June 1st marks the beginning of pride month, in which stores put out rainbow displays, corporations make their social media icons rainbow, and businesses might make a donation to LGBTQ+ focused organizations. At least, that’s what it seems Pride month has become. However, looking beyond the centralized view of corporate pride there is the community level of pride. Where cities have parades and festivals where queer people and LGBTQ+ allies gather and celebrate. These celebrations give people a safe space to be out and proud around like minded people. Pride month is also a time to pay homage to the people and events that allow us to be able to celebrate pride month.
Although the Stonewall Uprising was not the beginning of LGBTQ+ liberation, the events changed the nature of queer activism in the United States. In New York until 1966, it was illegal to serve alcohol to a gay person. Laws like this caused many gay bars to operate without a liquor license leaving a door open to police raids. In the early morning on June 28th, 1969, plainclothes officers arrived at Stonewall Inn, the most popular gay bar in the city, with a warrant justifying the raid to investigate the illegal sale of alcohol.
The police interrogated patrons inside and made arrests to the most “obvious” law breakers, including the bartenders and those that were “cross-dressing.” The resistance continued throughout the night until most crowds dispersed around 4am. That wasn’t the end of the uprising though, word of the raid spread and by the evening thousands of protesters gathered at Stonewall. These protests continued into the next week. As Stonewall has become mythologized in history, many have criticized the erasure of lesbians, drag queens, queer youth, and transgender and gender non-conforming people, and their role in the uprising and the political organizing that led to the moment. These individuals and communities were an easy target for the police, because in New York in 1969, it was illegal to wear fewer than three items of “gender-inappropriate” clothing. For example, many eyewitnesses credit Martha P. Johnson, a black drag queen, as one of the main instigators the night of the raid.
The First Pride
The first pride march was held on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Activists formed the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee. The committee defined its aim as holding a march at the culmination of Gay Pride Week (June 22-28). The first Gay Pride Week and march was to give the community a chance to “commemorate the Christopher Street Uprisings of last summer in which thousands of homosexuals went to the streets to demonstrate against centuries of abuse….from government hostility to employment and housing discrimination, Mafia control of Gay bars, and anti-Homosexual laws”(Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee Fliers). From estimates there were three to five thousand people at the first Pride in New York City. Today, marchers in New York number in the millions, not to mention the Pride Marches all over the United States.
The Stonewall Uprising was a start to pride as we experience it today, but there was, and still is, plenty of work to do for gay liberation. People of color, women, and trans people were marginalized from the mainstream gay rights movement. Many breaking off to form their own organizations, and people of color working in separate movements for racial justice and civil rights. Today there are many world wide organizations that continue to fight for equality in the LGBTQ+ community. The Human Rights Campaign is one of the biggest, campaigning and providing resources for the LGBTQ+ community in their fight for equality. It is important to remember that while some laws today protect LGBTQ+ people from being arrested just for being queer, the fight for quality is not over. The gays, lesbians, drag queens, transgender and gender non-comforming peple at Stonewall started a movement and until there truly is equality for all the movement continues.