Pride Month and its History
Written by Malgorzata
I am sure that by now all of you have noticed that June is the time of Pride month. But how and why did it start? And is the best way of celebrating it by supporting companies that release Pride collections and update their logos to rainbow coloured ones?
Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York is the place where the Stonewall Riots happened. It was a typical mafia-run gay bar that served as a refuge for many members of the LGBTQ+ community including, but not limited to, drag queens, people of colour, and sex workers. Police raids were a very typical thing, but the police officers were easily corrupted, so they would let the bar know if a raid was coming. At that time it was illegal to serve gay people alcohol, therefore the liquor was watered-down and sold for ridiculously high prices. The employees would often blackmail the wealthier customers by threatening to make their orientation known to their families, friends, etc. (PBA)
Everyone was used to the police raids and put up with them. Until June 28th, when one of those raids escalated. In the early morning hours the bar was raided, but what was different was the fact that the bar hadn’t been tipped off this time. Since they didn't have time to prepare, the police found bootlegged alcohol. People were fed up with the police, and rather than just leave the bar and neighborhood they stayed around and more people joined them. It is often said that it was Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera who threw the first brick at Stonewall, but even though it's hard to say who was the first person to resist the police, both have said in later years that they were not the ones. However, it is more than possible that it was Stormé de Laverie who was the first to punch a police officer, which resulted in people throwing bottles and pennies at the police. Throwing objects quickly escalated into a riot, the police barricaded themselves inside the bar, and the crowd tried to set the bar alight. After fire trucks and other police officers arrived to help them, they managed to get the protesters off the streets. The protests continued for the next 6 days.
While Marsha P. Johnson did not start the riots themselves, she did do a lot for the community. Along with Sylvia Rivera, they founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolution, which helped LGBTQ+ youth and fought for transgender rights. Johnson was also later a member of ACT UP - an organization working for the improvement of life of people with AIDS. In 1992 her body was found in the Hudson River and the police quickly dismissed it as suicide, but thanks to Victoria Cruz the case was reopened and remains open to this day. (The Washington Post)
One year after these events, the first Pride parade was organized. A group called Mattachine Society used to organize an event called The Annual Reminder which was meant to bring attention to the struggles of LGBTQ+ citizens. A significant difference between The Annual Reminder and Pride was the question of inclusivity, because at The Annual Reminder the organizer Frank Kameny made sure that the participants appeared in a ‘presentable’ and ‘employable’ way. (Philadelphia Encyclopedia) After the Stonewall riots the idea to move The Annual Reminder to New York came up, but it was decided to organize a different event, without a formal or gender-normative dress code, on the last Sunday in June. It was held not only in New York, but also in L.A., San Francisco, and Chicago. The demonstrations managed to attract a lot of attention, but they did not occur without complications. For example in Los Angeles, they were first supposed to pay $1.5 million, but due to the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union, they did not need to. (History Channel)
Since we owe the actual Pride month and the way that the LGBTQ+ community is perceived today to mostly lower-class members of the community, you do not have to be a genius to figure out that supporting big companies who release pride collections every year as a marketing strategy is not peak activism. Especially when they most often do not do anything to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people throughout the year. Let’s be honest, it is not liberating to wear a shirt that shows support for one marginalized community but was made by someone who works for a ridiculously low wage, in countries where it is often illegal to be gay. And while it might be nice to express yourself this way, especially during this time it is an infinitely better idea to buy these products from actual queer-owned businesses.
PBS. “Why did the mafia own the bar?.”
Brockell, G. “The transgender women at Stonewall were pushed out of the gay rights movement. Now they are getting a statue in New York.” The Washington Post.
Noland, A. “Reminder days.” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.
Holland, B. “How activists plotted the first gay pride parades.” History.
Special Collections Research Center. “Mattachine Society Protest.”