How did Pride get started and what is it all about?

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“Where Pride Began”: Birthplace of the Gay Rights Movement

Fifty-two years ago, on June 28, 1969, an uprising occurred at the Stonewall Inn, located in Greenwich Village, and is widely considered the spark that drove a more powerful movement for LGBTQ+ rights (Walsh 2019). 

The uprising started with a police raid gone wrong. At the time, Stonewall Inn was one of the most popular gay bars in that area of New York since both drinking and dancing occurred within the establishment, both of which were illegal for gay people to participate in at the time. Police raids were frequent, though the police were usually paid off by the owners of the establishment, who were part of a Mafia crime family (“The Birth Place”).

An unexpected police raid came in the early hours of the morning on June 28. Lights were turned on and patrons were forced to line up and have identification ready. The police had to wait for additional patrol cars, and those not being arrested were released. Instead of leaving, those individuals gathered outside the inn and began drawing a crowd. The brewing tension broke when a woman was hit on the head with a billy club by an officer and shoved into a patrol car after complaining that her handcuffs were too tight. Violence broke out as patrons and crowd members chanted and struggled with the police. Bricks and bottles were thrown, and the police barricaded themselves inside the Inn. The protesting went on for two days, though some say it was longer, and at the end 13 people were arrested and four officers were injured (Musto 2015, “The Birth Place”). 

Lasting Impact

One year later on the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the first Pride parade occurred in New York on what was called Christopher Street Liberation Day. The parade began at Stonewall and ended in Central Park. As Pride parades became yearly traditions in June, public visibility for LGBTQ+ people increased along with the momentum of the gay rights movement (Walsh 2019).

Spotlight: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

The crowd at Stonewall was incredibly diverse and included lots of people who faced challenges and discrimination on multiple fronts, including race, homelessness, age, and sexual orientation, and gender identity. People of color, however, made up a significant portion of the crowd and were important leaders in the wider movement sparked after Stonewall. While their exact involvement in the Stonewall uprising is debated, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are two women of color that were deeply connected to the early gay rights movement. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) with a handful of other activists. While the group was short-lived, one of the main accomplishments was establishing STAR House, a home for youth living on the streets because of their sexual orientation or gender identity (Women at the Center 2019).

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(Marsha P. Johnson, left; Sylvia Rivera, right.
Source: New York Historical Society - Women at the Center).

Aside from STAR, Marsha and Syliva advocated for LGBTQ+ rights for decades, including pushing for more inclusion within the movement as they ran into several conflicts with various aspects of the Gay Liberation Front, a collection of acitivist groups at the time, for GLF’s hesitancy to focus on rights for drag queens and transgender individuals (New York Public Library). 

The work continues today. 

There are a variety of issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community today, and one significant issue is violence again transgender women of color. In 2015, the most comprehensive survey to date of transgender individuals in the United States was conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality. The survey revealed that “transgender people of color experience deeper and broader patterns of discrimination” than white transgender individuals, according to the survey’s data. In 2021, the Human Rights Campaign has identified 28 transgender or gendernonconforming individuals who have been violently killed so far, the majority of whom are transgender women of color. In their 2020 report, the HRC identified that 78% of trans victims of violence tracked since 2013 were transgender women of color. Black transgender women in particular were significantly affected as they made up two-thirds of victims tracked by the HRC since 2013. 

HRC notes that these numbers are likely lower than what we can expect given that murders of trans individuals are not always reported accurately and other violent incidents often go unreported. 

LGBTQ+ people, including people of color, continue to experience many forms of discrimination today. The Center for American Progress reports in 2020 that “More than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans.”

For people of color, the complex intersection of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and race/ethnicity can create situations where discrimination is multiplied and experienced on multiple fronts. From Stonewall onward, in June, we take time to acknowledge the hate and discrimination that has been direclty at LGBTQ+ people historically and today. Pride is a celebration of the rights LGBTQ+ people have obtained so far and their identities and the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Take Action

Here are some steps you can take to help end discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, especially people of color who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

  • Learn the terms. What does it mean when someone requests specific pronouns? What kinds of different sexual orientations and gender identities are people identifying themselves with? Understanding the answers to these questions and being educated on terminology preferred by many in the LGBTQ+ community is crucial to respecting others, no matter what kind of identity space they occupy. Check out Human Rights Campaign’s Glossary of Terms  to find the answers you need!

  • Read their stories. You may or may not have been personally impacted by violence against trans people, but we can all build empathy by reading the stories of people who have lost their lives from violence. Human Rights Campaign tells their stories: Fatal Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2021

  • Reflect on how welcoming the spaces you occupy are for people that are different from you or to you personally. How are people of color and/or people from the LGBTQ+ community specified welcomed at your workplace? At local places in your community? In your house of worship or gathering spaces? How can you demonstrate welcome and respect for others?

Sources:

Musto, Michael. “A Stonewall Survivor Spills All.” Out, 24 August 2015. https://www.out.com/michael-musto/2015/8/24/stonewall-survivor-spills-all-it-was-70-people-color

Women at the Center, “Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson: Listen to the Newly Unearthed Interview with Street Transvestite Revolutionaries.” New York Historical Society, 26 June 2019. https://womenatthecenter.nyhistory.org/gay-power-is-trans-history-street-transvestite-action-revolutionaries/

“The Birth Place.” The Stonewall Inn, n.d. https://thestonewallinnnyc.com/the-stonewall-inn-story/2017/4/4/ntmsg5ni7iixxdjimmg16hz6dvsi4v

Walsh, Colleen. “Harvard scholars reflect on the history and legacy of the milestone gay-rights demonstrations triggered by a police raid on a dive bar in Manhattan.” The Harvard Gazette, 27 June 2019. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/06/harvard-scholars -reflect-on-the-history-and-legacy-of-the-stonewall-riots/

“Gay Liberation Front.” New York Public Library, http://web-static.nypl.org/exhibitions/1969/liberation.html

2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, Executive Summary, p. 4 https://transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/Executive%20Summary%20-%20FINAL%201.6.17.pdf

Gruberg, Sharita; Mahowald, Lindsay; Halpin, John. “The State of the LGBTQ Community in 2020.” Center for American Progress, 6 October 2020. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbtq-rights/reports/2020/10/06/491052/state-lgbtq-community-2020/

Human Rights Campaign. “An Epidemic of Violence: Fatal Violence Against Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People in the United States in 2020.”

https://hrc-prod-requests.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/FatalViolence-2020Report-Final.pdf?mtime=20201119101455&focal=none

Human Rights Campaign. “Fatal Violence Against Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Community in 2021.” https://www.hrc.org/resources/fatal-violence-against-the-transgender-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2021