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Open forum: June Is Celebrated as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month

Gay Pride flag (Source file)

The Gay Pride narrative in the Virgin Islands is shifting with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. As they declare their pride in who they are and whom they love, it has seen some progress in respecting the rights of others, yet there is much work to do with regard to acceptance, tolerance and equality.

During Gay Pride Month, we are reminded that our most remarkable gift is diversity. It is what makes all of us uniquely stronger and provides the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the ongoing cause of equality, acceptance and freedom for all.

Across the United States, deplorable efforts are underway to erode the foundational rights and freedoms as Americans. We must continue to push back against the forces of hate and intolerance to ensure that all are safe and welcomed here at home in the Virgin Islands.

As we celebrate the resilience of the LGBTQ community and its hard-won victories to advance acceptance and equality, we stand together and united to defend and build on the progress of the LGBTQ community toward a better, more inclusive and safer future for all.

With the rainbow pride flag proudly raised over a few homes in our neighborhoods and celebrated by a few private businesses this month, some Virgin Islanders are beginning to demonstrate their stand and support of their LGBTQ sisters and brothers, their loved ones and allies throughout the islands. Together, LGBTQ supporters will continue to demand equal rights for all and make the case that all human beings deserve to love and be loved.

Over 50 years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBTQ rights movement was born. Also, the strong iconic black leaders in Virgin Islands’ history — Queen Agnes, Queen Mary and Queen Mathilda – there were times in our history when it took strong queens to lead the way, change the narrative and make history.

During LGBTQ Pride Month in June, we commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBTQ Virgin Islanders.

LGBTQ Virgin Islanders have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of our society. There are many well-respected LGBTQ leaders in all professional fields, including the arts, politics, religion and business here in the Virgin Islands.

LGBTQ Virgin Islanders, born and transplanted, mobilized our islands to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening the Virgin Islands’ response during the HIV pandemic.

Due in no small part to the determination and dedication of the LGBTQ rights movement, more LGBTQ Virgin Islanders are living their lives openly today than ever before.

Many moms and dads proudly hold the Pride flag to celebrate and support LGBTQ children and families living in our communities. We are proud and thankful for our LGBTQ Virgin Islanders who are our aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers and cousins who are military veterans and active servicepersons and serve honorably in the United States Armed Forces.

We are thankful for all in public service and across my V.I. government who are openly LGBTQ and doing their jobs with distinction and professionalism.

The LGBTQ rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. LGBTQ youth shall feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment. LGBTQ families and seniors should be allowed to adopt and foster children with dignity and respect.

Our local government, private businesses and non-profits need to partner with the LGBTQ community to advance a wide range of initiatives, including advocating for funding to promote Pride tourism, promoting sustainable healthcare initiatives at various access points and promoting the creation of safe spaces for tolerance education campaigns across all public learning institutions and all executive branches of government.

We are hopeful that the Virgin Islands Senate will support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to every LGBTQ Virgin Islander. These measures include enhancing hate crimes convictions and sentencing, supporting LGBTQ Equality Law rights, and eradicating gender discrimination, including LGBTQ being free of harassment/discrimination based on sex, gender identity or gender expression.

We need systems of checks and balances to ensure adoption rights and end the stigma of HIV prevention programs and intolerance through education that strengthens the next generation.

These issues affect not only the LGBTQ community but also our entire territory. As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Virgin Islanders are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our territory was founded, every Virgin Islander will benefit. During LGBTQ Pride Month in June, I call upon the LGBTQ community, the Legislature and all people of these Virgin Islands to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression and identity.

The LGBTQ community calls upon the people of the United States Virgin Islands to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of June, in the year of our Lord 2023.

Warm regards,

Rodney W. Berry Santiago-Kidd, E. JD,

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