Each year in June gays and lesbians prance and parade to celebrate Gay Pride Month. The history of Gay Pride Celebrations began in 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York City at the Stonewall Inn.
At the time, it was common all over the United States for police to raid gay and lesbian bars. While they were purportedly looking for liquor law or other violations, patrons were arrested and dragged off to jail with no legitimate charges. The names of those arrested were often published in the papers and many of those people were fired from their jobs as a result.
In 1969 bars were about the only places gays and lesbians could gather in public. Most times, when the police would raid a bar, the gay and lesbian
clientele would try to slip out the back or cower in the corners.
The Stonewall Riots
But on the night of June 27th, 1969 something different happened. When police raided the Stonewall Inn, the butch lesbians and drag queens fought back. The bar patrons threw bottles and rocks at the police. They chanted, “Gay Power!” For several nights crowds grew outside the Stonewall Inn.
Word quickly spread around the country about the gay people who fought back against the police. The event became known as the Stonewall Rebellion or Stonewall Riots. Although there was a small gay rights movement around the country prior to Stonewall, after 1969 the movement changed.
The 1960s was a time of revolution. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and people took to the streets to protest the war in Vietnam. It was only a matter of time before gays and lesbians stood up for their rights as well.
Ever since, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people celebrate pride and call for basic civil rights by commemorating Stonewall. In New York City they march on the last Saturday in June. Across the US and all over the world, gays and lesbians remember the brave men and women of Stonewall every June in Gay Pride celebrations.
Advocates of gay pride have used history to point to oppression as well as differing levels of acceptance of homosexuality throughout history. The ancient Greeks did not conceive of sexual orientation as a social identifier, as Western societies have done for the past century. Greek society did not distinguish sexual desire or behavior by the gender of the participants, but by the extent to which such desire or behavior conformed to social norms. These norms were based on gender, age and social status. “Lesbian” derives from the name of the island of Lesbos, which was famous for the poet Sappho, who wrote love poetry to female lovers. Homosexuality in the ancient Roman Empire is considered to have been widespread but was tempered by the complex social systems of the society.
During Medieval times all forms of sexuality began to be repressed by the church as the idea of heaven and hell gained popularity. As technology fell behind simple luxuries such as clean running water and proper sewage became a thing of the past. This caused horrible conditions and disease. People began to believe that they were suffering from the wrath of God, blaming immorality. Any and all forms of homosexuality became not only shameful but punishable by death.
19th century movement in Germany
At the turn of the century in Germany there was an early gay rights movement akin to today’s Gay Pride movement. Lead by Magnus Hirschfeld, this movement sought to educate the public and to bring about the repeal of Paragraph 175, a provision of the German Criminal Code begun on the 15th May, 1871, which made homosexual acts between males a crime.
Notable figures in contemporary history
Part of the gay pride movement honors past LGBT figures who prospered despite persecution for their openness and coming out of various perceived closets. There have been notable figures that have fought for or involved themselves in gay rights, or their right to live their lives as they saw fit. Oscar Wilde is amongst the more famous for his writings as well for his imprisonment for the “love that dare not speak its name”. Quentin Crisp also battled societal norms to live and love without the fear of arrest. Author of The Naked Civil Servant he has become an icon and camp figure within LGBT communities and symbol of gay pride for many.
During World War II as Nazi Germany began its domination of Europe many people found themselves being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Genocide or the mass murder of numerous groups was undertaken. Homosexuals were one of these groups with gay men being marked with a pink triangle badge while lesbians were most often designated with a black triangle.
Modern history of movement
On June 27, 1969, a group of men rioted following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar at 43 Christopher Street, New York City. The late Miss Stephen Whittaker a transgender rights activist and founding member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance, is credited by many as the first to actually strike back at the police and, in so doing, spark the rebellion. Further protests and rioting continued for several nights following the raid.
The Stonewall riots are generally considered to be the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.
Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance in the early post-Stonewall era, coordinated the first year anniversary rally and then the “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March” on June 28, 1970 to commemorate the first year anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. First year anniversary marches organized by other groups were also held in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1970.
Brenda Howard also originated the idea for a week-long series of events around what is now known as Pride Day; this became the first of the extended annual LGBT Pride celebrations that are now held around the world.
In New York and Atlanta the annual day of celebration to commemorate the Stonewall Riot came to be called Gay Liberation Day; in San Francisco and Los Angeles it was called Gay Freedom Day. Both names spread as more and more cities and towns started holding similar celebrations.
In the 1980s there was a major cultural shift in the Stonewall Riot commemorations. The previous loosely organized, bottom-up marches and parades were taken over by more organised and less radical elements of the gay community. The marches began dropping “Liberation” and “Freedom” from their names under pressure from more conservative members of the community, replacing them with the philosophy of “Gay Pride” (in the more liberal city of San Francisco, the name of the gay parade and celebration was not changed from Gay Freedom Day Parade to Gay Pride Day Parade until 1994). The Greek lambda symbol and the pink triangle which had been revolutionary symbols of the Gay Liberation Movement were tidied up and incorporated into the Gay Pride, or Pride, movement, providing some symbolic continuity with its more radical beginnings.
Gay and lesbian Americans have made important and lasting contributions to our Nation in every field of endeavor. Too often, however, gays and lesbians face prejudice and discrimination; too many have had to hide or deny their sexual orientation in order to keep their jobs or to live safely in their communities.
In recent years, we have made some progress righting these wrongs. Since the Stonewall uprising in New York City more than 30 years ago, the gay and lesbian rights movement has united gays and lesbians, their families and friends, and all those committed to justice and equality in a crusade to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices and to protect gays and lesbians from prejudice and persecution.
I am proud of the part that my Administration has played to achieve these goals. Today, more openly gay and lesbian individuals serve in senior posts throughout the Federal Government than during any other Administration. To build on our progress, in 1998 I issued an Executive Order to prohibit discrimination in the Federal civilian workforce based on sexual orientation, and my Administration continues to fight for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation.
Yet many challenges still lie before us. As we have learned from recent tragedies, prejudice against gays and lesbians can still erupt into acts of hatred and violence. I continue to call upon the Congress to pass meaningful hate crimes legislation to strengthen the Department of Justice’s ability to prosecute hate crimes committed due to the victim’s sexual orientation.
With each passing year the American people become more receptive to diversity and more open to those who are different from themselves. Our Nation is at last realizing that gays and lesbians must no longer be “strangers among friends,” as the civil rights pioneer David Mixner once noted. Rather, we must finally recognize these Americans for what they are: our colleagues and neighbors, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, friends and partners.
This June, recognizing the joys and sorrows that the gay and lesbian movement has witnessed and the work that remains to be done, we observe Gay and Lesbian Pride Month and celebrate the progress we have made in creating a society more inclusive and accepting of gays and lesbians. I hope that in this new millennium we will continue to break down the walls of fear and prejudice and work to build a bridge to understanding and tolerance, until gays and lesbians are afforded the same rights and responsibilities as all Americans.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, WILLIAM J. CLINTON, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2000 as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. I encourage all Americans to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that celebrate our diversity and recognize the gay and lesbian Americans whose many and varied contributions have enriched our national life.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-fourth.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON