The History Behind Pride Month and Why It’s Still Necessary Today
New York’s 1969 Stonewall Riots
Although many consider the Stonewall Riots the event that birthed Pride Month, it was just one of many LGBTQ protests taking place throughout the United States in the 1960s. Often forgotten, but just as important, was the New Year’s Drag Ball raid in San Francisco in 1965, which occurred several years before the Stonewall Riots. The New Year’s Ball was meant to be a fundraiser for the newly formed Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which was the first organization in the U.S. to use “homosexual” in its name and had a mission of educating religious communities and bringing straight and gay communities together.
Unfortunately, police officers surrounded the building where the ball was to be hosted, intimidating guests with floodlights and cameras so that only 600 of the 1,500 expected guests were brave enough to attend. Later in the evening, police forcibly entered the ball and began arresting attendees for obstruction and lewd conduct. The organizers of the fundraiser ended the event one hour earlier than planned. However, because the event catered to individuals of all orientations and identifications, it was one of the first times that straight San Franciscans were able to see firsthand the abuses that the local LGBTQ community were enduring, resulting in a public outcry. One of the lawyers arrested at the ball, Herb Donaldson, would go on to become San Francisco’s first openly gay judge.
Down the coast in Los Angeles, another protest at The Black Cat tavern occurred just two years later (also preceding the Stonewall Riots) on New Year’s Day 1967. Several plainclothes officers infiltrated the popular gay bar and began beating and arresting patrons as they rang in the New Year. This resulted in a riot in the immediate area that expanded to include a bar called New Faces. Two men arrested for kissing were later convicted and registered as sex offenders. The men appealed, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not accept their case. It was from this event that the publication The Advocate was formed. Other historical LGBTQ protests include the Cooper Do-Nut riot in Los Angeles in 1959 and the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco in 1966.
San Fransisco 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria
The infamous Stonewall riots occurred spontaneously on June 28, 1969, when police attempted to raid the Stonewall Inn, a popular Greenwich Village bar that had become a safehaven to the most maligned in the LGBTQ community, but officers quickly lost control of the situation.
Black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson was instrumental in the protests, with many saying that she incited the uprising by throwing a brick. Johnson later disputed this and said that the riots were already in progress and that police had already set the Stonewall building on fire when she arrived at 2am. Johnson, as well as her friend Sylvia Rivera (a Latinx transgender activist), were instrumental in the burgeoning LGBTQ Civil Rights movement, and together co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (later renamed to the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries), a group dedicated to helping homeless young drag queens and trans women of color.
The Stonewall protests continued for several more nights after the initial raid. In November of that year, it was proposed at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) in Philadelphia to host an annual reminder of the riots on the last weekend in June to increase visibility of the LGBTQ community and show support.
On June 28, 1970, the Christopher Street Liberation Day because the first gay pride march in U.S. history, spanning 51 blocks. A similar march was held in Los Angeles on the same day and a “gay-in” was held in San Francisco. The day before, on June 27, 1970, the Chicago Gay Liberation also organized a march.
The following year, Pride marches took place in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. By 1972, participating cities included Atlanta, Brighton, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington D.C., Miami, and Philadelphia.
Although Pride Month has become a worldwide celebration that has allowed many to express themselves more freely, the need for this visibility and activism is just as great today as it was when these marches were formed almost 50 years ago.
Just last year, it was reported that concentration camps housing LGBTQ individuals were operating in Chechnya, Russia. During this 2018 World Cup, one gay activist was jailed while a gay couple was hospitalized following a beating. Although LGBTQ partnerships are technically legal in Russia, homophobia and similar forms of violence are not considered hate crimes.
Florida Governor Rick Scott recently named June 12, Pulse Remembrance Day, in honor of the 49 lives that were claimed (most of them young people of color) during the Pulse Nightclub terrorist shooting two years ago in Orlando, Florida. Up until that point, Pulse had been a popular gay club in the area. The owners plan to reopen the nightclub in a different location.
So while we enjoy our varied flags and street parades, let us not forget that equal rights for LGBTQ is very much an active fight that needs our constant attention. We must be purposeful about elevating LGBTQ voices, particularly those who face the greatest threat in our societies. We must speak out against injustice when we see it and never allow even the most casual violence (such as calling something that you don’t like “gay”) to go unchallenged. We must continue listening and improving as allies so that all individuals around the world are given the freedom to be out and proud about who they are.