Essentially the riots that took place in 1969 in Lower Manhattan, NY are seen as the beginning of the gay rights liberation movement in the United States, because they set in motion the creation of numerous activist groups and inspired a change in tactics in the fight for equal rights, even though several riots had already taken place several years prior.
The Stonewall Inn, a bar ran by the maffia, was one of the few places where gay were accepted, and the only place where they could dance. Since the bar didn’t have a liquor license, the police would collect a weekly pay-off. Police raids would happen often, management would usually be tipped off, and a specific protocol would be followed: checking everyones ID and arresting crossdressers. After that the police would leave and business would resume as usual.
Marion Aguas
© Marion Aguas
The raid on 28th June 1969 however was unexpected and escalated quickly. A crowd gathered outside and the bystanders reacted to the police making arrests, humiliating them and throwing debris. Reinforcements had to come, and the transvestites wouldn’t go without a fight. The protest continued in the coming days, leaflets were handed out and several police confrontations took place. In 1966 in San Fransisco a smaller but similar riot had already taken place when police raided Compton’s cafeteria, a place many transvestites and drag queens liked to frequent, to arrest any man dressed like a woman. These riots were the beginning of transgender activism in San Francisco. What made the Stonewall riots so famous however, was the amount of participants, the fact that it lasted several days and the media coverage that followed.
Annual demonstrations for gay rights that had happened before that moment in 1969 had always been controlled and peaceful, but that changed after the Stonewall riots. On its first year anniversary the first gay prides were held in NY, LA and Chicago, the following year in several cities in the United States and West-Europe.
This trend has continued and now, 50 years later, pride parades take place almost everywhere around the world. The growing commercialisation of the event inspires critique however, out of fear that the grassroots activism that is at the Pride’s basis has been forgotten. Cities applying for the chance to host a World Pride event need to prove that at least sixty percent of organisations participating are either community, grass-roots or non-corporate groups, in an attempt to control the commercialisation and pink washing - companies put rainbow colours on their products to appeal to LGBTQ+ customers without promoting actual change during the rest of the year.
Biggest Prides on every continent:
North America: NYC Pride, US
South America: Sao Paulo Gay Pride Parade, Brazil
Europe: Madrid Pride, Spain
Asia: Taiwan Pride, Taipei
Middle East: Tel Aviv Pride, Israël
Oceania: Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, Australia
Africa; Johannesburg Pride, South Africa
In a region where same sex relations are punishable by death, Israel and more specifically Tel Aviv is the biggest exception. The attendance to the Pride Parade has been growing steadily and now attracts around 250.000 visitors, with the first parade held over 20 years ago. The city is know for being one of the worlds most gay friendly places and is home to a big LGBTQ+ community. Cohabitation is allowed, and even though the country does not perform same-sex marriages, it recognises marriages performed elsewhere.
Taiwan Pride is the biggest parade in Asia, and one of the most progressive countries in relation to LGBTQ+ rights. Recently a draft bill was submitted by government, if it is passed it will be the first country in Asia after Australia and New Zealand to have a same-sex marriage law and offer same- sex couples similar legal protections as heterosexual ones.
Pink Dot in Singapore is the vent that comes closest to a pride parade. In a country where colonial law is still intact and sex between men remains criminalised under Section 377A of the Penal code, public advocacy for more representation and better rights for LGBTQ+ people is strictly regulated. Only at the Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park, the only free speech site the city offers, events can be organised in support of the community, as long as there are no foreigners present and race or religion aren’t discussed during the protest. Pink Dot is the biggest and most popular event supporting the LGBTQ+ community, taking place every year at the Speakers Corner since 2009.
This year, New York City was the home for the US’ first World Pride, an international celebration in the quest for equality and liberty for the LGBTQ+ community. It was the biggest one to date, with 5 million people present throughout the whole weekend, and 4 million people attending in the Pride Parade. Registration with one of the numerous organisations marching was necessary to participate in the parade, but spectators were allowed to join in at any time in the crowds.
In London similar strategies were used to coordinate the large number of people attending, with pre-registration starting months ahead of the event. In Paris however, anyone could join in on the parade at any moment, and spectators were not separated from the parade by barriers lining the route, as was the case in NY and London. The question remains if these barriers and registration fees were necessary and part of funding for the event, or rather another sign of commercialisation.
In remembrance of the Stonewall Riots the NYPD apologised for their part in the violence that occurred fifty years ago, promising they would know better this time around. The community however didn’t even want police to be present at the event. Whether that’s feasible with an event this big is a question, but the community didn’t trust the NYPD to stand up for LGBTQ+ or BIPOCs (black, indigenous, people of colour) in case a riot broke out, or things would go south. That only proves that matters haven’t really changed at the heart of the issue, and that while the parades should remain a party, it is important to understand their history as well.
Credits: Photos - Marion Aguas (@marionaguas)