LGBTQ+ Pride Month

Dear Colleague,

June 23, 2021

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month—a time to recognize and celebrate LGBTQ+ communities, honor the history of Pride, and commit to working together to ensure continued progress. The origins of Pride Month are deeply rooted in community and political activism. The historic Stonewall uprising that took place the morning of June 28, 1969 served as a galvanizing event—one year later, to commemorate the riots, thousands of marchers took to the New York City streets in the nation’s first gay pride march.

Thanks to decades of tireless advocacy, LGBTQ+ people now hold visible leadership roles in local, state, and federal government; can openly serve in the U.S. Military; and legally marry in all 50 states. In March 2021, the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute published a report showing nationwide support for anti-discrimination laws and marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people reached an all-time high. Progress has also been made when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights and public health, such as the removal of the 22-year travel ban that prohibited all persons with HIV from obtaining tourist visas or permanent residence status, though clearly there is much more to be done—and we, as a society and as public health, must not maintain the systems that support these inequities and propagate injustice.

HIV has been inextricably linked with gay men’s health since the early 1980s, when officials initially termed what would later become known as AIDS, Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). In these early days of the HIV epidemic, fear of casual transmission meant that many gay men had to fight for visibility and equality not only in the eyes of the law, but also in the eyes of their healthcare providers. Today, LGBTQ+ communities continue to face HIV-related stigma and discrimination, with LGBTQ+ people of color facing even greater challenges. One area of ongoing concern is HIV criminalization laws—legislation specifically passed with the intent of reducing HIV transmission by sanctioning individuals whose behavior potentially exposed people to HIV. Many of these laws criminalize behaviors that do not transmit HIV. Because HIV disproportionately affects Black/African Americans persons, Hispanic/Latino persons, gay and bisexual men, and transgender persons, HIV criminalization laws are disproportionately applied to persons of color and LGBTQ+ populations. Systemic racism and lack of access to quality, gender-affirming healthcare and wrap-around services, such as transportation, safe and stable housing, and employment services allow racial/ethnic disparities among LGBTQ+ populations to persist. Health equity is a bridge to justice, but we cannot get there until we dismantle the structures that systematically disadvantage certain groups and prevent LGBTQ+ persons, especially LGBTQ+ persons of color, from attaining their best possible health. We do not have to accept what is unacceptable.

Stonewall activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, transgender heroines of color, ignited a revolution by standing up to oppressive forces and dedicated their lives to fighting for the health and safety of all LGBTQ+ people. What led to change following the night of the Stonewall riot is what is needed to achieve health equity, social justice, and end the HIV epidemic today: community activism, partnership to affect structural change, and the collective resolve to remain in this fight until it’s over.


/Demetre Daskalakis/

Demetre Daskalakis, MD, MPH
Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


/Jonathan Mermin/

Jonathan H. Mermin, MD, MPH
Rear Admiral and Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Page last reviewed: June 23, 2021