With the onset of June comes an abundance of colors, rainbows slapped on every corner of every website, brands coloring themselves queer in the logos of their social media pages, and launching Pride-themed products, doing everything in their power to capitalize on this occasion. To an unsuspecting onlooker, perhaps Pride means a festival for fostering capitalism and a season-end-sale sort for brands. However, Pride Month has an awe-inspiring and rich history that warrants being privy to, for its significance in our lives is much more than one would imagine.
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The Stonewall Riots
June 28, 1969, became a marker of an age of resistance and protestation against the long-standing inhumane and discriminatory system propped up against the LGBTQIA+ community. On this day, the Police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Such raids of gay bars were common at the time in Manhattan, an area of abundant LGBTQIA+ demographic and culture. Something, however, was different this time. Instead of queues of unresisting customers lined up to be arrested, there was an exhibition of conflict, and the people vocalized their dissent.
The Stonewall riots happened within the framework of more immense civil rights struggles. Activists from the Black Power, feminist, and gay liberation organizations came together at the Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention in 1970, identified common ground, and exchanged ideas.
Throughout the 1980s, the LGBTQIA+ community experienced political and social condemnation, which created the unfriendly political environment that permitted Section 28 to become a law. This law essentially forbade teachers from discussing same-sex relationships in the classroom, compelling them to revert to the closet or lose their jobs and leaving a generation of LGBT individuals with permanent psychological scars.
Newfound Momentum in Activism
One of the many great personalities that arose from the riot was Marsha P Johnson, a young transgender activist. Although there are numerous accounts of how the riot started, Marsha was undoubtedly a front-line participant. According to a story, she threw a shot glass at a mirror to spark the revolt. In another instance, she climbed a pole and threw a large handbag at a police vehicle, smashing the windscreen. Marsha and other young trans women like her spoke up a lot that night because they believed they had nothing to lose. Not merely the cops were the target of their fury. It had to do with the daily intimidation and dread they experienced.
“Darling, I want my gay rights now. I think it’s about time the gay brothers and sisters got their rights … especially the women.” Marsha had said in a rally, which resonated with young queer people across the city, setting ablaze hopes in them of a tolerant world.
Detailing the police raid, Stonewall Riot participant Mark Segal said, “They came on in full force, barging in, slamming people against the wall, shoving people.”
Segal has been involved in several gay rights campaigns since. “In 1970, they didn’t know us. So the whole idea of being out, and proud and loud and in-your-face meant to end invisibility”, he added. Mark Segal was also a part of the Gay Liberation Front and participated in the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March.
Several gay liberation organizations went by the name Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the first of which was established in New York City in 1969, shortly following the Stonewall riots. Similar groups have emerged in Canada, Australia, and the UK.
Several Activists who would later form other organizations, like the LGBT Activists Alliance and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in the US, met at the GLF and used it as a gathering place for the freshly outed and newly radicalized LGBT community. Activists also created a forum for gay liberation and staged protests for homosexual rights in the UK and Canada. Activists from the US and UK organizations would eventually generate or participate in organizations like ACT UP.
'Act Up' was the leading advocacy group working to address the lack of governmental and medical assistance for those with HIV/AIDS. Focus was placed on community action and support due to the prevalence of AIDS in the USA and other nations, as well as the severe lack of political and service support for those living with HIV/AIDS. During this period, lesbians and bi women gave gay and bi men vital support. Other organizations that emerged during this time included the Lesbian Avengers, Queer Nation, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and Stonewall.
The GLF participated in the early planning meetings for the first Pride, which was held on June 28, 1970, in New York City, one year after the Stonewall riots, and was then known as the Christopher Street Day Parade.
Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March
The first-ever Pride march or parade was held on June 28, 1970, to commemorate the Stonewall riots. The CSLD Committee planned it under the name Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March.
Since then, Pride celebrations have been held in the first four American cities on the final weekend in June. Holding a protest for the rights of LGBT people in the summer has become a global custom. Berlin hosted the inaugural Christopher Street Day march in Germany that year; earlier parades went by various titles. The first known LGBT march in Germany occurred on April 29, 1972, in Münster. On June 24, 1978, Zürich hosted the first march in Switzerland, which was commemorated as "Christopher Street Liberation Memorial Day."
The Christopher Street Day Parade usually includes walking groups, which typically consist of members of LGBTQIA+ organizations. It is also common to see a lot of men and women dressed gloriously or as drag queens. The procession often has an energetic, joyful, and thrilling atmosphere. In many places, there are days or sometimes entire weeks of street festivals and cultural activities involving artists, political events, talks, readings, and parties in addition to the Parade and the closing rallies.
While the battle for legal and social equality does not seem to be coming to an end any time soon, the history of queer sufferance and fortitude has unarguably laid the foundation for the life we now lead and the one we dare to dream of.
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