Third annual Lighthouse Pride Party celebrates inclusion, observes need for more progress

 
Amid the smiles, hugs and rainbow flags at the annual Lighthouse Pride party, there was time for reflection on the serious side of the struggle for gay rights.
 
Despite steamy temperatures approaching the 90s, the June 28 event drew a big crowd to Martin Square in downtown Homewood. Local vendors and residents showed their solidarity with song, dance and rainbow margaritas.
 
It was the third year that Lighthouse LGBTQ+ has sponsored the Pride Party, which has grown since a modest beginning at the Flossmoor Community House in 2017. The event moved to Homewood this year to make room for more participants.  
 
Kendra Richardson, a fifth grader at Western Avenue School, called the event ‘awesome,’ as she stood in line to get her face painted.
 
“It’s so fun to be here. I think it’s amazing to live in a place that is accepting. Everyone should accept who they are, be themselves, and show off who they want to be,” Kendra said, with a blithe shrug of her shoulders.  
 
But she was not the youngest patron at Homewood Pride this year. Near the Aurielio’s vendor truck, just a couple feet above the ground, a tiny Prince fan stood between his parents. The purple onesie he selected for the event was embellished with the face of Prince, the seven-time Grammy winner. 
 
His mother, Santina, said she and her husband came out to enjoy the party. The inclusive and compassionate environment is exactly the kind of place in which they aim to raise their child.
 
Still, this year’s national Pride celebration was layered in the gritty textures of history and activism; and Homewood Pride was no different.

“Did you know that in the last year there have been 10 trans(gender) women who have been killed in this country, seven just in the last month?” Matt Epperson asked the crowd as he performed with his daughter during a musical set. All of those recent victims were black women, he said.
 
After their performance, Epperson explained that the most vulnerable among the LGBTQ+ community have also been the most instrumental in LGBTQ+ activism. 
 
“Trans women, many of them trans women of color, were some of the most vocal activists in New York and San Francisco before anything was even happening in the middle of the country,” he said. They stood “to fight and put their lives on the line for what ended up being a great LGBTQ+ movement, but that first benefitted gay white men.”

The Stonewall Riots of 1969, named after the gay bar and safe space for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, were a topic of conversation at the local event. The riots began after a police raid was launched to antagonize bar patrons, and it ultimately catalyzed the national push for LGBTQ+ rights. 
 
Epperson says it’s important to remember that these early resistance efforts 50 years ago were led by black trans women. 
 
“Remember, Stonewall wouldn’t have been Stonewall without Marsha P. Johnson. And that Janetta Johnson, Honey Mahogany and Aria Sa’id co-founded the first transgender cultural district in San Francisco, three years prior to Stonewall,” he said.
 
Epperson explained that it is the intersection of marginalized identities that adds so much nuance to the fight for equality — and equal acceptance across the rainbow.
 
“Most of what LGBTQ+ people of color have achieved has had to come in the wake of white gay progress, and they still haven’t had the same support,” he explained. “Racism is so deeply ingrained, we haven’t had the same strides against racism as we have for LGBTQ+. There are layers of intersection that can present an exclusion for folks. They’re black, so the race layer is there, they’re a woman, so they are devalued because of sexism, and not just a woman, but a trans woman. There are not many more ways a person could be alienated, unless they were maybe an immigrant, too.”
 
2017 H-F graduate David Meehan, who arrived at Pride in a white T-shirt that displayed “Black Love Matters” in colorful bubble letters, said that it is acknowledging the complexities of race, gender and identity that make a good ally.
 
“Any time we’re talking about supporting a marginalized or oppressed group, it has to be everyone. You can’t prioritize the uplifting of one group over another, it has to be a collective raising up, especially for an ally,” Meehan said. “As a straight, white man such as myself, it’s super important for me to support any marginalized group that I can.”
 
Epperson says being a good ally isn’t about being perfect, but being present to their own privilege.
 
“It’s not just about individual discrimination. It’s about restricted access to housing, healthcare, education. These personal biases play out in policies,” he explains. “These are things that I don’t have to think about, because my ID says who I am. Folks with a privileged status can go their whole life without having to know these things.”
 
Jackie McKethen, LGBTQ+ activist and Governors State University (GSU) Advisory Board member, is working to combat the structural inequalities that plague gay and trans youth. 
 
She founded the Jackie McKethen Scholarship at GSU for LGBTQ+ community members and allies.
 
“Sixty percent of the homeless youth are transgender kids who have been kicked out by their parents or relatives. I started the scholarship fund because with all the things going on in the trans community, the likelihood of a person being able to get a complete education is low. The odds are against them,” McKethen said. “I thought I would try and help those odds, and give them a chance that they may not otherwise have.”
 
“I believe that at least 80 percent of the community is supportive, or at least tolerant of LGBTQ+. The problem is there isn’t much opportunity for allies to show their support, other than Pride. Whereas those that are anti- are much more boisterous,” the activist explained. “So, they’re the ones that are heard.”
 
While members of the LGBTQ+ community face a lessened homophobia than decades past, McKethen explains that an ignorance of trans history keeps the fires of transphobia burning bright, and bloody.
 
McKethen says she is fighting to change the perception of trans people as "aliens that people don’t think are real." 
 
Still, she asserts, her self-acceptance does not take the opinions of her peers into account. 
 
“I want to see us understand that trans people are people, too,” she said. “We bleed red, we have all the same organs. Just because we don’t identify with our anatomical gender assignment, doesn’t make us bad people. But mostly, it’s no one else’s business how I live my life. I answer to God, not man.”
 
Photos by Mary Compton (MC) and Eric Crump (EC)/H-F Chronicle.

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