Pride, as we know it today, has evolved throughout the years to celebrate the advancements for the rights and equality of LGBTQ+ folks. Understanding the history of Pride in the U.S. can help us illuminate the rich history of those who took part in fighting for their rights.
The Struggle Before Stonewall
Many have credited the Stonewall Riots back in 1969 as the beginning of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. And although the week-long protest that would follow would forever change history, we should also acknowledge previous organizations and demonstrations that would lead up to Stonewall.
Why is it important to keep in mind that Stonewall wasn’t the beginning of the gay liberation movement?
It reduces and eliminates the meaningful influence that prior demonstrations and protests had in the events that occurred during the Stonewall Uprising. Before Stonewall, there was the Cooper’s Donuts Riots (1959), Compton’s Cafeteria (1966), and The Reminder Day Pickets (1965-1969), which all helped set the stage for what would come in 1969.
In addition, it’s crucial to understand both the historical context and political climate of the late 1960s. There were notable sociopolitical movements that existed at the time, which heavily influenced and radicalized the emerging gay liberation movement. Some important movements and organizations included the Black Panther Party, the women’s liberation movement, and the Vietnam War Protests.
Stonewall – A Breaking Point
The events that transpired at the Stonewall Inn are highly contested, and there are several reasons for that. For one, most of what we know about what happened at Stonewall is oral history passed down throughout the decades. When gay acts between consenting adults were virtually illegal in every state, no one wanted to risk being outed by giving interviews or writing statements. Additionally, media portrayals of the events were almost exclusively from police sources.
But here’s what most seem to agree on:
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a group of police officers arrived to shut down the well-known LGBTQ+ bar. The police officers started making arrests, and those who had managed to make it out of the bar began to gather outside on Christopher Street. As police started to load up vans with those they had detained, a struggle broke out. This is the point when things get kind of hazy. There’s heavy debate about who ‘threw the first brick’ and how this struggle began in the first place. But I think that what is most important to remember is how the rebellion was sparked by those who were tired of oppression from both the police and society as a whole. First-hand accounts of the events show just how much of a pivotal moment this clash with the police was in people’s lives.
“I feel like Stonewall was one of the first times everyone said enough is enough, we’re not gonna take it anymore. We’re human beings born to be free. They stood up that night not knowing they stood up for all of us. They stood up because they were tired. They didn’t know they were rebelling for all generations.” – Charles “Valentino” Harris
“When you live a lie, as I was living, you wait for someone to whisper the truth so you can give up the lie, too. That’s so much of how I saw and experienced Stonewall and how I’ve experienced the gay movement.” – Virginia Apuzzo
Additionally, first-hand accounts of the Stonewall riots show how the influences of other notable political movements that addressed police brutality, violence, and normative gender roles, heavily influenced the events that unfolded at Stonewall.
“People were both scared and excited. There was a lot of anger with the cops, it was scary. These were such turbulent times we were living in, between Vietnam and we had Woodstock in the 60s, there was so much going on.” – Joni Sobel
There are several reasons why the Stonewall Riots stand as the turning point of the modern LGBTQ+ movement. Previous demonstrations focused more on somber attire and attitudes, with the idea of appealing to the masses by showing gay people as “presentable and employable.” But after Stonewall, people wanted to memorialize the event differently. In 1970, a year after the Stonewall Uprising, the Christopher Street Liberation Day march (to commemorate the location of the Stonewall Inn) was organized as a way to celebrate out in the open. With the shift in the tone of the march, many more people showed up in support. This change, in turn, led to the creation of what we know today as the Pride marches.
This year’s Pride celebrations in major U.S. cities will be a mix of in-person and virtual events. NYC Pride will hold an array of virtual events from conferences, rallies, family movie nights, and the return of PrideFest with safety protocols. LA Pride will be hosting a free online concert on June 10th on TikTok and a virtual Pride Celebration on TV. Although the COVID pandemic has changed the way we gather and celebrate, there will still be ways to get together and connect globally.
What Can We Do To Advance LGBTQ+ Rights?
There are many ways to get involved in LGBTQ+ non-profits at the national and local levels by volunteering or donating. Below are just some examples of organizations you can get started at.
SAGE – an organization that seeks to protect older LGBTQ+ folks
The Trevor Project – helping end suicide among LGBTQ+ youth
National Center for Transgender Equality – advocates for policy and societal changes revolving around transgender people.
New York City, NY:
A list of BLM organizations to support
A list of non-profits & social organizations
Los Angeles, CA:
Northwest region of the United States:
Southern region of the United States:
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Want to learn more?
Five Trailblazers You Should Know: Pride Edition – National Museum of African American History & Culture
What Is Pride Month and the History of Pride? – them.
An Archivist Explains The Deeply Radical Origins Of Pride – Bustle
The Many Stories of Stonewall – Hyperallergic