Until the last year or two, I didn’t notice that during June, every corporation, it seems, comes out with an item plastered in rainbow colors and promotes their ‘Pride Line’ and encourages the LGBTQ+ community to be ‘loud and proud.’ Shoe stores are selling rainbow laces and water bottles, and every other ad on Facebook is for a tee-shirt or some other rainbow item of clothing or piece of jewelry. I understand now why breast cancer survivors get so prickly during October when all that pink rolls out.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about purchasing items that show pride and give back to members of the LGBTQ+ community. I think it’s great that companies are partnering with organizations such as GLAAD and The Trevor Project and It Gets Better Project. I have happily forked over my hard earned cash dollars this month to show that not only do I donate to organizations during the year, but I also support their efforts to bring visibility to the LGBTQ+ community during important campaigns. I’ll wear my Pride shirts loud and proud, knowing they helped support people I care about.
But Pride is more than that. It’s more than just rainbow and glitter and parties and parades (it’s all those things too, so we’re clear). And every June when we start recalling the violent past the LGBTQ+ community has, and continues to endure, my heart gets sick.
If you’re new to the history of Pride, here’s a crash course:
Tucked away on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village of Manhattan, The Stonewall Inn was a popular destination for the LGBTQ+ community. Established by members the Mafia in 1967 (see history notes here), the Inn was a place where LGBTQ+ people could openly be themselves and it was one of the few gay clubs in NYC, at that time, that allowed dancing. According to The History Channel, it was a “vital LBTQ institution. For relatively little money, drag queens (who received a bitter reception at other bars), runaways, homeless LGBTQ youths, and others could spend the night and even dance.” It gained in popularity, and the Mafia continued to pay off the Police to avoid the club being raided and to allow a tip-off to occur beforehand when one did to provide time to stash the alcohol or cover up any other illegal activities.
In 1968, NYC wasn’t a safe place for members of the LGBTQ+ community. It was illegal to solicit same-sex relations, and according to The History Channel, “there was a criminal statute that allowed police to arrest people wearing less than three gender-appropriate articles of clothing.” It was up to the arresting officers to decide what was and was not considered gender-appropriate clothing. In addition to police monitoring, the NY Liquor Commission would regularly shut down any establishment that served alcohol to anyone who was known to be LGBTQ+, or suspected to be so. The Commission argued that “the mere gathering of homosexuals was “disorderly,” as reported by The History Channel.
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, without prior warning, the police raided The Stonewall Inn. They found the bar in violation of their liquor license and determined that patrons were violating the gender-appropriate clothing statue. These patrons were subjected to humiliating searches, and female patrons were taken to restrooms where officers took it upon themselves to “check” the biological gender of the patrons. Thirteen arrests were made, which included patrons who didn’t meet the gender-appropriate statutes and employees of the Stonewall Inn.
As the police led the alleged criminals out of the Inn, a riot broke out amongst the angry patrons and neighborhood residents who hadn’t dispersed after the police showed up. They attempted to set the Inn on fire, which the Fire Department was able to get under control, and eventually, the crowd broke up. Protests would continue for five more nights, however, fueled by years of pent-up aggression against and mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community.
During the next year, the Gay Liberation Front (G.L.F.) would organize and they began to plan Christopher Street Liberation Day, which was essentially the first Pride Parade. It took place on June 28, 1970, and it gave LGBTQ people a public voice to demand equal rights and protections for the first time. According to NBC News, the parade started in front of the Stonewall Inn site, with just a few hundred people, and by the time they had marched fifty blocks to Central Park, “the crowd numbered in the thousands.”
In the years after, more parades and demonstrations started cropping up across the country. Both PFLAG and the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which was formed in 1987, began holding parades during the height of the Aids epidemic in the 1980s. In 1991, Pride became a celebration of queer life and sexuality, in addition to (not in replacement of) a political and social demonstration and took the form we are most familiar with today.
Fifty years later, LGBTQ+ people are still fighting for equal rights and protections. Violence is still a real concern, especially in the transgender community. So far in 2019, ten transgender people have been violently killed; twenty-six were violently killed in 2018, most of which were transgender women of color. These are the ones we know about. The statistics don’t account for transgender people whose deaths were incorrectly reported or who hadn’t come out.
This is the world we live in; the one in which my sons navigate every day. I try not to, but I have an anxiety attack at least once a week around the idea that I am going to outlive my sons. Both of my sons suffer from depression and suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24. LGBTQ+ youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. That moves my oldest son out of the “high risk” category, but his battle with mental illness and the fact that he is gay makes him high risk and a target for violence. My youngest son still falls into that statistical range and as a transgender male, his risk as a target for violence increases substantially, but not as much as a transgender woman.
I’m told not to think about it too much. “They’ll be fine,” or “You have nothing to worry about,” or “Why are you making trouble where there’s none to be had?” My favorite is, “There’s no use in stressing about things you can’t control.” That last one has some truth behind it, but I can’t help it. Some days it feels like we’ve come so far, and other days it feels like we are moving backward. I long for the day when Pride Month celebrates an end to the bullying and homophobia and transphobia and LGBTQ+ hate crimes.
Pride celebrates how strong the LGBTQ+ community is, and how far they have come in their fight for equality. As we remember the lives lost and the tragedies that have allowed us to get to this point, let’s continue to hope for a brighter tomorrow. One where all people are equal, no matter who they are or who they love.