Credit: Ian Taylor via Unsplash
Every year, we celebrate Pride Month in June - not to be confused with LGBTQIA+ History Month, which is celebrated in October in Canada, the US, and Australia, February in the UK, and May in Ireland. While LGBTQIA+ History Month focuses on remembering the historical achievements and struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community, Pride Month is often seen as more of a celebration of how far society has come with regards to LGBTQIA+ rights and equalities, although it is crucial to remember that there is still progress to be made. The BBC, for example, has defined Pride Month as "a month dedicated to celebrating the LGBTQIA+ communities all around the world."
With most (but not all) Pride events happening in June, whether in-person or virtually, Pride Month is often the most celebratory time of the year for LGBTQIA+ people and their friends, families, and supporters. However, it can also be a difficult time for those in the LGBTQIA+ community currently facing struggles such as not being able to be out in their community, potentially due to fears of social or even legal repercussions in the '71 jurisdictions [that] criminalise private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity' according to Human Dignity Trust, who describe themselves as 'the only organisation working globally to use strategic litigation to defend the human rights of LGBT people'.
But whether you're an LGBTQIA+ person or a supportive ally, it's important to understand the history behind Pride Month and both the struggles and successes behind it. By recognising the work of those who came before us, we respect their legacies and ensure that we never underestimate the lengths they went to in their fight for freedom - a fight that still, unfortunately, continues today.
Pride Month’s Beginnings: The Stonewall Inn
Today, The Stonewall Inn is still, as the name suggests, an ‘inn’ or tavern with entertainment, its own IPA (Indian Pale Ale - a type of beer), and close links to charities such as The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative. On its website, it describes itself as both the place ‘Where Pride Began’ on ‘one steamy summer night in 1969’ and the place ‘Where Pride Lives’ in the present. But let’s move back to that ‘steamy summer night’ for a moment: the night of the Stonewall Riots.
According to History, the current situation for LGBTQIA+ people in America (and across the world) at that time was frightening, with ‘homosexual acts remain[ing] illegal in every state except Illinois’. The stigma was so severe that ‘bars and restaurants could get shut down for having gay employees or serving gay patrons’. However, many people were still courageous enough to either openly or semi-openly identify as LGBTQIA+ at this time. They could gather at various gay bars and clubs, which ‘were operated by the Mafia’. Unfortunately, this “partnership” was far from ideal, as the Mafia would often ‘blackmail wealthy gay patrons by threatening to “out” them’, but the bars and clubs bravely persisted.
At this time, it was not uncommon for the police to frequently raid these bars. Britannica states that The Stonewall Inn was ‘reportedly operating without a liquor license’, leading to a police raid on June 28th, 1969. At this raid, employees were arrested ‘for selling alcohol without a license’, but the police officers then continued to ‘rough up many...patrons’. In a move that may seem at once horrendously unjust yet also quite bizarre, the police officers also made several arrests of patrons for ‘not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing’ - a criminal statute in New York at the time.
Once the police took the arrested employees and patrons out of The Stonewall Inn, the riots truly began. History suggests that in particular, Stormé DeLarverie, a ‘lesbian activist’, was noticed as she ‘complained that her handcuffs were too tight’, which led to her being further ‘roughed up’ by the police. As noted by TIME, the actual inciting event to the riots is unclear, although it could have also been Tammy Novak, a trans woman ‘who fought back when a policeman tried to push her into a police van’. Nevertheless, the crowd began to fight back against the police, leading to five days of rioting around The Stonewall Inn.
The first actual Pride march was called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March - it was named after the street on which The Stonewall Inn is located. It occurred exactly one year after the Stonewall Riots began on June 28th, 1970, and has led to what we know today as Pride celebrations, Pride marches, and Pride Month.
Beyond Stonewall: How Modern Pride Has Developed
No one can deny that we now live in a much-changed society than the one which witnessed the Stonewall riots - although not all societal change has been positive. However, the LGBTQIA+ community has seen some successes with regards to Pride and gaining equal rights. For example, Pride Month has been officially recognised in the US by several presidents - first by Bill Clinton in 1999 and 2000, and then by Barack Obama between 2009-2016, as well as in a tweet by Donald Trump in 2019.
Other successes for LGBTQIA+ people have involved the legalisation of same-sex relationships as well as marriages (or civil partnerships/unions). The first country to nationally recognise same-sex marriages was the Netherlands in 2000 (with the law coming into effect in 2001), with Belgium following in 2003 and Canada in 2005. More recently, an openly transgender athlete (Laurel Hubbard, a trans woman) from New Zealand has been allowed to qualify for and compete in the Olympics for the first time and historically discriminatory regulations around homosexual men donating blood in the UK have been changed so that everyone will be asked the same questions around sexual activity prior to donating, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
However, there have still been struggles for the LGBTQIA+ community. One major step backwards after Stonewall was the introduction of Section 28 in the UK, which aimed to ‘prohibit the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities’, among other purposes. One of the primary impacts was that teachers would not be able to ‘promote’ homosexuality, with the rather vague wording leading to universal fears around even bringing up the subject. One LGBTQIA+ person who grew up during the Section 28 era told the BBC that he was bullied a lot for being gay, and that ‘there was only one member of staff who ever spoke to me about it, my drama teacher. And I wasn't aware at the time that she could have gotten into trouble just for doing that.’
Fortunately, Section 28 was repealed in 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in the rest of the UK - however, there is still discussion around the aftermath of Section 28 and how it still impacts teaching and the experience of LGBTQIA+ youth in schools in the UK today. As such, modern Pride Month can be seen as a mixed bag of fond and painful memories for LGBTQIA+ people, which is why it is important for friends, families, and allies to support their LGBTQIA+ loved ones during this time. Celebrations can be fun and even cathartic, but giving someone a shoulder to cry on or an ear to vent to (as long as you take care of your own needs and mental health as well) is vital, notably during Pride Month. We, from the Altruist, hope you had an excellent time!