Happy Anniversary for 50 years of PRIDE for the LGBTQ+ community! It’s time to celebrate, a time for parties, parades and rainbow-themed gear of all kinds. But it’s also a time for deep reflection and appreciation for the people and events that moved us to this 50-year mark. It hasn’t been all unicorns and glitter! It’s been cycles of resistance, sweat and tears as well as joy for forward movement in a struggle for LGBTQ+ civil rights. It began one night at the Stonewall Inn when members of the LGBTQ+ community finally rose up in a demand for equality that has now encircled the globe.
We’re Mad as Hell and We Won’t Take it Anymore
In an eternal struggle for power and control, members of so-called “polite society” have always devalued those they considered beneath them. That marginalized group has always included a varied mix of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queers, people of color, women and those with disabilities. Having the least amount of power, as a group they have long been preyed upon in a variety of ways by those who do.
At the time of the uprising, being gay was illegal in New York as well as many other places. Can you imagine a legal entity decreeing that your gender identity, something you’re born with is against the law – like those born with blue eyes, black skin or a club foot? Yet being identified as gay at this time could not only send you to jail, it could end your family, your career or your life.
On June 28, 1969 a riot begun by gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village ignited a fire under the city’s gay community that turned into a unifying moment. The Stonewall Inn sat on Christopher Street near the Cristopher Street wharf. It was a mafia joint owned by the Genovese crime family that trafficked in blackmail and prostitution under owner Ed Murphy. It operated without a liquor license, fire escapes or even running water – dirty glasses were simply rinsed in a tub of water.
But the Inn was a relatively safe haven for gay people, particularly for people of color; drag queens and trans women, for sex workers and homeless youth. It was a place where they could come together and be their authentic selves. While police from the Public Morals Squad would regularly stop by for ID checks to hassle and arrest gay bar patrons, payoffs to the crooked cops allowed the club to continue business as usual, always at the expense of the LGBTQ+ patrons.
On that night, however, the gay community’s pent-up anger and frustration erupted – they declared they were mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore. That night’s raid was the tipping point that galvanized the gay community nationally and is widely acknowledged as the start of the modern gay rights movement.
From Riots to Pride
While details remain lost in the chaos, it was reported that patrons and locals attracted by the commotion were throwing bricks, bottles, Molotov cocktails, even pennies at the police. And when police retreated inside the Inn for protection, the rioters tried to burn it down. It was a full-blown riot!
Despite conflicting information on who threw the first brick or bottle, two trans women of color are always mentioned as important figures in the ongoing call for equality and acceptance that night and in the years following – Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Both were drag queens and known then as transvestites rather than transgender women; today, realizing they identified as women we honor them as such. They co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR).
Rivera, a Latina American who died in 2002, was the vocal, in-your-face activist. Johnson, an African American who died in 1992, was known for her acceptance of everyone. She was always known for the response, “pay it no mind” since she never seemed to let things get to her, also for wearing flowers in her hair. Both women have long been overlooked for their efforts to gain social and economic justice for the LGBTQ+ community and they’re now being honored by a number of businesses and organizations during this 50-year anniversary celebration.
PRIDE Movement Is Launched
As a movement, Pride grew out of the Stonewall Uprising and proclaimed to the world at large that:
- People should be proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity
- Diversity is an important gift
- Sexual orientation and gender identity are inherent
To mark the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, three cities held parades: New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles where members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies marched together in support of gay rights. By the next year the number of Pride Parades began to spread across the U.S. and eventually took on a happier party face. But the root cause still wasn’t fixed, causing many to remain closeted for years.
Real Progress But Far to Go
In 1999 on the thirty-year anniversary of the riots, President Bill Clinton issued Proclamation 7203 marking June as Gay & Lesbian Pride Month and had the National Park Service add the Stonewall Inn as well as “the nearby park and neighborhood streets surrounding it to the National Register of Historic Places.” And when the U.S. Supreme Court passed the Marriage Equality Act on June 26, 2015 there was a groundswell of happiness and gratitude for all the people involved in helping LGBTQ+ people have some real control over their lives.
Then in 2016 President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation that declared that June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month – here was recognition that also included the bisexual and transgender communities. At the same time he designated the Stonewall Inn and its surrounding Christopher Street Park as the first national monument to the reflect the LGBTQ+ struggle for civil rights. He had this to say about it:
“I’m designating the Stonewall National Monument as the newest addition to America’s National Park System. Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights. I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country, the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us. That we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one.”
This was a genuine move toward inclusion, equality and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people. But a horrific hate crime shocked the country on June 12 when a lone gunman killed 53 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This attack came right before the New York City Pride Parade on June 26, tragically showing that there is a long way to go in changing people’s hearts and minds to recognize and accept that people are people and love is love!
This year WorldPride 2019 is holding its celebration at the home of the Stonewall Uprising – New York City. There is a packed schedule of over 50 events throughout the entire month of June that reveal the growth of today’s gay community. There will be NYC’s traditional Pride March and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies featuring headliners like Whoopi Goldberg, Cindi Lauper, Ciara, Toderick Hall and Melissa Etheridge to name just a few. There will also be a human rights conference, arts and cultural events that feature LGBTQ+ film screenings, a Pridefest street party, live music on Pride Island and of course, lots of parties to dance the night away. But there will also be a family-friendly movie night and interactive experiences and entertainment as part of Youth Pride. And the gamechangers of tomorrow will be celebrated as the spirit of Stonewall is commemorated.
And in the Stonewall spirit, the Yankees baseball club, the last Major League Baseball (MLB) club to hold a Pride Night, has finally gone all in this year to honor NYC’s LGBTQ+ community. They have awarded five scholarships to honor graduating high school students, one from each of the City’s five boroughs, who have made important contributions to LGBTQ+ equality. The Yankees-Stonewall Scholars Initiative is to commemorate the Stonewall Riots and on May 22 the Yankee Stonewall recipients were presented their awards in front of the Stonewall Inn by members of the team’s front office, the City’s first lady and Billy Bean, MLB vice president and special assistant to the commissioner. Bean is the first MLB player to come out following his retirement from the game. The students also will be acknowledged on the field at a pre-game ceremony at Yankee Stadium on June 25.
Since this is the only sports reference made so far, you may be wondering where the Sports Diversity Movement comes in. But that’s the largely hidden history of gay sports yet to follow.