What Pride Truly Means To Me


Fifty years ago this month, the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village became an important marker in the history of LGBTQ+ liberation. It was a place where LGBTQ+ people could exercise freedom, but was also one of the many spaces often targeted and subjected to police raids and the criminalizing of queer bodies and love.  

In 1969, this now—historic bar, individuals of different genders, races, cultures, and sexualities fought back against police brutality and stood up for their right to exist. The Stonewall Riots became a catalyst that shaped the modern LGBTQ+ movement today. And these riots were more than a shout of identity; they were a claim for human rights. This history is important to remember as we reflect on how we shape equitable futures for our communities today.

The 60s were an important time for this country in its fight for human rights. People embodied a new kind of collective courage to represent their identities, fight against oppression, and demand an equitable future. Many members of the LGBTQ+ movement were fighting against poverty, the prison system, and violence against sex workers, and were directly aligning with groups like the Black Panther Party and the anti-war movement. A key piece to this history that has long been left out is that people of color and trans women -like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera- were key leaders in the movement. They generated courage and energy to catalyze LGBTQ+ liberation and connect it with other issues that affect its members and the broader community. Now, fifty years later, the city of New York is honoring Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera with a monument on the street where Stonewall Inn is located.  

As we celebrate the month of Pride throughout the world, it is important to connect with the origins of this fight for liberation and the reasons why we must continue to protect and expand our rights as people. A great start would be by watching The Question of Equality: Out Rage ‘69, an important film that looks closely at the origins and complexity of this movement.  

I was born and raised in rural Puerto Rico and identify as a queer, nonbinary femme of color. I come from a background in arts management at the intersection of art and culture as economic drivers and their role in planning for sustainable and equitable cities and communities. I am a multigenre artist, primarily in the mediums of performance, video, and installation. This path of wild intersections led me to MIT CoLab at DUSP, where I serve as Director of Inclusive Regional Development (IRD). My work at CoLab centers on making transnational connections between social movements, with a special focus on Latin America. For the past six years, CoLab has been building deep connections in Colombia’s Pacific Region, working alongside a group of brilliant community organizers, innovators, and artists in the region.    

When we do social justice-based work, we come to the work as ourselves, what we carry and our experiences inform our efforts. One of the main methodologies we practice at CoLab is Theory U, which talks about the importance of ‘turning the beam of observation back on oneself’, of reflecting on yourself and your own process as a leader, and seeking to move from ego-driven to a broader, more collective eco(system) way of thinking. From this, I better understand the importance of having an awareness of your own identity, your role in the ecosystem, and a consciousness of the lens from which you’re approaching the work. In this way, you can find your missing links and do the inner work that will lead you to liberation. After all, the process is only as good as the facilitator, and we are all facilitators when it comes to social justice. 

 For a movement to succeed, we must recognize ourselves in our shared journeys embracing both oppression and liberation. LGBTQ+ liberation has everything to do with the fight against racism, transphobia, ableism, misogyny, and more. It is tied to indigenous sovereignty and black feminism. By understanding and acknowledging the plural identities we inhabit and those of others, we can dismantle the systems of oppression that we face and we can create equitable futures for our communities. 

I return to the words of the inspiring and radical Black feminist, Toni Cade Bambara: “If we want to have a revolution, we have to craft revolutionary relationships.” Our journeys are intertwined. 

Our movement has now become much more complex and expansive, with the growing influence of young people and other experienced thinkers, innovators, and journalists who contribute in enormous ways to improve our understanding of equity, gender, and human rights. Some of the people who inspire me and have made and continue to make radical contributions are: the elder and activist Miss Major Griffin Gracy; young activist and Parkland High School Shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez; MIT professor and designer Sasha Costanza Chock who talks and teaches Design Justice throughout the world; NYC-based journalist Diana Tourjee who keeps trans rights as human rights active in the media; young poet and civic leader Justice Ameer Gaines in Providence, RI; Philadelphia’s poet laureate Raquel Salas Rivera; Puerto Rico’s food justice warrior Tara Rodriguez Besosa; the brilliant movement artist and public space activist Noemí Segarra, and many others. 

Who are the LGBTQ+ people in your community who are making contributions? Lift their work up, quote them, support their work. Love the LGBTQ+ youth in your family, advocate for health care and housing rights for our communities.  These are all great ways to be a part of supporting human rights.   

I’ll leave you with this: ‘pride’ or—in Spanish—“orgullo,” leads to self-determination. To have or generate pride is an important part of building culture and creating social change. Festivals play a big role in this; they are important moments of visibility, collective ritual, identity, history, and culture. Pride leads to civic engagement and voice, participation and investment in community. A sense of pride is what creates cohesion and empowers people to take ownership of their communities and protect their rights.

And -of course- celebration and joy are important fuel for liberation. We need them—alongside imagination—so we can envision and create the equitable futures we want for our communities.

Shey Rivera (preferred pronouns: they, them, their) is CoLab’s Director of Inclusive Regional Development focused in Latin America. Inclusive Regional Development works with community, university, business, government, and NGO partners throughout Latin America and the Caribbean - primarily in Colombia - to strengthen the involvement of marginalized communities in the formulation of development priorities and articulate efforts on the local, regional, and transnational scales.