Today, the last day of June marks the end of LGBTQ Pride Month. The month was chosen to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969, where members of the LGBTQ community in New York reacted to harassment on the part of law enforcement. (It’s worth noting we do not condone any of the violence that took place as part of these demonstrations.) As part of recognizing the month, many businesses in Laramie chose to display rainbow flags to designate their alliance with the LGBTQ community.

The display of rainbow flags and other public demonstrations of alliance with the LGBTQ community continue somehow to be divisive for some. There are people who feel it’s a special designation for a particular group of people, elevating their rights and awareness of their issues above others. But those of us who support the display of rainbow flags and other public statements of support for the LGBTQ community know that is not the case.

Being aligned with the LGBTQ community is about inclusivity, not exclusivity. If you celebrate diversity and inclusion, then you include sexual orientation with other parts of a person’s self such as age, race, religion and nationality. You really can’t just choose one over the other, especially something so intimate as one’s sexual orientation and gender identity. Social stigma and oppression surrounding those who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum continues. Not at the same level as it has in the past, fortunately, but ask anyone in that community, and those folks will tell you it still exists. Imagine what it must be like to be looked at in a negative light simply because of who you are, not something you choose, but a characteristic that is in every way something that makes you uniquely you. A person can’t change that which is ingrained, and one shouldn’t have to.

Make no mistake: Hate-filled opposition toward the LGBTQ community hurts people. Yes, it’s easy to say that we wouldn’t let heated civil discourse turn into acts of violence, but the way we speak about these issues can be equally damaging. A 2015 national survey found that 34% of LGBTQ youth were bullied on school property and one in 10 LGBTQ youth did experience violence as they were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property. The way those who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum are treated by their families and our communities matters. According to the Centers for Disease Control, young people identifying as LGBTQ are at a higher risk for depression, suicide and substance abuse than heterosexual young people. While around 6% of heterosexual young people have attempted suicide at least once in the past year, nearly one-third of LGBTQ young people have done so. That’s children — let that sink in.

In Wyoming and Laramie specifically, we have work to do to show that we understand these realities. Every community across the nation is afflicted with negative attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, and people can argue about whether that’s more prevalent in Wyoming or not. It is absolutely critical that it’s made clear our community is inclusive and loving of everyone.

How could that not be a positive thing? We cannot conceive of one possible reason that’s not an absolute good. That is why the businesses that chose to show their support by displaying rainbow flags throughout June deserve kudos.

Changing people’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community takes time. By getting to know people who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum and learning that they too have similar needs and hopes and love will break down the walls that seem to separate us. Appreciating the diverse backgrounds of all people in our community will make Laramie the best place it can be. And now that summer may finally be here, everyone is welcome to share in the remarkable beauty that is the Gem City of the plains.

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