The annual June gay pride parade is getting bigger every year. What was once considered as an event that mostly catered to members of the LGBTQ+ community now draws participants from other groups. Today, people who identify as LGBTQ+ celebrate pride with non-LGBTQ+ advocates such as friends, families, and even public and private organizations. But as much as gay pride is about love and self-acceptance, not everyone knows its history. Few people are aware that this event traces its roots to less festive and more turbulent times. In particular, gay pride emerged as the consequence of the community to finally assert their freedom and equality in the face of oppression.
The LGBTQ+ community’s struggle for freedom and equality dates back further than the 20th century. However, most scholars today agree that gay pride in its current form can be traced to the pivotal Stonewall Inn riots in 1969. Before the 1960s, American society’s attitude towards homosexuality was largely repressive. Not only were their laws that criminalized homosexuality, but gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals were frequent targets for harassment.
Stonewall Inn was a popular club in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. It was considered as a place that welcomed the most marginalized members of the gay community such as drag queens, transgender people, and homeless youth. Clubs like the Stonewall were often raided by police, and gays, lesbians, and transgender people were often arrested for cross-dressing. Such gender non-conforming people were thought of as ill and pathetic. But the raid that occurred on June 28, 1969 was different. This time, the marginalized community decided to fight back. For the next few days, patrons of the Stonewall and their supporters rioted against the abuses, thus sparking a movement that would spread across the country and the rest of the globe.
The Pride Marches and Parades
While the riots ended after a few days, it sparked widespread awareness of the mistreatment gays, lesbians, and other gender non-conforming groups. Stonewall is widely regarded as a watershed moment—an occurrence of extreme importance in the gay liberation movement. Homosexuals and their advocates started gay liberation groups such as the Gay Liberation Front. On June 27-28, 1970, on the first anniversary of the riots, various gay liberation groups held marches in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. Over the years, these marches became more regular and spread across the United States and other countries as well. Cities started organizing their own pride marches and parades. The first events were small and faced considerable backlash. But opposition did not deter such groups. Through bravery and the support of others, these marches and parades grew until they became fixtures of cities anticipated by LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ communities alike. Today, pride parades are held every June around the world and are attended by millions of people. Parades in New York for instance customarily draw millions of participants.
While the first pride parades were organized to commemorate Stonewall, it has also taken on various meanings and purposes over the decades. Perhaps the most prominent of these how pride now stands as an expression of freedom and equality. Having been oppressed for centuries, the LGBTQ+ community and advocates now conduct pride parades to assert their freedom and equality. Furthermore, these prides are held as a celebration of diversity, identity, self-acceptance, achievements, and legal rights among others.
Pride as a Platform Today
Beyond being commemorative and celebratory events, pride parades have also always been a platform for advancing equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community. Despite being joyous and colourful events, prides have always been used as protest against discrimination and repression. They still are. In fact, some of the earlier pride events integrated protests to raise awareness of ill treatment. Many societies have come to embrace LGBTQ+ identities. Victories have been won in many countries, including the right to marry and freedom from discrimination on basis of sex and gender. However, much needs to be done as many LGBTQ+ people still face oppression in many societies. Anti-LGBTQ+ laws, homophobia, stigma, and violence are only some of the myriad issues endured by countless people. While complete equality and freedom are yet to be attained, pride parades will continue to be events for celebration and calling action. As people look forward to future prides, one must always take the time to reflect on how this massive movement was sparked by a group of marginalized people who finally decided to fight back.