Credit: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota

This weekend’s upcoming Pride festival marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in Minneapolis. This year’s events will focus on the history of Pride, celebrate the progress that’s been made in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and look toward the future by spotlighting the next generation of community leaders.

History of Pride

The first Twin Cities Pride event occurred in 1972 to commemorate the 1969 events at the Stonewall Inn, a bar located in New York City’s Greenwich Village, which was a watershed moment for the LGBTQ rights movement. 

At that time, many discriminatory laws were in effect across the U.S. – including laws that criminalized dressing as a gender other than that assigned at birth – and there were no laws protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination. 

Public gathering spaces were frequently raided, with police often beating and arresting members of the LGBTQ community. Historic events like those at Coopers Donuts, the Black Cat Tavern and Compton’s Cafeteria led to increased momentum in the movement for gay rights across the country.

Stonewall uprising

When police raided the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, they were met with strong resistance. Frustrated by ongoing harassment, transgender women, drag queens and gay men of color led the fight against discrimination and violence toward their community. Patrons and community members protested the raid and police’s actions for six days. The uprising reignited the gay rights movement and led to the creation of many LGBTQ advocacy organizations that continue to thrive today.  

One year after the uprising, members of the LGBTQ community returned to the Stonewall Inn and held what would later be recognized as the first Pride parade.

Progress made; work that remains 

In the time since Stonewall, there has been significant progress made in the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ community. In the last 15 years alone, we’ve seen the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the legalizing of same-sex marriage and the lifting of the ban that prevented transgender people from serving in the military. 

This progress took years of hard work and sacrifice and deserves to be celebrated. And yet, as we celebrate these crucial victories, so much work remains to be done.

The ban that prevented transgender people from serving in the military was initially lifted in 2016 – only to see a new policy reimplement the ban in 2018. The 2018 policy was then overturned in 2021. In this brief window of very recent history, our country reversed course three times on basic rights for the transgender community. And this is only one example of ongoing legislative actions that target this community.   

In the realm of health care, we saw arguments against the Affordable Care Act as recently as 2020, including the anti-discrimination protections offered by the law. Elimination of those protections would deepen the care gaps already experienced by the LGBTQ community and other marginalized communities, including discrimination that too often prevents essential access to affordable health care.

Since 2021, at least 17 states have enacted anti-LGBTQ legislation, including laws that make it a felony to provide gender-affirming health care to transgender youth, ban transgender girls from participating in sports and limit school curriculum that provides education about the LGBTQ community.

Our recent history and current reality make it clear: equal rights for the LGBTQ community continue to be debated in many spaces. And the fact that someone’s basic rights are up for discussion has a significant impact on physical, mental and emotional health. 

Ongoing discrimination and distress within transgender and non-binary community

Facing discrimination and barriers to health care continues to be a common experience in the transgender and non-binary community. Systemic issues include things like:

  • A lack of providers who have experience working with the transgender and non-binary community 
  • A lack of providers who understand the distinction between sex assigned at birth, gender identity, and gender expression
  • Barriers to getting coverage for gender-affirming care
  • A lack of research on gender diverse people to help providers learn about the care needed for patients

There are also distressing interpersonal interactions across the health system that have a significant impact on mental and physical health. Blue Cross’ own gender services consultant Alex Jackson Nelson recently described his experiences:

“Curiosity about the transgender community has shown up in aggressive and invasive ways. One example was when I was in my early 20’s and first went to the emergency room due to a horrible case of the flu. At the time I had a large chest (breasts) and facial hair. While I waited to see the doctor, several residents came in to gawk at me and ask me questions about my genitals and the effects of the testosterone I was taking. I failed to see the connection between these questions and my flu symptoms. 

I’ve also been asked to disrobe during medical appointments when seeing doctors for things like a long-lasting cold or seasonal allergies, or asked incredibly invasive questions about my body, my transition and my gender-affirming surgeries. These questions come up no matter what my appointment is for, whether it is for tendonitis in my elbow, dental work, a medication check or podiatry.

I regularly avoid making appointments for medical care, and meeting a provider for the first time makes me extremely anxious. This has gotten better over time as I’ve learned to advocate for myself to get my needs met, but it’s still exhausting.”

Blue Cross’ commitment 

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is committed to standing with and for the LGBTQ community and improving business operations to address disparities and achieve equity.

One way it does so is through its Gender Care and Service initiative, which is structured to eliminate barriers throughout the health care system and meet the needs of the transgender and non-binary community.

Looking to the future

As we celebrate Pride this weekend, we’re eager to honor the significant progress that has been made in the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ community. We’re also committed to maintaining focus on the work that remains to be done in order to achieve the vision that one day, everyone has what they need to attain their highest level of health.