June is Pride month and the 50th anniversary of the first pride march in NYC. Fifty years ago, what started out as a just a day celebrating gay pride and marching for gay rights spread into an entire month of honoring the community. This happened first in major US cities, then nationwide, and it is now recognized by millions and millions of people around the world with the most colorful and amazing parades, pride flags, and glittery rainbows galore! To honor the LGBTQ+ community during this time, we think it’s important to learn more about the history, struggles, and triumphs of this marginalized group.
Pride Flag History
The iconic rainbow flag got its start in San Fransisco in 1978 by artist Gilbert Baker. The various colors represent diversity and each has their own meaning:
The flag has gone through many variations. It originally had eight colors (above) including pink & turquoise but they were removed due to availability of pink and streamlining mass production. During the ’80s, a black band was added to the bottom to represent those lost to AIDS. In 2017, black and brown stripes were added to represent POC in the LGBTQ+ community. And in 2019, the white-pink-blue were introduced into the flag to honor transgender & queer people.
Gay Bars in the ‘60s
During the 1960s, NYC was a hub for gay folks but homosexuality in general (even two people of the same sex holding hands) was a crime. Until 1966, it was illegal to sell alcohol to a homosexual person. Because of this, gay bars had to operate without a liquor license and they were often owned and run by the mafia. These crime bosses paid off the police to look the other way about their illegal activities at the bars and to give them a heads up when the cops planned a raid so that they could hide their booze from destruction during the violent attacks and arrests.
After the law about serving alcohol was lifted, the mob boss owners of these bars were still only concerned about profit. They didn’t care about their clientele and did nothing to protect them from police routinely showing up just to harass and arrest the bar patrons simply for being gay. One particularly brutal raid and a huge push forward for the fight for gay rights was at the most popular gay bar in Manhattan, the Stonewall Inn. During this 1969 raid, police beat people mercilessly and forced cross-dressing patrons into the restrooms to have their genitalia checked to see if they were considered male or female. 13 were arrested and as the paddy wagons were being loaded, witnesses outside saw an officer land a blow to the head of a lesbian in custody. Immediately, a riot broke out and protesters began attacking the police who retreated into the Stonewall Inn building for shelter. Protesters used a battering ram to try to regain entry and even attempted to set fire to the building. This was the start of a five day riot against police brutality towards the gay community. One year later on June 28th, 1970, members of the LGBTQ+ community took to the streets to celebrate their pride and continue the work to liberate their people.
Video from the first pride march:
Marsha and Sylvia – Iconic Activists
Two key figures that should be honored are Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. These two were activists, drag queens, trans, and all around badasses. They co-founded STAR, an activist group that stood for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. At the time, even within the gay community, transexuals were shunned and booed. So from 1970-1973, Marsha and Sylvia ran Star House, a place where homeless trans and queer youth could come for shelter, food, and comfort from their LGBTQ+ family. In 1992, the body of Marsha P. Johnson was discovered in the Hudson river. Her body was cremated and death ruled a suicide though her family and friends believe it was a hate crime fueled murder. Just this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared that East River Park in Brooklyn will be renamed after Johnson in her honor.
LGBTQ+ in the News
Very recently, the Supreme Court of the United States has made it illegal to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ+ community within the workplace. Employers cannot make hiring or firing decisions based upon one’s sexual orientation or transgender status. This is a big win for the community but there is still a long way to go to achieve protections against medical discrimination and protecting the rights of family members. One step forward and a few steps back as the current administration recently erased civil rights protections in healthcare.
There is a constant tug of war going on between the LGBTQ+ community and just about everyone else who doesn’t consider themselves an ally. They constantly struggle to get people to see them as human beings, use their correct pronouns, obtain the same rights as everyone else, and be able to express themselves without fear of backlash, physical harm, or even death. Stand up with your friends, family, & neighbors to support this incredibly diverse and creative marginalized group. We’ve listed some ways you can learn about and help the LQBTQ+ community below.
Documentary: Stonewall Uprising
Documentary: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
News & Hope:
True Crime Obsessed: both insightful and funny, this episode covers the documentary ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’
Making Gay History: this episode covers activist Sylvia Rivera and shows a side you won’t hear anywhere else