For many LGBTQ+ community members and allies, Pride Month is a time to celebrate, reflect, and come together. But for the last 2 years due to COVID-19, Pride events have halted across Northern California and beyond.
The impacts of that have been felt among the LGBTQ+ community of Kaiser Permanente Northern California employees.
Experiencing a void
“It has definitely been a challenge to bring the spirit of Pride to life during the pandemic,” said Marcos Siqueiros, MD, cochair of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Business Resource Group called KP Pride.
Dr. Siqueiros, who also leads the Transgender Healthcare Service at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara, said that the cancelling of Pride events has been particularly difficult during a time when the community continues to fight for equality.
“Given the struggles of those with varying sexual and gender identities across the country, support for marginalized folks is more important than ever. Not being able to connect in-person has had an impact on some LGBTQIA populations with a rise in feelings of isolation,” he said.
For nearly 25 years, thousands of Kaiser Permanente Northern California employees have participated in Pride parades, festivals, and events across Northern California.
“It’s a moment when LGBTQ+ people can be themselves and feel validated and seen. For young people first joining the community, that’s even more important.” – Kirk Kleinschmidt
Theophilus Little, cochair of KP Pride, said the absence of in person Pride activities has meant fewer safe environments for the community.
“Pride celebrations are safe spaces where you can bring your most authentic self and bond with others who share similar experiences, so that’s been rough,” he said. “These past 2 years, however, have been an opportunity for the community to catch its breath and reflect.”
Pride Month occurs every June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, when a group of LGBTQ+ people revolted against police who, for years, raided gay bars simply for existing.
For Kirk Kleinschmidt, member of KP Pride and director of External and Community Affairs for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, this month is a time for LGBTQ+ people to feel visible.
“It’s a moment when LGBTQ+ people can be themselves and feel validated and seen,” he said. “For young people first joining the community, that’s even more important.”
Support shown by straight allies, corporations, and political figures also holds meaning for Kleinschmidt, who called it “deeply heartwarming.”
Little talked about his time in the U.S. Army during the “Don’t ask. Don’t tell” era when it was encouraged to keep your LGBTQ+ identity a secret. The veteran explained that being an ideal leader in the Army meant presenting a perfect, almost robotic exterior.
“A reason I left the military was to create safe spaces where people don’t have to hide any aspect of themselves,” he said. “A space where you can be your true self, speak freely, and be accepted.”
For Little, Pride Month is an opportunity to do just that.
Dr. Siqueiros said being a gay man in the 1980s meant living in fear. Today, Pride symbolizes how far the community has come. “It’s about continuing to promote equity, but also reflecting on the fact that you can be your authentic self and not live in fear.”
In the past, representing Kaiser Permanente at various Pride activities was an honor for many members of the KP Pride. This Pride Month, Kaiser Permanente, though not encouraging attendance due to many COVID-19 spikes, is sponsoring numerous Pride events throughout Northern California including, in San Francisco, Sonoma, Sacramento, Silicon Valley, and more.
Kaiser Permanente is a nationally recognized leader in LGBTQ+ health care equality.
For 12 consecutive years, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, has recognized Kaiser Permanente as an LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader and has also recognized it as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ equality for 16 years in a row.
Learn more about how Kaiser Permanente supports Pride Month.