Fifty years after the very first pride march, prominent organizers and activists talk about how it spread across the globe and made history. Last month marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march, which was held in New York City on June 28, 1970. The event – formally known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. June is Pride Month, when the world’s largest LGBTQ+ communities come together and celebrate the freedom to be themselves. Pride gatherings are rooted in the arduous history of minority groups who have struggled for decades to overcome prejudice and be accepted for who they are.
Pride events are directed towards anyone who feels like their sexual identity falls outside the mainstream -although many straight people join in, too. LGBT is an abbrevation meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The term sometimes is extended to LGBTQ, or even LGBTQIA, to include queer, intersex and asexual groups. Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or are not cisgender; intersex refers to those whose sex is not clearly defined because of genetic, hormonal or biological differences; and asexual describes those who don’t feel sexual attraction. These words may also include gender fluid people, or those whose gender identity changes over time or depending on the situation.
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, police blitzed the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, and began dragging customers outside. Tensions increased rapidly as patrons resisted arrest and a growing crowd of bystanders threw bottles and coins at the officers. New York’s gay community, fed up after years of harassment by authorities, broke out in neighborhood rampage that went on for three days. The uprising became a catalyst for an arising gay rights movement as organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance were formed, modeled after the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement. Members held protests, met with political leaders and interrupted public meetings to hold those leaders accountable. A year after the Stonewall rampage, the nation’s very first Gay Pride marches were held, that is how the pride march was started. In 2016 the area around the Stonewall Inn, still a sought-after nightspot today, was designated a national monument.
The word pride in the term ‘PRIDE MARCH’ is attributed to Brenda Howard, a bisexual New York activist nicknamed the “Mother of Pride,” who organized the first Pride parade to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
In 1978, artist and designer Gilbert Baker was commissioned by San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk – one of the first openly gay elected officials in the US – to prepare a flag for the city’s upcoming Pride celebrations. Baker, an eminent gay rights activist, gave a nod to the stripes of the American flag but drew inventiveness from the rainbow to reflect the many groups within the gay community. A subset of flags represent other sexualities on the spectrum, such as bisexual, pansexual and asexual.