Somewhere Over the Rainbow: LGBTQ+ Heroes' Right to be Proud

As we look back at Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month, which ended in June, there are so many courageous members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies who have long fought for equality and respect against relentless obstacles. Despite their efforts and determination, LGBTQ+ individuals continue to face discrimination, harassment, assault and disrespect. The perpetuation of their marginalization and the lack of acceptance has had a devastating effect on the community. Most compelling, is the toll this takes especially on young people who are condemned by their schools, classmates, places of worship and most painfully, sometimes by their families. As a result, some LGBTQ+ youth remain behind a veil of secrecy fearful of revealing who they really are.  And others, who take the steps to live their true identity may find themselves shunned, ostracized, homeless or worse. Desperate and isolated, far too many LGBTQ+ people take their own lives.

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. recognized this unfortunate reality in his June 1 Proclamation celebrating the start of LGBTQ+ Pride Month:

During LGBTQ+ Pride Month, we recognize the resilience and determination of the many individuals who are fighting to live freely and authentically. In doing so, they are opening hearts and minds, and laying the foundation for a more just and equitable America. This Pride Month, we affirm our obligation to uphold the dignity of all people, and dedicate ourselves to protecting the most vulnerable among us.

There are many unsung heroes within the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, but I want to pay tribute to two people who have shown particular strength and whose efforts may encourage others to feel safer to live their lives fully as they see fit. One of them was already well known, and he recently used his public figure status to call attention to the terrible tragedy of LGBTQ+ suicide. The other is an individual who took a stand for transgender rights and persisted in advocating for others even when the results would no longer affect him directly.

Last month, Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib came out publicly as gay, the first active professional National Football League player to do so (other former players have come out after their NFL careers ended). In doing so, he said that he struggled for many years with the decision to share his authentic self with the public but decided to do so to foster LGBTQ+ acceptance and visibility through his platform. In tandem with his announcement, Nassib committed to donating $100,000 to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention in LGBTQ+ young people under 25. According to The Trevor Project's 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, "42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth."

Physically imposing at 6-foot-7, 275-pounds, Nassib would appear to be fearless, but his revelation took courage. His boldness sets an example for LGBTQ+ youth struggling to gain acceptance while also combatting negative stereotypes toward gay men.

Another LGBTQ+ hero in the headlines during Pride Month is Gavin Grimm who, in 2015 as a 16-year- old transgender student, sued his public high school challenging their policy that barred him from using the male restroom and forcing him to use a unisex restroom. Following a lengthy and circuitous court battle over six years, the case finally concluded in favor of the rights of transgender youth. The United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving intact the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's decision in favor of Grimm. Even though he is long out of high school, with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, Grimm continued to fight. According to Grimm: "Being forced to use the nurse's room, a private bathroom, and the girl's room was humiliating for me, and having to go to out-of-the-way bathrooms severely interfered with my education. Transgender youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials." His determination makes significant headway for transgender youth who already face considerable obstacles to acceptance.

The rainbow flag has become a ubiquitous emblem of the battle for LGBTQ+ rights. As many people proudly waved the flag last month to recognize the progress and the challenges for the LGBTQ+ community, Carl Nassib and Gavin Grimm are two people who stood out as true heroes.