(Reproduction of executive director welcome at the 2022 Stonewall Columbus Brunch–June 5, 2022)
In 1981 Columbus saw 200 people marching from the Ohio State University to the Statehouse in commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising; in 1982 Stonewall Columbus organized Columbus’s first official Gay Pride.
This year, in 2022, we in Columbus, and across Central Ohio, recognize 41 years of leading Ohio in the celebration and recognition of the LGBTQIA+ community.
My name is Densil Porteous and I use he/they pronouns; I have the honor of serving as Executive Director of Stonewall Columbus.
For anyone unaware, Stonewall Columbus is an organization that works with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer communities across Central Ohio. During the last four decades, Stonewall Columbus has provided a listening ear, a friendly smile, life-saving information, connections to services and support to the queer community not only in Columbus and the Central Ohio Region but across the state…often times to those who have had nowhere else to turn. Stonewall has worked with our members and allies to lobby for and achieve political and social equality working to ensure we all thrive. We are thankful to be part of an LGBTQIA ecosystem that has nonprofits, like Black, Out & Proud, Equality Ohio, Kaleidoscope Youth Center, and TransOhio, working to support our various identities.
Our small organization connects roughly 45,000 people to in-person and virtual resources every year.
In addition to an array of evolving programming Stonewall produces Lavender Listings, a listing of local products and services from LGBTQIA friendly businesses and organizations, and Columbus’ Pride march and events.
It’s been a while since we’ve come together to celebrate and recognize Pride here in Columbus…
Notably some things have changed…
Like the leadership of the organization…
I joined Stonewall in the summer of 2020…
For our country, it was a summer of reawakening to the injustices and inequalities of race that persists.
Today, we continue to navigate a new way of life, a new way of thinking, a new way of being about the business of fighting for equity, equality, and liberation for the Queer community and our intersectional identities–here in Columbus and across the world…
And since 2020 our organization, like many others, has been critically impacted by the COVID pandemic–vastly impeding our in person community services and programming and thus our ability to maintain our largest program, community event and fundraiser: Stonewall Pride events––we are so glad to be back.
Even during a challenging period our organization strived to help ensure the 14th largest city in the country was a more inviting, welcoming, and inclusive place…we fought hard to continue moving forward because our organization understands that this work is not singularly about us.
Most of us in this room have privilege or have overcome obstacles…and I believe it is our responsibility as humans to do the same for others.
This is how we celebrate Pride.
Pride was protest by those of us who were tired of being daily challenged as they simply tried to live in their truth.
All of us in this room desire to live in our truth–desire to be happy.
Stonewall’s celebration of Pride supports our ability to fight for those among us who need the most fighting for. For those fighting the hardest to live in their truth.
For forty years that is what this organization has done…to the best of its ability…with the information/knowledge that those who were guiding the work had.
In high school my 11th grade English teacher introduced me to this quote: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” That concept has stayed with me all these years…it has driven me to learn as much as I can about the world around me. Our understanding of the world in which we live is based on the knowledge of that world.
The evolution of our fight is based on the knowledge that we have…
Now that we know better/more…we do better/more.
Stonewall, like our fight and this country, continues to evolve because our language continues to evolve and grow.
As our organization continues to evolve alongside our community we commit to doing the work that reminds our communities, queer and not queer, that our Pride is about the PEOPLE.
It’s about the marginalized, unseen, under-appreciated, under-serviced identities in our LGBTQIA+ community who have to continue to fight for equity and equality and it is about celebrating and honoring those who have fought to get us here; those who risked, and risk, their lives simply by living their truth.
It is what former President Barack Obama called The audacity of hope.
And while we have the audacity to hope we must remember why we hope…
We must have hope because we stand in a moment of shared history when queer identities are being attacked, in particular youth identities, and we must do the work of being supportive adults who understand their experience–and while cliche, it is true that young people are our future.
We are in a period of history when the spaces that were created for young people to be safe are under attack–much like our queer spaces were, during the earlier part of our queer liberation journey.
Adults created gender constructs; adults created racism. Now that we know better…we must do better. The limits of our language are the limits of our world.
We know that when we see reflections of ourselves in places such as education and popular culture, that we find a deeper understanding of who we are and what we’re about.
This is why we fight to be seen.
During the month of June we are often reminded that some of our various identities rest in spaces of privilege and soar differently. Those of us with any modicum of privilege must allow those without to take space and be seen; those with privilege must be ok with using whatever privilege we have to uplift those who have less privilege.
PRIDE month is a celebration of our community being seen–centering our pride on our people…like:
- The queer patrons of Cooper Donuts in 1959.
- The Trans and BiPoC people who protested at Stonewall in 1969.
- Those who marched on Washington in 1979 for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
- The 49 people who were killed in a mass shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in 2016.
- The Black Pride 4 at our 2017 pride march.
- The 57 transgender and gender non-confirming people who were shot or killed in 2021.
Today, let us be emboldened by our history…by our people…by our leaders of pride who made change happen.
Like those who have led this organization and Columbus Pride events before us…
AJ Casey – Rick Harrison – Linda Schuler – Karla Rothan – Deb Steele – Rhonda Rivera – Chris Cozad – Craig Covey – Craig Huffman – Keith McKnight – Val Thogmartin.
The Stonewall Columbus Pride march and events have long been crucial fundraising tools that aim to fund Stonewall’s programs and operations in support of the community. Funds raised at Pride events support Stonewall’s work to “increase visibility, inclusion, and connection for the LGBTQ+ community” so we see “an Ohio where all of us thrive.”
Stonewall’s annual in-person Pride march and events are considered one of the largest Pride celebrations of its kind in the Midwest—last when we gathered, in 2019, it is estimated that over 700,000 people were welcomed to the Central Ohio region! Our Pride events are an opportunity–an opportunity for our community to be seen, to connect, and to find resources and services that are life affirming–even life saving.
Our shared experiences as LGBTQIA+ identities unite us in our story; however it should be our individual right for happiness that binds us in our fight for equality, equity, and liberation. We know that at our core each of us wants to be seen as valued individuals who are part of a larger community–a community that sees us and respects our individuality.
This moment in our history when LGBTQ+ youth identities are being attacked and we must do the work of being supportive adults who understand their experience. This is a moment in our history when we must remember that we must also do that work for the adult identities in our community who continue to fight to be seen–who fight for our lives.
We are here today because of the generations before us who fought and sacrificed to get us here–who created spaces for us to be seen.
Be proud of who you are, be proud of the changes you’ve made, be proud of the changes you’ve yet to make, celebrate those who have come before, make spaces safe for those who will come after and in this moment live out loud and be proud because Pride belongs to the people!