Pride Month is usually a time when millions of members of the LGBTQ+ community come together for a month long celebration of love, equality, acceptance and self-pride. In fact, this June marks the 50th anniversary of annual LGBTQ+ Pride traditions. Yet, due to COVID-19, most people across the world have been forced to stay at home for months on end and millions of Americans are jobless and holding on to their businesses for dear life. Now with the recent horrific murder of George Floyd and the following unrest that has spread throughout the country as a result, it has shed only more light on the need for love, and equality, and self-pride for those among us who are marginalized.
There is always so much we can learn from our past and considering the current events in the United States, I think it would be the perfect time to reflect on the history of Pride month. Maybe we can gather some hope and inspiration from those who fought for equality and the right to live and love freely back in June of 1969? Let’s break down the important events that took place starting with the initial events in Manhattan.
What Events Led to Pride Month?
It is hard to believe, but during the 1960’s, there was a Public Morals Division in New York City that enforced all laws for vice and gambling, including prostitution, narcotics and homosexuality. Police officers could legally raid gay bars and arrest patrons as well as force them into hospitalization to get “treatment”.
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, one such raid took place at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Eight officers from the New York City’s Public Morals Division attempted to make a number of arrests but this time, the bar patrons decided to fight back. More and more patrons and bystanders from neighboring bars joined the fight until it reached the point where hundreds of people resisted arrest and fought together to combat the police.
After years of being arrested and harassed by authorities, this particular raid was the tipping point for the New York gay community and it quickly escalated into days of riots and protests. The uprising became a catalyst for an emerging gay rights movement whose members became the voice of the LGBTQ+ community. A year after the Stonewall riots, the nation's first Gay Pride marches were held. Thus began, Pride Month.
There were an estimated 3-5,000 protesters at the inaugural Pride in New York City, and today NYC marchers number in the millions. Since that day, the LGBTQ+ community has continued to fight for equal rights and the respect for all people under the sun.
The uprising at Stonewall was a monumental moment that changed the way gay rights would be seen in the united states. Though it originally occurred on a single day, it eventually became a month-long celebration of events, parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts. LGBTQ Pride Month events attract millions of participants from around the world.
Especially for those opposed to the protests, it may be helpful to remember that we have been here before. Throughout history, fire has been needed to cleanse an old forest, so a Phoenix may rise out of the ashes. Events rife with upheaval, chaos, and destruction have often given birth to genuine progress and change. It is vital to understand that Pride Month represents a time where riots and protests created awareness of deep-seated issues and energized people to exit their comfort zones to create lasting change. So as the people protest and the fires burn in many cities like Minneapolis, Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York, it feels like a rekindling of the fire that was lit in 1978 from which we cannot only draw lessons, but derive a powerful sense of clarity.
Lessons We Can Use
Considering these battles for equality have been going on for centuries, some may feel overwhelmed and hopeless that change will never come. But considering what we’ve already achieved, with the help of none other than our own communities, it should give us some hope that with time - things do change - if we’re willing to go the extra mile. That is not to say we should rest on our heels and grow complacent, but rather it should galvanize us to remain inspired to keep fighting for what is right.
Until next time,
~Dr. Alexes Hazen