, director of Cornell University's LGBT studies program. "Our pleasure is our resistance to the hate, homophobia/transphobia, and fearmongering aimed at LGBT individuals and communities."

Joy will help the community thrive, but first they must survive – especially younger people. According to The Trevor Project, 42% of LGBTQ young people "seriously considered" suicide this past year. More than half of them were transgender and nonbinary.

At least 28 transgender or gender nonconforming people have been killed in 2021, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Black and Latina transgender women are most at risk.

"Our survival depends on us finding ways to create joy for ourselves, ways to laugh together and sharing insights that can only come from truly knowing ourselves," says Alex Schmider, GLAAD's associate director of transgender representation.

June, which is Pride Month, is as good a time as any to explore joy.

Pride started as a protest outside the Stonewall Inn in 1969 in New York. The word "protest" may not evoke joyful images – but it should.

"We know that when the first brick was thrown at Stonewall, that was also portrayed as angry, or antagonist, or resistance and rising up. But that also was an act of joy," says SA Smythe, an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies at UCLA.

Warner adds: "When police, outfitted with tactical gear, stormed the Stonewall Inn, patrons – many of them homeless youth and trans women of color – fought back with the most potent weapons they had: their sense of humor. Some linked arms in a chorus line and sang dirty songs, while others led police on a wild goose chase through the byzantine streets of the West Village."

Pride provides a time to celebrate and sit with this history, surrounded by fellow LGBTQ people.

"This is exactly the time where we find queer kinship and queer causes and celebrate that collectively," Smythe says. "Because we don't just then get joy, we also get to figure out what it is that we're about, how we move in solidarity with each other. And that's a super-joyous exercise."

The idea of finding joy amid trauma is linked to the civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter. "For Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ people of color, oppression is compounded by the violence of white supremacy, systemic discrimination and anti-Black racism," Warner says.

It's important to see LGBTQ joy represented in TV, movies

Don't let the rainbow flags fool you: Joyful representations of queer people in entertainment are scarce.

TV series and movies focusing on transgender people historically home in on tragedy – think "Boys Don't Cry" and "Dallas Buyers Club." The same can be said for the greater LGBTQ community, as with "Brokeback Mountain."

"I would love to see more programming that celebrates gaiety, joy and pleasure," Warner says. "With so many publishing outlets, television, channels, subscription series and public modes of broadcast, this is happening."

Series like "Saved by the Bell" on Peacock and "First Day" on Hulu are challenging this negative narrative, according to Schmider.

Series like "Saved by the Bell" on Peacock (pictured) are challenging the negative transgender narrative.
Series like "Saved by the Bell" on Peacock (pictured) are challenging the negative transgender narrative.

"When facing a world that makes it so unnecessarily challenging to be ourselves, seeing trans joy, laughing together, appreciating who we are, can help lead us through these times," Schmider says. "Inviting people to connect with our experiences and laugh with us, not at us, which has historically been the case."

"Grey's Anatomy" star Jake Borelli watched all of "RuPaul's Drag Race" during the pandemic and is always looking for LGBTQ entertainment to consume. He also starred in the Freeform's movie "The Thing About Harry" last year.

"That, to me, was the perfect amount of joy," Borelli said of the film. "It was the perfect queer story, in the sense that it was about queer people, but then it didn't deal with shame and didn't deal with coming out. It dealt with love. And I hope that more movies like that get made or more larger story arcs on television shows. That would be wonderful."

As in real life, joy and heartbreak intertwine in complicated knots.

"Joyful queer content can contain pain and trauma. It is important to acknowledge our history," Warner says. "The issue is how we address injury and how we celebrate our flourishing in spite of this."

Schmider agrees and says more diversity behind the scenes will only push that notion further.

Watching a trans kid hit a home run onscreen could fuel further acceptance offscreen.

"Trans people, and everyone, need to see us living our lives and thriving despite the harm being propelled onto us, showcasing our resilience and our refusal to bow and bend to the pressures of being inauthentic to ourselves," Schmider says.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LGBTQ joy is more important than ever this Pride 2021. Here's why.