Why Juneteenth Should Matter to LGBTQ+ Christians

Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, holds profound significance for our nation and should be honored and celebrated by everyone, including LGBTQ+ people — and in particular, by LGBTQ+ Christians. Here’s why.

For starters, Juneteenth for me as a Christian is about recalling just how truly awfully, inhumanely and impudently white people once behaved toward another part of God’s creation that was in fact their equal in God’s eyes. In their weak, selfish, short-sighted hunger for power and unquestioned dominance, they failed to see their Black brothers and sisters as fellow children of God. They were simply unable to see them as God saw them.

Secondly, as a white cisgender gay male, I’ve been able to experience both sides of inherited privilege: I’ve been on the inside, and I’ve also been on the outside. Being LGBTQ+ has given me plenty of bitter doses from the cup of marginalization — and therefore an appreciation for that struggle across many identities. But I’ve also had the option to step outside of that margin and “pass” for a fleeting moment here and there. And even if I didn’t overtly exercise that privilege, I knew it was there. 

All the while, I’ve recognized that my Black brothers and sisters don’t have that option in the same way. So I’ve had to recognize that what I perceived as injustices against me were but a fraction of the full picture of the systemic oppression faced by Black people universally, and by Black LGBTQ+ people especially.

For instance, the fact that I’m able to go about my daily business without giving so much as a thought to the way a casual encounter with the police could not just derail my day, but potentially end my life, is just one privilege on a laundry list of them. And while that demoralizing realization saddens me deeply, it also reminds me of my calling to use my voice to uplift and support causes beyond my own.

In other words, to be LGBTQ+ is to understand, on some fundamental level, that even within our own community there are levels and gradations of privilege and deprivation — that even discrimination comes with shades and grades of tolerance, acceptance, rejection and outright expulsion. It’s truly the intersectionality of oppressions.

What makes Juneteenth such a powerful reminder of the power of repression is that its very name contains this fact, as explained  by the Washington Post:

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 freed enslaved people in Confederate states, but it did not immediately end slavery in places such as Texas that remained under Confederate control. Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, Union troops led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Tex., and announced that more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were free. (Nationwide emancipation would come only with the ratification of the 13th Amendment later that year.)

Yet while slavery has long been outlawed, our despicable behavior toward the Black community has gone on and on. So Juneteenth is rightly a day of reflection, celebration and recognition that the long struggle for freedom and equality continues.

While the twin fights for LGBTQ+ rights and racial justice are distinct in many ways, they are deeply interconnected. Both movements strive toward a common goal of dignity, equality and respect for all individuals, regardless of their background. In particular, the spirit of Juneteenth aligns with the principles of liberation and justice that underpin the LGBTQ+ equality movement. By acknowledging Juneteenth, we acknowledge the shared values that bind us together in our quest for a more just society.

Honoring Juneteenth is not just about recognizing a historical event; it’s about committing to the ongoing fight for justice and equality. We as the full LGBTQ+ community can celebrate and support Juneteenth as follows:

  • Educate ourselves and others: Learn about the history and significance of Juneteenth. Share this knowledge with friends and family, and within our communities. Perform more than lip service for gaining this knowledge. And take it as a homework assignment — don’t ask Black people to teach you. It’s not their job to do your work.
  • Support Black-owned businesses: Use this day to support Black entrepreneurs and businesses, contributing to economic empowerment. And please don’t brag about it. Just do it.
  • Participate in events: Many cities and communities hold Juneteenth celebrations, including parades, festivals and educational events. Participating in these events shows solidarity and support. Again, don’t make it about you. Just show up. Your presence says more than your words ever could.
  • Donate and volunteer: Support organizations that are working toward racial justice and equality by donating or volunteering.
  • Reflect and advocate: Take stock: Are you able to exercise privilege in our society? If so, how can you be a better ally? Advocate for and support policies and practices that promote equity and justice. Also, do more listening and less talking.

Like Pride, Juneteenth is a reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go in the fight for true equality.

For the LGBTQ+ community and our allies, this holiday provides an opportunity to stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters, recognizing that their fight is our fight, too.

Let’s honor Juneteenth with the respect and reverence it deserves. Let’s use this day to educate ourselves, support the Black community, and reaffirm our commitment to justice and equality for all. This is a holiday that must be honored and celebrated not just for its historical significance, but for its relevance to the ongoing struggle for liberation and human dignity.

And as usual, the Scriptures are here to help us keep it all in the best perspective:

But God has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously. (Micah 6:8)

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other. (John 13:34-35)