In the month of June, we call for the celebration of National PRIDE Month and Juneteenth, both of which represent two promising lights along the oftentimes dark pathway to securing human rights, equality, and belonging among groups too often persecuted and disenfranchised.
As demonstrated by Hiram’s rich history, the College has an ongoing commitment to diversity, equality, inclusion, and acceptance. From its founding, Hiram accepted both women and people of color. All students, regardless of race or gender, were permitted to attend classes together––something that was unusual during the mid-1800s. That level of inclusion at Hiram continues today as our campus community is committed to fostering and promoting increased knowledge of cultural and ethnic diversity and its significance as an educational value. Our students regularly come together to promote mutual understanding and respect of global citizenship on the part of students from all backgrounds through a variety of inclusion-focused student organizations.
While many are familiar with PRIDE celebrations including National Coming Out Day celebrated in October, President Bill Clinton declared June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in June 2000 in honor of the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBT community to protest a police raid that took place in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan.
Just yesterday, President Biden signed into law Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday. This day commemorates a series of events that culminated in the liberation of those enslaved in Galveston, Texas during the Civil War. The origin of Juneteenth is linked to President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862. The Proclamation outlined provisions to immediately free individuals enslaved in all confederate states. It also relinquished the proprietary right of ownership among slave holders in the confederacy. However, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that the enslaved in Galveston learned that the war had ended and that they had been emancipated since 1862. For the former enslaved in Galveston, the day became a symbol of independence. And this weekend, millions of American citizens will participate in Juneteenth celebrations and activities such as parades, meals, prayer circles, spoken word contests, Black Lives Matter peaceful marches and rallies, cookouts, and lyrical storytelling to name a few.
While no single month can fully recognize the beauty and resilience of an entire culture nor can legislation alone un-ring the bell of the damage caused by a history of systemic heterosexual norming or slavery, there is credence in being unapologetically recognized, being seen, being honored, and being politically empowered. From Galveston to Stonewall, the month of June can represent something bigger than hope. That is, if we are willing to continue to do the work, we have the potential to celebrate justice. Justice that can make the world a safer and more accepting place to live for everyone.
A piece by Dee West, associate dean of students and director of diversity and inclusion at Hiram College.