June has become known as Pride month, and every June, numerous Pride marches and parades are held in many countries around the world. As June draws to a close, we also commemorate the Stonewall demonstrations that took place in the early hours of 28 June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City.
While most Pride parades are characterised by outrageous colourful floats, extravagant costumes and a fun-filled march along streets lined by enthusiastic onlookers, it’s easy to forget that the march that started it all was a different kettle of fish entirely.
Lead by a number of people who would later become known as prominent LGBT rights activists and advocates for equality – among them, the self-identified drag queen who later also became an outspoken AIDS activist, Marsha P. Johnson – the Stonewall uprising was a series of spontaneous and often violent marches and demonstrations, protesting the anti-gay legislation of the time, and the crackdown on spaces where people could be open about their sexuality.
The Stonewall riots were a long time coming, with homosexuality still a criminal offence and listed psychiatric disorder in the United States and many other countries at the time. When a New York City gay bar was raided by police, the powder keg was lit, and the modern gay rights liberation movement was born.
Even though the Stonewall Inn was a mafia-owned bar that sold bootlegged liquor and was known for being unsanitary, a police raid on a bar that the LGBT community considered one of very few places of refuge where they could be safe from public harassment lead to four days of clashes with police, and eventually to the very first Pride parade in the US.
Christopher Street Liberation Day was held to mark the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and simultaneous Gay Pride marches were held in Los Angeles and Chicago. In 1971, additional Gay Pride Marches were held in Milwaukee, Boston and Dallas, and LGBT activists in West Berlin, Stockholm, Paris and London added their voices to the call for equal rights.
Fifteen more countries held Pride parades before South Africa’s first Pride was held in Johannesburg in 1990, and in the years that have followed, Pride has spread across the world. This year, Antarctica notably had its first-ever Pride celebrations, and every year the number of participating countries, cities and towns grows.
People often ask whether it is still necessary to march for equality when the world seems to be more accepting of the LGBTQI+ community than it has ever been before. I’ll leave it up to another accidental activist, and Ireland’s foremost “gender discombobulist”, Panti Bliss, to explain how the smallest things can sometimes be political statements in themselves, and why we must remember those that came before us, while not forgetting that we are paving the way for those that come after we are gone.
Keep on flying the flag of Pride wherever you are, and despite the privilege you have, as that is still not the case everywhere in the world. Happy Pride Month!