A digital image of a person holding onto prison bars, facing away from the viewer with their head slumped down between their outstretched arms. Between each set of bars is a different color of the rainbow. White doves fly all around them.
(Inti Gonzalez)

June is Pride month for the LGBTQIA+ community, which means celebrations and parades across the country. For those of us who are incarcerated and want to celebrate Pride, we have invented different ways to honor those who paved the way before us. We may be in prison, but we still have pride for our community. 

For me and other queer people in my prison, we hang up home-made pride flags in our cells. These are not traditional flags you can hang up on a flagpole. They are made on blank, white typing paper, on which we draw the design of the flag then color it in with colored pencils. 

I have two pride flags in my cell—a trans pride flag and a gay pride flag. The decorations represent hope and remind me to live each day to the fullest. 

We also concoct Pride month food and drinks. One drink combines Sun Drop soda, a raspberry drink mix, and liquefied Jolly Ranchers. The end result is a tasty and beautifully colored drink. 

For food, pride cakes are made out of crushed-up cookies and soda. The soda causes the cake to rise. Then we top the cakes with peanut butter and M&Ms. It tastes amazing. We typically share these items with others to pass along the joy of Pride. 

Pride month prompts reflection on history, and hope for what’s to come in the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s amazing to have a month that celebrates us. 

Since I have been alive, I have seen us go from having little to no representation in the media to having a very notable presence in music, TV shows, movies, books, the modeling industry and even various levels of government. It is important for people to see themselves represented so that they know they are not alone. 

There have also been important changes in bureaucratic forms like applications for passports and driver’s licenses to include our identities. 

Other judicial and legislative efforts continue to benefit those in our community. 

In 2018, Jessica Hicklin, who was then an incarcerated person in Missouri, won a landmark lawsuit that required the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) to provide people with medically necessary health care for the treatment of gender dysphoria. The lawsuit also required MDOC to allow Hicklin and other trans people access to gender-affirming clothing (bras and ladies briefs for trans women and boxers for trans men) and gender-affirming canteen items. 

However, many states still treat those in my community with a great amount of disdain. Most notably, Texas has announced policies meant to deny medical treatment to transgender youth. Over a dozen other states are considering similar legislation. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made headlines recently for signing a bill that bans education about LGBTQIA+ issues for young children. 

Add to this the fact that trans people are disproportionately vulnerable to physical attacks that result in death, and it becomes clear that the fight for equality is far from over. 

I have found that when people take the time to learn what it truly means to be transgender or gay or however one identifies, they tend to be more open. We are all people who just want to be our genuine selves and live our best lives. 

This story was originally published by the Prison Journalism Project.

Lexie Handling is a transgender writer who is actively learning more about herself and what it takes to be a strong trans woman. She is incarcerated in Missouri.