A (very) brief history
It’s been 52 years since the Stonewall uprising in New York, when a police raid on a gay bar in Manhattan led to a riot and days of demonstrations that morphed into a sustained LGBT+ liberation movement.
On 28 June 1969, members of the LGBT+ community at the Stonewall Inn in New York stood up to decades of police oppression, sparking a series of events leading to the first ever Pride march through the city. The Gay Liberation Front organised that first march, and its members soon made their way across the pond to London the following year.
But why is Pride still so important?
It’s a question that inevitably comes up each time June rolls around. “Why is being queer something you need to celebrate?”
At face value, it seems like a pretty rational and harmless question, right?
The best way you can assert that your identity is, in fact ok, is to celebrate it, and when we celebrate something, it’s only natural that we take pride in it, but to be honest, Pride is now more necessary than ever. Yes, some parts of our community enjoy certain rights that we were fighting for 50 years ago - but lesbian couples are still being attacked in public, trans people continue to face discrimination and abuse, and LGBT+ people still face injustice globally: it is clear that the fight is not yet won.
Data published by the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA World) shows there are many countries throughout the world that continue to criminalise and oppress LGBT+ people; including 49 countries which punish homosexual acts with imprisonment and 11 countries that use the death penalty against LGBT+ people.
Is the Pride movement inclusive enough?
The first bricks at the Stonewall riots were thrown by Marsha P Johnson, a black trans sex worker, and Sylvia Ray Rivera, a Latina trans sex worker. Yet many seem unaware of the multiracial history of the LGBT+ Pride movement. Activists such as Johnson and Rivera are rarely celebrated; instead, we have the racist Grindr bios (“no rice”), the fetishisation of black sexuality and the violence perpetrated within our own community. That’s why it is so important to expand the rainbow flag that symbolises the all-encompassing nature of Pride to include black and brown stripes.
Once images of the inclusive Pride flag spread online it was inevitable that we would have to read: “Where is the white stripe?” There are ignorant and racist people, no matter what communities you belong to. Until black and brown people feel comfortable in LGBT+ spaces, the flag isn’t inclusive without those stripes. It’s a sign of solidarity. We must continue to do better.
Is it a party or a protest?
Organisers have faced criticism in recent years, including from some who say it’s become far too commercialised, and others who say it’s lost its protesting roots and is too focused on attracting popstars to headline. Personally, I believe it is important that corporate organisations who want to get involved in pride celebrations do so understanding that they have a bigger role to play in the liberation of LGBT+ people. When working with corporate organisations, we need to remind them that putting a rainbow flag on your building is not a substitute for meaningful structural change in their organisations.
Pride is both a celebration and a protest. A celebration of the huge diversity of human gender and sexuality, and of the lives of LGBT+ people, and a protest at the injustice, prejudice and discrimination we face for being part of that minority. So, the feelings are mixed: joy and anger, hope and frustration, excitement and contemplation.
It feels so special, almost magical, because you never get to be surrounded by people who experience life in similar ways to you. It’s about savouring just being together, acknowledging each other, feeling safety and strength in numbers, and sensing what’s truly possible.
What does Pride mean to me?
I now understand pride as a celebration of otherness. To be proud of being queer is to be proud of shattering expectations and norms, and embracing whatever expression, whatever love, we need in order to feel whole. That’s what this month is all about – combating learned, collective shame with its opposite: Pride.
I’ve learned to stop viewing this identity as something fragmented and instead celebrate it for what it is: rich, multifaceted, and something to be truly proud of.
Pride is the vital, gorgeous and frantic celebration at the centre of our revolution. It is about resistance, perseverance and survival, but it is also about connection and queer joy.
Riotous, joyful, colourful. The most pleasant kind of chaos.
So, to all the folks who continue to question why we’re out on the street half-naked and covered in rainbow glitter all through the month of June, I guess I envy your inability to comprehend why we need Pride. I hope you never have to find out for yourself, but love someone who has enough to listen to them, empathise with them, and maybe even help them apply their glitter.