In communities across the country, June marks Pride Month, a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ identity and recognize past and ongoing struggles. Festive pride parades are a staple of the month, often filled with floats, music, and dancing. But the origins of Pride were in protest that traces back 50 years.
The start of the modern LGBTQ+ movement is usually dated to the early hours of June 28, 1969 when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Raids of gay bars were not unusual—the police regularly raided them for serving alcohol without a license (gay bars frequently lost their license or were not given one) and arrested patrons for violating laws against crossdressing and sodomy, which included anatomical inspection.
At the time, homosexuality was considered a crime and LGBTQ+ people could be arrested for dancing together or wearing clothing that was not deemed gender-appropriate. In the early morning of June 28, police entered with a warrant and started to arrest people in the bar. Handcuffed patrons were brought outside to wait for the police car to arrive, but in the mean time they drew a crowd outside the bar, which started fighting back against the police, escalating into a riot between police and protestors that lasted several days.
Among the first people to resist the police were two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who were often overlooked in the narrative of the LGBTQ+ movement and will be honored with a statue in New York—the first permanent, public monument honoring transgender women.
A few months after the Stonewall riots, activists Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Brody, and Linda Rhodes proposed at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) that a march be held in New York to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the raid and protests. When the planning committee was looking for a slogan, they considered “Gay Power” but committee member L. Craig Schoonmaker thought gay people lacked power to create change and suggested “Gay Pride” instead. The phrase stuck and has been used since.
The Christopher Street Liberation Day March (named for the street where the Stonewall Inn is located) took place in June of 1970, one year after the Stonewall raid. It was a somber event, void of the floats and music that characterize Pride parades today. What started as a march of hundreds swelled to one of thousands and was accompanied by major marches in Chicago and Los Angeles as well. Pride became a theme of the marches with signs that read “Say it loud, gay is proud.”
While the gay rights movement did not start with the Stonewall riots, the protests were a tipping point that brought wider attention and unity around LGBTQ+ issues. By the 1980s, Pride celebrations were occurring in many major cities in the US and around the world. This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which serves as a reminder of the progress that has been made and the work still left to be done.
The Pride Portland parade is this Saturday. This year’s theme is Resist. Remember. Rejoice. Join the ACLU of Maine in celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and raising awareness for the challenges that still exist. Lineup will take place on Preble St. between Cumberland and Congress. Look for the blue flags with rainbow hearts.