In July 1969 hundreds of New York’s LGBTQ+ community clashed with police in a week-long riot in the Greenwich Village area following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a mafia owned bar known to be frequented by LGBTQ+ people. Now known as the Stonewall riot, it marked a watershed moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. For Western LGBTQ+ rights campaigns, Stonewall was a launchpad for the modern LGBTQ+ rights protests and birthed one of the community’s most iconic and well-known symbols: the pride parade.
In 1970, As the first anniversary of the Stonewall riot approached, questions were raised about how to best mark the occasion with the city’s queer community. Exactly a year after the initial police raid on the Inn which first sparked the riot, on the 28th June 1970 New York hosted the first Christopher Street Liberation Day. The day grew a crowd of thousands of LGBTQ+ activists to the city’s Greenwich Village area, the location of the Stonewall Inn. Similar marches occurred in the cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Although comparably small to the Pride parades known today, the Christopher Street Liberation day is in many ways the occurrence of a pride parade. Over the years, as the LGBTQ+ rights campaigns grew, so to did the scale of the marches which were quickly became known as Gay Pride and then Pride Parades. The growth of the parades reflects the significant growth of LGBTQ+ rights, in one lifetime countries, preeminently in the west, went from treating homosexuality as a crime and mental disorder to legalising same-sex marriage.
Although pride parades have played a significant role in the improving visibility of LGBTQ+ groups, today many members of the LGBTQ+ community feel the parades have lost touch with their radical routes. Many regard the increasing corporate presence at pride parades as a betrayal of the radical demands of the early rights movement. Furthermore, those who played a significant role in the first creation of the movement feel they have been left out of the current movement, namely trans people, people of colour, and the working classes.
Although the police raid at Stonewall Inn and the subsequent riot it caused is often regarded as the defining moment of the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the west, it is certainly not the first time that members of America’s queer community clashed with police. Throughout the later decades of the twentieth century, as the visibility of the growing gay-rights movement steadily increased, so too did the political backlash. LGBTQ+ Americans were accused of being anti-American and faced increasingly frequent collisions with the police.
One of the earliest versions of the Pride Parade occurred in 1965, five years before the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, when Craig Rodwell proposed a yearly protest which would come to be called the Annual Reminder. Although the Annual Reminder is certainly an early version of the future Pride Parades, the march bears very little resemblance to the modern parades. Rodwell’s event followed a very strict formal dress code including a shirt and tie for men and dresses for women. The march drew 39 activists from various gay rights groups with the intent of asking for “equality, opportunity, [and] dignity.”
Despite the rapid growth of the LGBTQ+ rights movements during the late twentieth century, oppression continued. Consequently, LGBTQ+ people began to form tight-knight communities within major cities, which resulted in an increase of police raids against known queer bars.
During the 1960s, a bar could lose its licence for selling alcohol if it served a known LGBTQ+ individual. Mafia owned bars frequently ignored these laws, paying off local police officers and charging high prices for watered-down alcohol. Mafia owned bars, such as the Stonewall Inn, consequently drew clientele of people of colour, gay men, several lesbians, and trans women.
As gay bars increased in number across major cities like New York, a demand for guides to LGBTQ+ bars across cities grew. These guides were, however, often written by and for wealthy individuals and dismissed mafia owned bars such as the Stonewall Inn, of which there were many. The Homosexual Handbook published in 1969 described the Stonewall Inn as a “haven of and for narcissists.”
Following the Stonewall riot, a significantly more radical approach to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights emerged. The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was formed following the riot and in the summer of 1969, the group began to organise marches and sit-ins similar to those of the Civil Rights movement. The GLF connected with other radical civil rights groups such as the Black Panther Party which practised militant self-defence and established community-based programmes to support African Americans. The GLF highlighted legal rights, anti-colonialism, and a radical re-evaluation of gender.
Within months of its formation, other groups began to form the address the dominance of cisgender gay men in the GLF. Groups such as Radicalesbians aimed to represent lesbians who had faced misogyny within the GLF, whilst the Gay Activists Alliance believed that the GLF only addressed issues pertinent to gay men. Much of the early LGBTQ+ rights movements faced accusations of placing emphasis on the oppression faced by gay men whilst excluding other members of the community.
Although the GLF was short-lived, it collapsed in America within three years. It has already achieved its greatest and most enduring legacy: the first modern Pride Parade. In November 1969, the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organisations came together to discuss the 1970 Annual Reminder, it was suggested that to remove the dress code and mirror the event across the country in commemoration of Stonewall. The first Christopher Street Liberation Day would take place in June. By 1972 the marches had spread to Europe, with London hosting its first pride parade.
The first parade was not to protest unjust laws but to counter the sense of fear which often marked LGBTQ+ lives in the 60s and 70s. In contrast to the reserved nature which marked the early LGBTQ+ groups, pride was an open celebration of LGBTQ+ identities. In the New York Times, one marcher was quoted as saying: “We’ll never have the freedom and civil rights we deserve as human beings unless we stop hiding in closets and in the shelter of anonymity.”
However, there was splintering within the LGBTQ+, with many feeling the needs of people of colour and trans individuals were ignored within the movement. Not only this but in the 1980s as pride grew many organisations sought funding from companies to host ever-growing pride events. Primarily, most of the funding for these early years came from LGBTQ+ owned businesses and nonprofit groups. However, as the LGBTQ+ grew as a targetable market, large corporations began to sponsor an increasing number of events. Initially, it was mostly alcohol brands targeting the young. Absolut vodka began to directly target gay men as a demographic in the early 1980s. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that corporate sponsorship of pride boomed.
As corporate sponsorship grew, many radical activists felt liberal activists were attempting to turn the LGBTQ+ into a ‘model minority.’ The initial gay rights groups often adopted socialist and anti-colonial politics, and for many, the current inclusion of groups representing employers feels like a betrayal of the movement’s radical roots.
The visibility of LGBTQ+ people enjoying life and celebrating their sexuality has been as important to the LGBTQ+ rights movement as more traditional political strategies.
Despite its controversial adoption of corporate sponsorship and its desperate need to improve inclusivity and diversity, Pride parades still represent an ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights across the world. In 71 countries it remains illegal to be LGBTQ+. Same-sex marriage is legally recognised in only 31 countries. The first legally recognised same-sex marriage was in 2001 in the Netherlands. Chile became the most recent country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2021. Fewer still acknowledge a third gender on the national passport. Often marked by an ‘X’, only sixteen countries acknowledge a third gender. In Nepal, documents include an ‘O’ for ‘other’ for all LGBTQ+ and intersex individuals. In India, most official documents offer three gender options: male, female, and transgender marked with a letter ‘T’ which includes all non-binary, trans, and intersex people.