So many positive developments have been coming to fruition in the USA the past few years, that it’s difficult for me to find a place to begin this sketch of LGBT Pride month. It’s been quite an adventurous journey from the first Pride march in late June of 1970 up to the present day.
The Mother of Pride, Brenda Howard thought up the idea for a week long celebration around Pride Day, June 28th. She was instrumental in planning and coordinating the first march. The name “Pride” was popularized by Robert Martin and his partner L. Craig Schoonmaker.
The efforts came together on Christopher Street Liberation Day, June 28, 1970. The event marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that began at the Stonewall Inn located on Christopher Street in New York City. The march is known as the very first Gay Pride march in American history.
The marchers walked from Christopher Street to Central Park, a distance of 51 city blocks. There was initial concern by organizers and marchers about openly displaying the signs and symbols of gay pride because of public and police resistance that erupted during the police raid on the Stonewall Inn the year before. The worries were calmed by the positive reaction by the general public along the march route.
Hours later, during the same weekend, activists marched in Los Angeles and there was a “Gay-In” in San Francisco. A year later, there were major liberation and freedom marches in Boston, Dallas, and Milwaukee. The idea caught on in Europe as well. Activists marched the streets in London, Paris, Stockholm, and West Berlin. In 1972, in the U.S., organizers had events in Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.
The sea change started with the energizing image of gays retaliating against police raids and organized criminal extortion of homosexuals by the mob in June of 1969. The retaliation sparked a new, positive attitude among many gay people. The 1969 police raid and resulting reaction did mark the birth of gay pride among the rank and file gay community.
The next few decades saw the mainstreaming of the marches as the grassroots liberation marches were taken over by more conservative organizers. The Liberation and Freedom labels were dropped in favor of “Pride”. The San Francisco community was the last major group to drop Freedom Day Parade in favor of Pride Day Parade in 1994.
As happens so often with social liberation and freedom movements in the west, Pride has become commercialized and trivialized. The trivialization has led to a more complacent attitude by many urban members of the LGBT community. Those people who don’t approve of such complacency point out that there is still much work to be done to combat discrimination, prejudice, and violence against LGBT people.
There is the problem of overt hatred and bigotry in such places as Jamaica, Uganda, and Russia. Not only are LGBT people oppressed in such countries, they are subjected to mayhem and murder with little or no retribution by the authorities.
There are countries where gays and lesbians are sent to concentration camp type areas and/or are executed simply for being gay. Some of the worst nations are Uganda, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, China, Kenya, Nigeria, and Yemen. There are many others that are not quite as radical in their official hatred of LGBT people.
In addition, there are radical governments like that of the West African nation of Gambia, whose president announced a policy of execution of any gay tourists found in his country. He would also kill any hotel owners who allegedly “aid and abet” any LGBT tourists.
On a less massive but personal scale is the suffering of LGBT youth in America and elsewhere who are rejected by their own families and peers. Attention is finally being focused on the problems of anti-gay prejudice, bullying, and youth-suicide in the United States. Some progress is being made in those areas, but much remains to be done.
So, while there has been amazing advances for gay folks in Europe, Canada, and lately, the U.S., there is a mountain of work yet to be done. Perhaps, someday soon, the LGBT community can enjoy widespread Pride everywhere on earth.
Happy Pride Month to everybody.
The Blue Jay of Happiness expresses appreciation to activists and allies associated with the LGBT community.