What is Pride, and Why Do We Celebrate it?
Welcome to the month of June, or as we in the LGBTQ and ally community call it (oh and the former White House, too): Pride Month. For many, it’s a month of marches, rainbow flags, glitter, singing, dancing, and radical forms of self-expression. You would be hard pressed to find a more exciting month of the year. Of course, June wasn’t always Pride Month. It had a more mundane iteration, before June 28th, 1969…
Pride is History: In order to understand how we got here, it’s important to know where we’ve been. Historically, Pride began on June 28th, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. Prior to this moment in time, and throughout the 1960s, being LGBTQ in the U.S. was a crime. This was an era when homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder, religious institutions openly condemned LGBTQ people, and anti-sodomy laws were enacted and used to target and incarcerate members of the community. In fact, New York City — home of the largest U.S. population of LGBTQ people — created special police vice squads to raid gay establishments and entrap gay men.
In the early hours of that fateful day in June, however, patrons of the Stonewall Inn resisted what was supposed to be a routine police raid. Roughly handcuffed, the arrested waited outside for police wagons to transport them to the station. In the interim, a gathering crowd of witnesses formed, and tensions erupted into action when a lesbian, complaining about her tight handcuffs, was beaten with a billy club and thrown into a police wagon. What resulted were several days of rioting: wagons were overturned, windows smashed, police outnumbered and trapped, garbage fires lit… That night, the LGBTQ community made a stand, and that stand was the beginning of a revolution.
Pride is Civil Rights: After the riots, word of mouth and media coverage quickly spread, and a sense of urgency took hold of the LGBTQ community: the time was now. Established LGBTQ groups increased their protest efforts, while numerous grassroots organizations (e.g.: the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance) took a page out of anti-war and Black Panther playbooks. Such groups formed with a common goal: securing human rights and civil liberties for LGBTQ people. Nothing less would do.
On June 28th, 1970, the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, an assembly called the Christopher Street Liberation Day was held in Greenwich Village. This first event — along with simultaneous marches in Los Angeles and Chicago — was the first LGBTQ Pride march in U.S. history. As the New York Times reported it, participants marched 51 blocks to Central Park and stretched across 15 city blocks as they made their journey.
Pride is a Radical Act of Protest: Over the years numerous cities — in the U.S. and globally — have joined in commemorating the LGBTQ civil rights movement in the month of June by holding a march. We march to remember the struggles that brought us here, and we march as a reminder that we are not done fighting for equal rights. Some Pride marches — as in this moving account — have a moment of silence to remember the millions of lives lost to the AIDS Crisis, violence, and suicide. And while we most certainly celebrate our individuality as well as our community’s achievements, notice that we generally use the word march. At its core, Pride is a protest. Then, as it is now, marching in full view down your city street with pride in your true self, in the face of so much opposition, is a radical act.