As I reflect on my two decades in New Bern, I was recently delighted to see one of my favorite local Downtown restaurants, Thai Angel, proudly flying the PRIDE flag — a symbol synonymous with gay pride and the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for equal rights and acceptance world-wide.
The LGBTQ+ community has historically suffered from cultural, religious and political biases. But, on June 28, 1969, when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located on Christopher Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, there was a shift. Although homophobic raids like these were commonplace, this attack incited a violent conflict between bar patrons with local residents collectively fighting against law enforcement, spilling out onto neighboring streets and Christopher Park, lasting six days. Known as the Stonewall Uprising, this was the catalyst for the present-day PRIDE movement, galvanizing the gay community in challenging social and sexual discrimination.
In 1986, nearly 17 years after the Stonewall uprising, I began my professional nursing career at St. Vincent’s Hospital Catholic Medical Center in the heart of Greenwich Village. AIDS was raging against the gay community and St. Vincent’s subsequently became the epicenter of New York City’s AIDS epidemic. That said, nothing could really prepare any of us for the trauma our patients endured – the physical and emotional suffering, stigma, loneliness and devastating loss of life.
Driven by anger and the lack of responsiveness to the AIDS epidemic, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was created. LGBTQ+ community activists began to a organize politically around AIDS. By holding government leadership in Washington, the Church and researchers accountable, the gay community was able to bring the establishments’ unwillingness, apprehension and ignorance into focus and at that moment begin to take steps to end the AIDS crisis.
My husband and I recently had the privilege to attend New Bern’s inaugural PRIDE Prom, held at the Maola venue in Riverside. It was a beautiful event with incredible, hope-filled energy, organized by passionate advocates. But PRIDE is not just proms and parades and rainbow flags. The LGBTQ+ community continues to be marginalized, so we are called again to “act up” — lift those missing voices, raise awareness and be allies. All humans, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation should be treated with dignity, respect, and most importantly, feel safe in the community they call home.
New Bern is where I call home. I suggest we change our branding to “EVERYONE Comes Together Here,” not just in June, but always.
By Maria Cho