Pride and Dignity

June is celebrated as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. It commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, when the New York City Police raided a gay bar, but for the first time, met with significant resistance. LGBTQ+ people stood up for themselves and said “No More” to the harassment that had been heaped upon them for years. Today it is widely celebrated as a month when LGBTQ+ Americans are especially out and proud of their identity.

wheelchair user wearing a pride flag

In the US, we celebrate cultural pride in many ways: Black History Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, and many others. But Pride is deeper than a month or a parade or an official declaration of recognition. Pride is born of self-respect and dignity. It comes from our hearts and souls and loudly states our own worth.

I have thought a lot about dignity lately. It is easy for those of us with spinal cord injuries to lose some of our dignity and self-esteem. Being in public in a wheelchair causes some others to treat us as lesser, pitiful, or unworthy of respect. Those of us who have impaired bowel and bladder function and need others to assist us in the most basic daily routines have all felt moments of embarrassment, shame, and a loss of dignity. This can make us reluctant to ask for help with these intimate needs. And if we are not careful, these feelings can accumulate, causing us to avoid going out in public, or even question our own self-worth.

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As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have learned that just as feelings of inadequacy or shame come from deep within us, the ability to pick ourselves up and demand respect and dignity also is within us. No one can rob us of our dignity if we do not consent. When we feel we are worthy of respect, and most of all, when we show we are proud of who we are, others cannot impose their disrespect on us.

Our status as people with disabilities does not earn us respect. The way we deal with our disability can. Most of the people around us will take their cues from us. If we act as though we are to be pitied or helpless, or that we are ashamed of our disabilities, others will look down on us and treat us as accordingly. But if we define ourselves by our abilities instead of our disabilities, and are confident in the way we make our way in the world, those around us will recognize us as competent, accomplished, and worthy people. If we refuse to be looked down upon, and instead conduct ourselves with self-respect even in moments when we need assistance, others will see our pride and dignity and act in kind. And when we stand up for ourselves and refuse to endure discrimination and unequal treatment, we win our rights as equal citizens.

Each of us has many aspects of our lives for which we should be proud. It may be a physical accomplishment, an academic achievement, the love we give others, or any number of things. Each of us is worthy. One of the best lessons I have learned in life is: “You are always enough.” We are unique, capable, smart, and talented human beings. So this month, and all year, be proud. Let the people around you know you are proud of all you have accomplished, and even more so, proud of who you are. If we project that image of ourselves, we will see it reflected back in the conduct of others.

About the Author - Howard Menaker

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Howard Menaker

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.