Pride History: From Protests to Parades
Well, June is upon us and brings with it the celebration of Pride Month!
June marks the start of most of this year’s Pride parades.
So today we are looking at Pride History, from protests to parades.
Pride parades are extravagant celebrations held in cities all over the United States (and worldwide) to celebrate the true beginnings of the LGBTQIA+ Rights Movement.
People of every sexual orientation gather together.
Rejoicing in what has been accomplished for the LGBT community.
As well as showing that the fight for equality is far from over.
What Are Pride Parades like?
These parades or festivals last all weekend long and include peaceful marches, musical performances, dancers and floats. They have dedications to those who were lost to AIDS and anti-LGBTQIA+ violence. There’s usually a political stage, where activists can talk openly and freely about what still needs to be done for LGBTQIA+ equality. Those that attend are free to relish in their own sexuality. Free from judgment, to show just how proud they are to be themselves.
Usually, in the larger and more accepting cities, these colorful parades and festivals are exhilarating and full of amusement from start to finish. And just like every rights movement, Pride has a history.
So, where did Pride get its start? What kind of story does that history tell? Hate to break it to you, but it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows like it is now. In fact, Pride stems from a much darker place, filled with injustice, harassment, and a need for radical activism. Here’s a little background on how Pride went from protests to celebratory parades.
The Stonewall Riots:
The morning of June 28, 1969 was only a few hours old when a huge riot between patrons and police broke out in the Greenwich Village of New York outside of a popular gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. It was meant to be a ‘safe haven’ for LGBTQIA+ people. However, it wasn’t the first time the establishment had trouble with police interference. The bar was suspected to be operating without a liquor license. This gave police the initial reason to enter the building.
Like many other states at the time, (all of them except Illinois, actually) it was illegal in New York to solicit same-sex relations. This made the gay bars and clubs in the area the only relatively safe place for these people to be themselves and interact. It also caused them to be targeted for police harassment.
During this raid and the ones prior, police arrested the staff for selling liquor without a license, proceeded to harass the customers as well as arrest anyone who was wearing less than three pieces of gender-appropriate clothing– a criminal statute in the state of New York at the time.
This time, they fought back.
For reasons unbeknownst to those present on that night, enough was finally enough. Hundreds of people outside the Stonewall Inn fought back against the police injustice. They protested and threw bottles and debris. More and more bar patrons were shoved into the back of police vans. The officers on sight didn’t know what to do.
This was the first time the officers had encountered such a rebellion from the gay community. The police barricaded themselves within the bar and called for backup. The rioters were so forceful, they broke through the barricade a handful of times. The bar was lit aflame, eventually causing the crowd to disperse.
Although the sun was out and June 28 was in full effect, protests continued on throughout the next three days. Other protests had taken place in the gay community. However, Stonewall is considered to be the first time gay, lesbian, and transgendered people came together under one uniting force to combat against police harassment and social discrimination. Once news of the riot spread, organizations such as the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) and the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), began to form.
After the Stonewall Riot, it was clear to the LGBT community that they couldn’t ask for equality, they had to demand it. The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was formed after three days of protests sparked from the initial Stonewall Riot. The members sought allies in other radical groups, such as the Black Panthers and anti-war movements. Asking the LGBT community to “come out of the closet and into the streets”. They were the first group to embrace the word, “gay,” and thought that working with other oppressed groups could help “restructure American Society”. Their mission stated that they were:
“a revolutionary homosexual group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished. We reject society’s attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature . . . Babylon has forced us to commit ourselves to one thing . . . revolution.”
Smaller groups under the GLF formed all over the country and even internationally. But as time went on, certain members and groups wanted to refocus. Some felt the GLF needed to devote all of their energy into LGBT issues, causing the formation of other groups, like Radical Lesbians and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA).
The GAA formed as a single-issue organization, defining itself as “exclusively devoted to the liberation of homosexuals and avoids involvement in any program of action not obviously relevant to homosexuals.”
They would hold protests referred to as “zaps”. These would disrupt city officials and representatives during meetings to convince them to take a pro-gay stance and end job discrimination and police harassment in the hopes of catching media attention. Although the two groups differed on their focus, the GAA and GLF worked together on projects. Such as the protest against the American Psychiatric Association, which claimed homosexuality was a mental disease.
A year after the Stonewall Riot, the GAA, the GLF, and other organized groups came together to form a march. One which marked the anniversary of the infamous night the LGBT community finally fought back against their oppressors. Thousands advanced through the streets of New York into Central Park to commemorate the rebellion, later being regarded as “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day” and the first Gay Pride Parade.
Although many of the groups involved did not see eye to eye on how to achieve the equality they rightly deserved, they united because they were still fighting for the same voice. They marched together, proud to show their true selves and that they weren’t ashamed.
As the years went on, more and more cities across the globe started having their own Gay Pride celebrations. By 1978, the movement finally adopted the symbol we’ve come to know and love: the rainbow flag. Gilbert Baker, an artist in San Francisco originally designed it to have eight stripes, instead of the six stripes we see today.
Baker thought the rainbow was the perfect representation for the LGBT community. Rainbows occur naturally, are easily understood by people of all ages and cultures, and shows diversity. Plus, each color has a different meaning.
Pink represented sexuality; red represented life; orange stood for healing; yellow meant the sun; green was nature; blue represented art; indigo stood for harmony; and finally, violet represented spirit.
The six-color flag came out a year later before the 1979 Pride Parades. They removed the pink and indigo because the pink fabric was hard to find and the committee wanted an even number of stripes. For the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Baker made a mile-long flag, officially making the rainbow an international symbol for LGBT rights.
Every year, Pride continues to grow. The parades get bigger, the community gets closer, the message gets louder, and the people get prouder. Whether you’re gay, straight, bi, transgendered, queer, or you aren’t even sure yet, believing in Pride means strengthening the movement towards acceptance and equality for all humans. Be proud to be you.
We hope you enjoyed our Pride history lesson, please feel free to share it with your loved ones. It’s also important to be a good ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, so freshen up your allyship skills today.