This year, probably more than ever, it’s important that we remember where we came from. This excellent article by German Lopez says it all. CLICK HERE for the original article on Vox, which will open a new window.
Get ready for the rainbows. June is LGBTQ Pride Month, which means Americans around the country should expect some colorful marches throughout the month as people make a stand for equality.
In recent years, the month has been marked by celebration — over the US Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, as well as some of the other progress made in LGBTQ rights in broader American politics and culture. This year, Pride celebrations fall in a markedly different atmosphere. Although LGBTQ advocates have seen big gains in recent years, the election of President Donald Trump and state-level initiatives against LGBTQ rights — such as bills in North Carolina and Texas to stop transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity — have shown just how fragile these gains can be. The less friendly political climate, however, is in line with the original Pride marches, which were often protests — not celebrations — in response to the violence and brutality that LGBTQ people faced at the hands of their fellow Americans, police, and the government. It speaks to the mixed nature of LGBTQ Pride Month: It’s a time to celebrate a person’s true identity, but it’s also a time to stake some ground in the ongoing political and cultural battles for equality.
The first march came at a time when Americans were considerably less accepting of LGBTQ people. Back in the 1970s, Gallup found Americans were evenly split on whether homosexuality should be legal in the first place.
That first march, back when the events were known as Gay Pride Marches, took place in New York City in 1970 in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots.
Through the 1960s, it was fairly common for police to raid gay- and transgender-friendly bars. But in June 1969, LGBTQ patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York City decided they had enough and refused to cooperate with police. When police tried to arrest and allegedly mistreated the bar’s customers and employees (including trans women of color), four nights of rioting commenced. Police and protesters were injured, and dozens were arrested.
A year after the riots, the Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee held the first Pride March.
Fred Sargeant, one of the original organizers of the march, recalled his experiences in the Village Voice. The idea, Sargeant explained, was to commemorate the Stonewall Riots and move away from a conservatism that had mired LGBTQ organizations, such as the Mattachine Societies, that led the movement at the time.
Sargeant pointed to one particular situation that inspired him and his partner, Craig Rodwell, to do away with the careful approach: “When Craig returned from Philadelphia [from the 1969 Reminder], he was blistering over an incident: Washington Mattachine’s Frank Kameny told two women holding hands that there would be ‘none of that’ and broke them apart. This physical act confirmed for Craig that we needed something much bigger and bolder than the Mattachine Society.”
Breaking through that conservatism, however, proved to be difficult. The Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee had to negotiate with a dozen small LGBTQ organizations to give everyone a seat at the table, and the committee had to leverage the mailing list Sargeant and Rodwell had built up after they opened one of the nation’s first gay bookstores.
Sargeant recalled the first march as much more of a protest than a celebration. There were thousands of people, but there were no floats, music, or scantily dressed men. Marchers instead carried signs, chanted, and waved to reportedly surprised onlookers.
Nadal said the first march showed society that LGBTQ communities existed and included family members, friends, and neighbors. And it helped encourage other members of the LGBTQ communities to come out and be proud of who they are.
The knowledge and outrage of the Stonewall Riots gave LGBTQ advocates the momentum necessary to turn their cause into a true nationwide movement.
Indiana University sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Suzanna Crage explained that the reaction to the police raid at Stonewall Inn — the riots — resonated with LGBTQ people. After centuries of oppression, they understood why people would feel the need to react violently to yet another sign of discrimination and oppression. The Stonewall Riots, in other words, came at an exact moment in which social dissatisfaction and other political elements converged to push forward a larger LGBTQ movement.
It took just a few years for the movement to spread across the country. On the same year of the first Pride March in New York City, marches also took place in Los Angeles and Chicago. The next year, Dallas, Boston, Milwaukee, and San Jose took part. By 1972, participating locations included Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, the District of Columbia, Miami, and Philadelphia.
As Kameny later described, “By the time of Stonewall, we had 50 to 60 gay groups in the country. A year later there was at least 1500. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was 2500.”
Since then, the LGBTQ movement has grown even further. At first, LGBTQ Pride was typically celebrated on the last Sunday of June as Gay Pride Day or Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day. Over time, that day grew to a month of events for all LGBTQ people.
LGBTQ Pride Marches in the US have become much more celebratory in nature over the decades, with more attendees, participants, and organizations taking part each year in the events.
The election of Trump and a Republican-dominated Congress have also highlighted the potential dangers that a mere change in government can present for LGBTQ rights. The Trump administration, for one, already rescinded an Obama-era guidance that asked public schools to protect transgender students from discrimination, telling schools to let these students use the bathroom and locker room that align with their gender identity.
So Pride events in 2017 have largely become about the resistance to Trump. On June 11, the Equality March for Unity and Pride will make its way through Washington, DC — much like the Women’s March and March for Science did in response to Trump.
But the political activism of Pride isn’t just about Trump. Even before Trump, the US has by and large turned a blind eye to discrimination against LGBTQ people: It’s not explicitly illegal in most states to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and schools. This means that a person can be fired from a job, evicted from a home, kicked out of a business, or denied the correct bathroom facility just because an employer, landlord, business owner, or school principal doesn’t approve of the person’s gender identity.
There are other issues as well. As a few examples, advocates point to LGBTQ youth homelessness, hate crimes, health issues like HIV/AIDS and Syphilis, the unique problems LGBTQ people face in the criminal justice system, and various other disparities.
“We don’t have full equality throughout the nation,” Jim Williams, who worked with New York City Pride, previously told me. “Although we’re very pleased with the progress that’s been made, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Pride Month highlights these issues by giving advocates a chance to rally supporters. The Pride Run, for instance, each year raises funds for a different LGBTQ organization. This year, contributions are going to Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which helps LGBTQ people. In the past, the run supported the Anti-Violence Project, Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS, the It Gets Better Project, the Ali Forney Center, and Immigration Equality.
In New York City, there are also huge historical overtones going back to the Stonewall Riots. New York City Pride, after all, arguably represents the birthplace of the world’s modern LGBTQ rights movement. That’s why march organizers closely follow the advice of the Stonewall 50 Committee, a group that is working toward commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, to stay true to Pride’s original intent.
The celebration of LGBTQ Pride has also spread to many more events than just a march. New York City’s Pride group, for instance, plans to host a public rally, a festival, public dances, and even a family movie night.
Participants “need an opportunity and a place to celebrate, to play, to feel comfortable, to dress how they want to dress, to march with their friends,” Williams said. “There’s something very empowering about walking down New York City streets with crowds of people cheering you on.”
For a comprehensive list, GayPrideCalendar.com tracks all LGBTQ pride events.
If you want to participate in one of the biggest LGBTQ pride events of the year, check the list for New York City, San Francisco, Montreal, London, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Sao Paulo, and Buenos Aires. It can be a lot of fun!