Hi, I am Nicky. A wedding and funeral celebrant, a funeral director, a Celebrant Trainer, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. June is Pride month, a special month for many.
During the month of June we see Pride celebrations taking place around the world, with flags unfurled and flown in proud celebration.
Why Pride Month is Important to Me
Pride month isn’t about waving rainbow striped flags, or companies changing their logos to include a rainbow or a ‘love is love’ heart’. Pride is a commemoration of an event which changed the lives of everyone who identifies as being part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Pride is an event, but the reason for that event is remembrance we are people with human rights too. Pride marks progress and is solidarity with those who initially took a stand during the Stonewall uprising. (Sometimes called ‘The Stonewall Riots’ which is incorrect as those involved were not rioting, they fought back against oppression).
As it is for so many others, Pride is important to me to remind everyone that we are people who love, are loved, who hurt and who matter as heterosexual people do.
The Stonewall Inn
In 1960’s America gay men and lesbian women would gather in underground bars, often run by the Mafia. The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York was one such bar. In addition to gay men and women it also welcomed transvestites, drag queens and kings; people who were not welcome at other gay bars and clubs. It was a place of refuge where people could express themselves freely.
The Stonewall Inn was often subject to police raids, Between 28th June and 3rd July 1969, a series of police raids took place, but this time those who were in the bar fought back. Among those who joined in with the spontaneous protest were Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. Standing against ongoing police harassment and the social discrimination suffered by sexual minorities.
Although there had been other protests by gay groups, the Stonewall incident was perhaps the first-time lesbians, gays, and transgender people saw the value in uniting behind a common cause. These four people and many others continued to campaign for acceptance and equality for members of the gay community to be treated with respect, dignity and to be able to be who they were.
The First Pride
A year later 28th June 1970 in New York the first Pride took place in commemoration of what had happened during The Stonewall uprising. It would take 30 years before Pride would be recognised as an official event. Many people, including some in our community, are unaware of the reasons and of the origins of Pride.
We all Live, We all Love, We all Die
There have been times (and will be more perhaps), when I have (and will) worry I would be treated differently by the families I visit to gather information to create funerals for their loved one or person.
During some conversations it soon becomes clear of the views of the person who has died, and you can guarantee they would not want you leading their funeral if they knew of your sexuality. What do you do in those situations? You have two options really, either you just get on with it, knowing the person you are writing the ceremony for was homophobic and would no doubt feel hatred towards you, but you still give them the best ceremony you can. Or you refuse to do it, it all depends on your personal feelings.
Homophobia is a choice, homosexuality isn’t
The views of the person who has died aren’t always the views of their family or those arranging the funeral. Funerals are for the living about those who have died. We celebrate the life of the person and at times if asked to, acknowledge flaws.
I have worked with families on the other side of things too, where their young son or daughter has taken their own life due to their sexuality, either they couldn’t quite accept who they were, they wanted to be ‘normal’ and not different to their friends and peers or they could no longer endure the bullying and abuse they suffered because of their sexuality.
I have also worked with families who wouldn’t accept their son or daughter was gay or trans and it wasn’t to be mentioned. Their partners were either excluded from the funeral completely and told not to attend, or they wasn’t mentioned at all as if they didn’t exist.
The person was to be referred to by their dead name and by their previous pronoun.
l made the decision to no longer work with people who won’t accept their son or daughter for being gay, trans or a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Celebrations and Memorials for Partners of LGBTQ+ People
When these incidents have happened, I always suggested partners planned and held a celebration of life/memorial ceremony. One which was for the partner and friends of the person who has died. Those attending told stories and memories, wore what they chose to wear, listened to music the person liked, said goodbye to and remembered their partner and friend for the real person they were.
Time for Change
It has been 54 years since the Stonewall Uprising. Homophobia hasn’t disappeared, it is just illegal now to be homophobic. The marriage laws were changed in 2014 so everyone could be married (no longer did we have to say ‘civil partnership’). Now we need to make sure partners and trans people are given the same support and funerals as everyone else. LGBTQ+ people love, grieve, and deserve full equality. Pride month exists because:
‘Gay Pride was not born of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution’
This is why Pride month is important to me.