The Origins of Pride and the People Behind It
What we know of today as a massive celebration of queerness initially started off as a protest that served as a means to demolish the discrimination that LGBTQ+ people faced, and still do so till this date. Although it has morphed from the radicalised protest that it was in the late- 1960s, Pride Month is still inherently linked with rebellion, the demand for equal rights and recognition, and the process of challenging a system designed to oppress. It is hence essential to learn the history of Pride Month in order to understand the nuances at play, and to understand both how far we have come, and how far we have left to go.
The Stonewall Riots
Stonewall Inn was a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City, where LGBTQ+ people could socialize in a safe space. These specifically queer spaces were extremely important because the commitment of homosexual relations was considered illegal in 1969,
the year of the Riots. Although Stonewall Inn was a safe space for queer people, the police raided the bar on the 28th of June, 1969, on the grounds that the bar did not have a license to sell alcohol. However, instead of simply arresting the proprietors, the police also harmed the patrons of the bar. Furthermore, in accordance with New York law, all those who were not wearing at least three articles of ‘gender- appropriate’ clothing were arrested.
Although raids on gay bars weren’t uncommon, the raid at Stonewall Inn was unique as it was the last straw. Finally, LGBTQ+ people started fighting back. People taunted and yelled at the officers. Eventually the riots escalated to the point that police barricades were repeatedly breached, and the bar was set on fire. Even though the fire was put out soon, the fire that burned within the rioteers wasn’t.
Christopher Street Liberation Day March
Following the riots, members of the LGBTQ+ community found solidarity, and organised a march centred around the theme of Gay Pride in 1970. A small group of marchers set off from Stonewall Inn, making their way to Central Park.
Along the way, they waved banners and protest signs. After reaching the Park, the marchers relaxed, played games, and celebrated their pride.
In the years to come, countries all over the world were holding their own marches to honour the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March. From London and German to Tel Aviv, nations eventually adopted their own version of the march to celebrate queer lives. These marches evolved into Pride Month as we know it today.
The People Behind Pride
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
Marsha P. Johnson was one of the most influential voices of the Stonewall Riots, Gay Liberation Movement, and the historical revolutions that shaped the LGBTQ+ community as we know it. She was a black transwoman, a sex worker, and a keen activist for trans and gay rights, as well as an AIDS activist. Marsha was celebrating her birthday at the Stonewall Inn on the fateful morning of 28th June, 1969. She was one of the first people to start fighting back, and hence had a definite influence on the outcome of the raid at Stonewall Inn.
Following the Gay Liberation Movement, Johnson and her friend Sylvia Rivera founded STAR, an organization that helped protect young transgender people and drag queens. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute was founded in 2015, with the aim of carrying out her goal of protecting and defending the rights of transgender and gender-non-conforming identities and communities.
Sylvia Rivera (1951- 2002)
Sylvia Rivera, along with Marsha P. Johnson, was one of the instigators of the riots at Stonewall Inn. Of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican descent, Sylvia was a transwoman who advocated for trans and gay rights. Sylvia was one of the first onlookers to take action against the police forces at the Stonewall Inn, and insisted on experiencing every minute of the riots.
Rivera often stood for trans people, especially trans people of colour, who were being excluded from queer movements and communities. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project carries her legacy forward with the aim of ensuring that all people are free to determine their gender identity and expression in a safe environment.
Stormé DeLarverie (1920-2014)
Stormé DeLarverie was a gay rights activist, who is best known for (possibly) throwing the first punch during the Stonewall Riots. After the riots, DeLarverie became part of the Stonewall Veteran’s Association, and eventually went on to serve as the vice- president of the organization.
From the 1980s till the late 1990s, DeLarverie patrolled a region in New York City, on the lookout for what she called “ugliness”- that is, any form of bullying or intolerance. She also continued to fight for black and queer lives.
Although we have detailed the stories of only 3 powerful figures, countless others have helped mould the LGBTQ+ community internationally. We believe it is time we honoured the powerful rebels to whom we owe our freedom and the ability to celebrate Pride Month. It is crucial to learn about our roots and history, because it is only when we know of our past, can we successfully shape the future.