The Gay Pride celebrations commemorate the Stonewall riots, which began in the early hours of June 28, 1969, after police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighbourhood.
In the early morning hours of Saturday, nine policemen entered the Stonewall Inn, arrested the employees for selling alcohol without a license, roughed up many of its patrons and cleared the bar. They also took several people into custody in accordance with a New York criminal statute, which authorized the arrest of anyone not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing. It was the third such raid on Greenwich Village gay bars in a short period.
At the time, homosexual acts remained illegal in every state in America, except Illinois, and bars and restaurants could be shut down for having gay employees or serving gay patrons, even cross dressing was considered illegal. Laws criminalizing cross-dressing had spread across the United States in the mid-19th century and New York’s, dating back to 1845, was one of the oldest. It declared it a crime to have your “face painted, discolored, covered, or concealed, or [be] otherwise disguised… [while] in a road or public highway.” The state originally intended the law to punish rural farmers, who had taken to dressing like Native Americans to fight off tax collectors.
Gay bars were places of refuge where gay men, lesbians and other individuals, who were considered sexually suspect, could socialize in relative safety from public harassment. In the 60s most gay bars and clubs in New York, including the Stonewall, were operated by the Mafia, who paid corruptible police officers to look the other way and blackmailed wealthy gay patrons by threatening to “out” them.
Nevertheless, police raids on gay bars were common, but on that particular night, members of the city’s gay community decided to fight back, sparking an uprising that would launch a new era of resistance and public acceptance.
The N.Y. State Liquor Authority did not give out licenses to establishments that served gay patrons, but despite being paid off to ignore this offense, that night police officers entered the bar with a warrant and started to arrest people, making them wait outside the bar handcuffed. This drew a crowd and one woman in handcuffs was hit over the head by an officer. She pleaded with the crowd to “do something.” The people hanging around outside the bar did not retreat or scatter, as they had done in the past. Their anger was apparent and loud. They jeered and jostled the police and threw bottles and debris at them. Accustomed to more passive behaviour, even from larger gay groups, the policemen called for reinforcements and barricaded themselves inside the bar, while an estimated 400 people rioted outside. The police barricade was repeatedly breached, and the bar was set on fire. Police reinforcements arrived in time to extinguish the flames, and the crowd was eventually dispersed.
Rioting continued outside the Stonewall Inn for several more days and although there had been other protests by gay groups, the Stonewall incident was perhaps the first time lesbians, gays, and transgender people, saw the value in uniting behind a common cause. Occurring as it did at the same time as the rise of the empowering civil rights and feminist movements, the Stonewall riots became a galvanizing force for the community.
Stonewall soon became a symbol of resistance to social and political discrimination that would inspire solidarity among homosexual groups for decades. Although the Stonewall riots cannot be said to have initiated the gay rights movement as such, it did serve as a catalyst for a new generation of political activism. Acceptance and respect from the establishment were no longer being humbly requested but angrily demanded. The broad-based radical activism of many gay men and lesbians in the 1970s eventually set into motion a new, nondiscriminatory trend in government policies and helped educate society.
In 1999 the U.S. National Park Service placed the Stonewall Inn on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2016 Pres. Barack Obama designated the site of the Stonewall uprising a national monument, including the Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park, and the surrounding streets and sidewalks.
In 2019, shortly before the 50th anniversary of the riots, New York City’s police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, issued an apology on behalf of the police department saying,
“The actions taken by the N.Y.P.D. were wrong—plain and simple.”
Before the Stonewall riots, LGBTQ+ individuals had generally not broadcast their sexual orientation or identity for fear of harassment and arrest. But five months after the riots, a group of men and women activists proposed a resolution at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations, in Philadelphia. They proposed that an annual march should be held in New York City to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the raid on the last Saturday in June, with “no dress or age regulations.”
When organizers were looking for a slogan for the event, a member of the planning committee, L. Craig Schoonmaker, suggested “Pride.” The idea of “Gay Power” was thrown around as well, but Schoonmaker argued that while gay individuals lacked power, one thing they did have was pride. The official chant for the march became: “Say it loud, gay is proud.”
In 1970, on the first anniversary of the riots, several hundred demonstrators marched along Greenwich Village’s Christopher Street, which runs past the Stonewall Inn, and this is considered to be the first Gay Pride march. Planning the first New York parade was no easy task and it took months of planning and over a dozen LGBTQ+ rights groups were involved.
In 1978, what is perhaps the most-recognized symbol of Gay Pride made its debut at June 25 th San Francisco event: the rainbow flag. The flag, which had eight colours, was designed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker. Sexuality was symbolized by hot pink, life by red, healing by orange, the Sun by yellow, nature by green, art by blue, harmony by indigo, and spirit by violet. Led by Baker, thirty volunteers gathered at the Gay Community Center in San Francisco to hand-dye and stitch rainbow flags for the parade, two of which were later hung in the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco, to highlight the acceptance and equality of sexual and gender minorities as both a global struggle and a matter of civil rights.
Since its inception, Baker’s flag has undergone numerous revisions, but all variations maintain the rainbow scheme. In 1979, in part because of the unavailability of some of the fabric colours, a six-colour flag, which is in common use today, was adopted.
The contemporary, mass-produced version of the flag which is included in the MoMA collection, celebrates the accessibility and worldwide adoption of this masterpiece of design. Two weeks after its formal entry into MoMA’s collection, the rainbow flag was hung for the first time in the Museum’s galleries on June 26, 2015, the same day that the US Supreme Court made its historic decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all states. The rainbow flag continues to stand as a powerful and evocative symbol of acceptance, community, diversity.
Brenda Howard, who is known as the "Mother of Pride" for her work in coordinating the first Gay Pride march, was born in the Bronx to a Jewish family. She was a qualified nurse and activist in the movement against the Vietnam War. Like many other women in the US anti-war movement at the time, Howard became critical of its domination by men, and she soon became involved in the feminist movement as well. A militant activist, she participated in gay rights actions for over three decades. She also originated the idea for a week-long series of events around the Pride march, which became the genesis of the annual LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations that are now held around the world every June.
Early Gay Pride events were sparsely attended and encountered protests, particularly because of the outlandish costumes that some people wore. The Pride events generally focused on participants’ being proud to be out of the closet, on individual freedom, and on the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. However, by the 1980s, especially after the spread of AIDS, political and social activism had become central to Pride events, and many of the marchers carried placards that focused on the social issues of the day.
As acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community increased among the straight community, politicians sympathetic to the views of the LGBTQ+ community and gay-friendly businesses and corporations began participating in the marches. The total number of people participating, both gay and straight, mushroomed, and Pride events spread worldwide, including cities where they sometimes encountered stiff resistance, such as in Jerusalem, Moscow, and Warsaw.
The official theme for New York City Pride this year is The Fight Continues and the movement has evolved over the last few years to be ever more inclusive.
In June 2017, the current co-chair of of New York City Pride, Sue Doster, spoke to journalist Ari Shapiro, at the US National Public Radio, about what "Pride" should be and where the LGBTQ+ movement needs to go in the future.
Sue has been a community and Pride organizer for over 25 years and she says that lesbians and trans people, in the very early days of the movement, were invisible. They were pushed to the side and not represented.
"There were a number of groups that I belonged to at the time, going back a quarter of a century, where I was one of only a handful of lesbians on the board, as opposed to the men in the position. Typically white men made up the vast majority of leadership in these organizations."
She says that this is changing, but that it is a slow process and that it is vital to make sure that every community, which is included now in the 1 LGBTQIA+ acronym, must be represented at the highest levels of leadership.
"Sometimes social justice can move glacially slowly, but that's how lasting change happens."
In 2019, over five million people came to New York City to celebrate World Pride. To this day, SF, NYC and Chicago continue to honor the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, always having their parade on the last weekend in June. Hundreds of other cities worldwide have created their own Pride Parades, including a few countries, like Pakistan, where same-sex sexual contact is still illegal.
If you are able to travel this gay pride calendar gives the full round-up of some of the biggest and best upcoming LGBTQIA+ Pride celebrations across Europe, USA and beyond in 2021. The calendar covers the biggest Gay Pride events in cities like London, New York and Sao Paulo and emerging Pride events in smaller destinations, as well as a list of which prides are cancelled because of coronavirus.
Note: The LGBTQIA+ denotation includes space for those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (and in some cases, "questioning"), intersex, asexual (and sometimes "ally"), and the "+" is for a plethora of other orientations and identities.
Photos by @vpickering (https://victoriapickering.com/)