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A Celebration of Pride

Date: June 29, 2021

Pride encompasses a diverse community. It symbolizes a different meaning for every person that celebrates this inclusive community. While Pride is celebrated through the month of June the changing dynamics of the world and their support of the movement influence how Pride is celebrated.

While the PRIDE events we celebrate every year would have been unimaginable to the stonewall demonstrators, more than 50 years ago, there is still progress to be made. As with many other events, in 2020, pride celebrations around the country and world were either cancelled or shifted to virtual events to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. LQBTQ+ celebrations were impacted to the same extent. 

Despite the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, this past year has allowed many to reflect upon, learn about and expand their understanding of the LGBTQ+ community. Exploring their LGBTQ+ roots in new ways by visiting local museums, tours and landmarks that celebrate LGBTQ+ heroes, history and culture.

One such way, is along a half-mile stretch of sidewalk in the Lakeview neighborhood in our hometown of Chicago. This iconic walk is known nationally and internationally as “Boystown,” where you can literally “walk through history.”   A series of ten 25-foot pylons recognizes influential figures across gender, race, and professional fields in what is described as “the only outdoor LGBTQ+ museum in the world.”  

Affixed to the pylons are a series of forty (40) bronze biographical memorial markers commemorating the life and work of notable LGBTQ+ individuals “whose achievements have helped shape the world, but whose contributions, sexual orientation, or gender identity have been overlooked, minimized or redacted entirely from most historic texts.”

Each year, in conjunction with National Coming Out Day (October 11), additional memorials are added.  Due to the spacing issues in the neighborhood, in 2020, the oldest memorials began to rotate off the Legacy Walk into a visitor’s center so that new memorial markers could be added to this installation, while also keeping the older plaques for those to see in a visitor learning center.

The genesis of the Legacy Walk was first planted on October 11, 1987 at the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It was also the first time National Coming Out Day was officially recognized, and the first time the AIDS Memorial Quilt was on display.

Around that same time, Victor Salvo, Legacy Walk creator and co-founder, read a story about Alan Turing, a British mathematician and code-breaker during World War II.  Much of his work laid the groundwork for modern computer science and artificial intelligence.  But Turing’s contributions went largely unrecognized because, in 1952, he was convicted of “gross indecency” – in other words, being a gay man. Homosexuality was illegal in Britain at the time, and Turing was forced to undergo unimaginable punishment for his “crime,” and ultimately died from suicide in 1954.

After reading Turing’s story, Salvo said he spent the next ten years embarking on a “personal research project.” He wanted to “identify the types of stories that were similar to Turing’s.”

Today, people like James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, and Turing are honored on the walk. There are also historical events, like the Stonewall Riots, the Harlem Renaissance, and a plaque for “the pink triangle” – a label that Nazis forced gay people to wear on their clothes in concentration camps.  We cannot rewrite history, but we can learn from it and become a more accepting and inclusive society.

As we close this year’s chapter on Pride Month, let’s remember that Gay Pride wasn’t started as a celebration, but rather a culmination of events.   The Legacy Walk is one way of learning and honoring the LGBTQ+ community and to remember those who paved the way before us. Gay Pride is but one thread of the diverse fabric that makes us who we are as United Airlines Flight Attendants. Together, we collectively exemplify the very best of who we all are.

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