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Reflections On What Makes This Pride Month So Significant


We're going to spend some time now reflecting on a historic moment that came earlier this week just in time for pride month. The Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ employees from discrimination. The landmark decision - on a surprising 6-3 vote, no less - is a win for LGBTQ employees who've spent decades fighting for workplace equality. But the community still faces challenges. Earlier this month, the Trump administration rolled back protections against discrimination in accessing health care and health insurance for LGBTQ people. All this comes at a time when pride events have either been canceled or moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While protests against police violence and racism are ongoing, which certainly includes members of the LGBTQ community, we wanted to mark this year's pride by reflecting on all this. And we've called on some thoughtful people to help us consider this moment. Eric Marcus is the founder and host of "Making Gay History." That's a podcast featuring interviews of people who were instrumental in the movement for the rights of LGBTQ people. He's with us from New York. Eric, thanks so much for joining us once again.

ERIC MARCUS: A delight to join you today, Michel.

MARTIN: J. Clapp is the executive director of the LGBTQ Center of Durham and chair of Pride: Durham. J. Clapp also performs in drag under the name Vivica C. Coxx and is with us from Durham, N.C. J., thank you so much for joining us as well.

J CLAPP: I am so glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And Christy Mallory is the state and local policy director at the Williams Institute. That's a research institute at UCLA Law School that focuses on LGBTQ issues. And she's with us from Los Angeles. Christy Mallory, thank you so much for joining us as well.

CHRISTY MALLORY: Hi, Michel. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And, Christy Mallory, I'd like to start with you. The Supreme Court issued this historic ruling in the Bostock case. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, quote, "an employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex," end quote. So, basically, that means that LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace is the same as sex discrimination and therefore illegal. So what's your reaction to this decision?

MALLORY: You know, initially, yes, I have to say I was so surprised. But after I sort of had a moment to reflect on the decision and read the court's reasoning, I realized that it actually wasn't all that shocking, you know? So many lower courts have already held that gender identity discrimination in particular is a form of discrimination based on sex and is therefore prohibited by existing nondiscrimination laws that include that characteristic, sex. And lower courts have now sort of also increasingly recognized that discrimination based on sexual orientation is also a form of sex discrimination. So this decision from the Supreme Court really just affirms that those other decisions were correct. This didn't come out of nowhere. This came out of years of these cases building and finding that LGBT plaintiffs were protected under existing nondiscrimination laws.

MARTIN: Interesting. So, Eric, I'm going to ask you, though. How did you react to this? And I'll just share if it's OK that I share that you and I both, having spent some time in mainstream media, have talked about the ways that - you know, our various experiences, you as a gay man and me as an African American woman and the things that - the roadblocks, let's say, that have been thrown in our way over the years. Let's put it that way. How did you react to this?

MARCUS: Yeah, I have so given up on the idea of anything good happening during this administration that I was not even following the case. So on Monday morning, my friend Leslie (ph) sent me a text with two dancing women and two dancing men. And I wrote back with a question mark. And she said the Supreme Court - I still didn't know. And then I went to look online. I was so shocked, I actually was moved to tears. I interviewed Frank Kameny, who, in 1957, was fired from his government job and was the first gay person to fight back in court. He took it to the Supreme Court in 1960 and got turned down cold. So this is a long - this is a 60-year fight. And to see it with this resolution was shocking to me.

And you asked that additional question. In my own career, discrimination against gay people - at least the way it was called when I was a young person, when you and I were both young and getting into journalism. It affected every stage of my career. When I was in graduate school at Columbia, there were two of us who were out in our class. And one of my professors warned us that it could ruin our careers to be out. And I had initially wanted to work in electoral politics. I spent six weeks in a job working for the borough president of Queens, N.Y. I had to go back in the closet to take the job. I couldn't stand it.

And then when I was working at CBS News, I was really interested in being on the other side of the camera. And I spoke with a senior executive about whether or not they'd ever put an openly gay person on camera for national news. And after much back and forth 'cause I couldn't get a straight answer, I said I just need to know for my career. And she said, no, we would never put an openly gay person on national news as a correspondent. And it was around that time that I was asked if I'd be interested in writing an oral history of the gay civil rights movement.

So it turned out really well for me, but it was a - my career is very different because of sort of low-level discrimination or anticipated discrimination, not anything like so many people have experienced being fired from their jobs.

MARTIN: J. Clapp, what about you? Has this - how did you react to the decision, by the way? And is the question of workplace discrimination something that you find in your activism and in your life is still a real and present danger?

CLAPP: So I'm super fortunate that I work at an organization that specifically serves LGBTQ+ people. But when I found out, I have to tell you I was shocked. I had to call someone and say, is this real? When we got marriage equality, everyone was very pleased. But for a lot of people - especially younger folks who were still trying to make it into their careers or older folks who have seen the world - there's still the concern of how do I get to keep my job? And so, of course, I was moved to tears. But I'm also Black, and I didn't have enough time to celebrate that victory because there's so much more going on in the world. And so, for me, it was OK, take a moment. Cry. Celebrate that. That was a huge win, but we're not done.

MARTIN: And so important point. We're going to talk more about that in just a minute here. And so, Christy, I'm going back to you because your work looks at how sexual orientation and gender identity are treated at the state and local levels. Talk about if you would some of the big issues still facing the LGBT community that you're seeing across the country.

MALLORY: On the one hand, we're seeing this decision and some incredible progress. In some of the states, we're seeing even more progressive movement towards securing LGBT rights. So, for example, we're seeing some states pass laws that ban use of the gay and trans panic defense. We're seeing some states prohibit bans on the use of conversion therapy on minors by licensed health care practitioners. We're seeing some states enact their own nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination. But on the other hand, we're seeing a lot of pushback. We're seeing some states attacking LGBT rights and opposing LGBT rights. And it seems to be laws that are hostile towards transgender people in particular.

MARTIN: Interesting. So - and J., I'm going to go back to something that you said just a minute ago. I don't want to lose sight of that pride month is taking place during a moment when there is a lot of turmoil and unrest around other issues that also affect members of this community. And, J., if it's OK that I mention - I understand that your brother was killed in a police encounter in 2017. I'm very sorry for your loss. And I'm imagining that this whole moment here is bringing up a lot for you. Can I ask you about that?

CLAPP: Absolutely. And it is so hard to think about leaving your house and going and celebrating your pride when you also have to think about the number of people who continue to be murdered just for the color of their skin. And that has really put me in an interesting place. I'm an activist. I go out. I want to be the voice for the people around me and to stand up. But, also, this is a really traumatic time for a lot of people of color. And for Black people, particularly, you're having to watch the news, stay enraged but also care for yourself all while you're supposed to be remembering why we've been fighting all of these years and also celebrating that.

And that's just been a really hard month. And to think about the fact that my exceptionally brilliant, exceptionally humorous brother was having a difficult day and had a difficult run-in with a police officer and that ended his life - and I just don't think that a police officer should be able to make that type of judgment where he can go, I don't feel comfortable right now. So here are eight bullets. That is so shocking to me, and that's what I mean. When we have these celebrations over these wins, we have to remember - we're not all free yet. We're not done fighting. And that is why I try to keep going out there. And that is actually why my drag persona is what it is. I really dug deep after my brother to pour my art into my drag and to focus on the queer community because my brother was LGBTQ+ as well.

MARTIN: How do you manage holding all those feelings and thoughts together in one body at the same time? Do you choose your moments, or did the moment choose you? Because you do want to celebrate the victories and advancements. And yet you cannot forget all of the pain and the struggle and the struggles yet to have. So how do you do it?

CLAPP: You know, I think it has been a reconciliation in a lot of different ways. When you're from the South and you're Black and you're the top of your class going through school, you're supposed to present effortless perfection because you've got the weight of a community on your back telling you that you have to be the one who makes it. But after my brother's murder, I had to reconcile that I couldn't be effortlessly perfect. I had to have a community. I had to have folks around me. And I'm so fortunate that I had started building communities around me and had family - chosen family all around me to keep me strong.

So, for me, it is not something that I have to do alone all by myself. I have an entire drag family. And they have been caring for me so well during these times so that when something is difficult, I can give them part of my burden. They can help hold me up just as I've helped them over the years. So choosing my moment really is sometimes out of necessity. There are times where I'm looking at what's happening, and I don't have a choice but to choose that moment.

MARTIN: Well, thank you, again. It's so - thank you for sharing that. I know that can't be easy. So thank you for sharing all that. Before we let each of you go - and, you know, obviously, we've only just scratched the surface of this very rich and deep history and conversation. I thank you all so much for being willing to visit with us, today. I just wanted to ask each of you - what would you like us all to think about today or throughout this month? Just give us one thing you think we should all be thinking about as we think about pride month. And, J., maybe I'll start with you because you're the chair of Durham Pride.

CLAPP: Absolutely. I see pride a little like a revival, where you're shoring up your spirit and your energy around your beliefs, right? And so pride is an opportunity to remember all of the victories we've had but, also, the battles we still have in front of us. And the reason I frame it that way is because yesterday was Juneteenth. And it is a good opportunity for us to learn. Yes, just because this decision just came down from the Supreme Court doesn't mean that people will actually start listening to it and will not discriminate in new and creative ways. And it might take some time for us to truly see that change.

MARTIN: Christy Mallory, what about you?

MALLORY: Yes, I agree with all of that. Even on the legal and policy front, the work is not done. This decision - the Bostock decision could have huge implications for the hundreds of laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex. But even if every single one of those laws is interpreted consistent with the Bostock decision, that doesn't mean that LGBT people are free to live and work without fear. LGBT people - particularly, transgender women and people of color - continue to face systemic violence and discrimination. Transgender women of color continue to be victims of intimate partner violence and other forms of violence. And these laws won't necessarily solve that. So that's going to take a lot more work.

MARTIN: And, Eric Marcus, what about you?

MARCUS: I think that pride is a huge opportunity for us, as J. says, to look back. And it's important to remember that these things take time. This was - this decision was 60 years in the making. And I strongly believe that we can't know where we're going if we don't know where we've been. So while I know pride is a time of celebration or often thought of as a time of celebration, it's an opportunity to look back, look at how we got to where we are. So we need to also remember all of the challenges we faced and the people who are not here with us who didn't make it this far.

MARTIN: Eric Marcus is the founder and host of the "Making Gay History" podcast. We were also joined by Christy Mallory, the state and local policy director at the Williams Institute, and J. Clapp, executive director of the LGBTQ Center of Durham and chair of Pride: Durham. Thank you all so much for joining us today and sharing these very profound and important thoughts.

MARCUS: Thank you, Michel.

MALLORY: Thank you so much, Michel.

CLAPP: Thank you for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.