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A Brief History Of Pride

Friday, June 26th, 2015

This Sunday, June 28th, marks the 46th anniversary of the riots that ensued after NYC police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in 1969. Police raids on bars that catered to homosexuals were not uncommon, and patrons were often arrested while cameras waited outside to splash their faces across the newspapers as social pariahs and deviants. The Stonewall Inn was frequented by the poorest of the community in the ghetto for gays that was the West Village. Transgender people, femme boys, drag queens, male prostitutes, and homeless youth all found refuge inside of the low-ceilinged establishment; for them, it was a safe haven.

Yours truly on a recent visit

In the early hours of that morning, a typical police raid quickly spiraled out of the men in blues’ control, the community had enough. A crowd began to gather in the street as patrons were loaded into police wagons, peaceful at first, but once the police began mistreating those arrested, the taunts took to a more physical approach. Outraged, the crowd started with pennies and then bottles to pelt the police cars and wagons until all hell broke loose. The crowds fought back, all the while taunting the police, and something big was about to be born. Years of oppression had reached a boiling point and it would spread across the country and the globe. The LGBT community had a voice and it was time to be heard.

From that turbulent weekend of June 27th through 29th, 1969, the idea of Pride blossomed. The community wasn’t going to let anyone shame them anymore, and they were not going to hide in the corners and pretend anymore; they were going to show everyone that there was nothing wrong with them. The following year, on June 28th, 1970, the first Pride marches took to the streets of New York City. Crowds of people who were considered an abomination came out to prove to the world that they were here, many, and one. That was forty-six years ago, and Pride continues to evolve.

By 1978, the movement for LGBT rights was gaining momentum. In San Francisco, another Pride parade was in the spotlight. The march had become a peaceful protest and celebration of the community. That year, although receiving multiple threats on his life, openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk rode in a spectacular parade atop an open car before delivering one of his iconic speeches. That year we were introduced to a symbol now known around the globe as a symbol of hope, resilience, perseverance, and celebration: the rainbow flag. Unfortunately, the party couldn’t last; just sixth months after Harvey rang in Pride that year he was murdered in city hall with Mayor Moscone by fellow supervisor Dan White. Riots would erupt in San Francisco. The community was sick of the cops, and the cops were sick of the community. It was a recipe that only meant disaster. Amidst the ashes, we rallied again and peacefully mourned the loss of such a respected leader with a candlelight march and vigil that now represents a moment in time that has imprinted itself in Pride to this day.

A storm was brewing and as it grew, something no one could have ever expected poured down on the LGBT community, devastating lives and taking with it almost an entire generation. The 1980’s were the playground of the angel of death. A plague was sweeping through at an alarming rate and no one knew what it was until it was horribly too late. AIDS would tear our world apart, yet bring us even closer. The “gay cancer” was taking lives in unprecedented numbers, and it was mainly men who were affected. Up until then Gays and Lesbians had been mutually self segregated, but as the disease spread it was the Lesbians who came in to nurse the victims when no one else would. We were all over the news and awareness of our numbers became more relevant. Once again the community was one massive pariah. Ignorance overtook understanding; it was time for another uprising.

In 1987, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), known for their motto “silence = death,” was formed. Pressuring the government to acknowledge the effects of AIDS as not just a “gay disease,” ACT UP demanded them to recognize it and take action. We were angrier than ever before and from this anger, fear, and death, we found new strength to continue our fight for equality. Finally the world was taking notice we were gaining allies with people the public respected. That same year the Names Project would recognize so many lost to AIDS. It is a national treasure and a testimony of love. Pride had a new meaning yet again.

With the arrival of a new decade our understanding of HIV and AIDS advanced, yet still the struggle continued. A light was beginning to shine in the darkness again. We were being accepted more than ever before. We were becoming mainstream; in fact, we were being emulated then. But with the light comes the darkness. Just as the decade was closing a young man would lose his life alone tied to a fence in Wyoming a victim of savageness and ignorance. Matthew Shepard’s story dragged a dark and ugly subject into the public eye, something that happened every day. Horrific acts of hate have against the LGBT community are very real, and unfortunately Matthew’s life was lost just like thousands of others before we started talking about it. His passing was also the subject of the successful play “The Laramie Project.” Just over a decade later, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed by Congress, another step forward at too high a cost.

In the brand new millennium, the closet doors were bursting open and the LGBT community was truly over the rainbow. We greeted the beginning of a new century with more open arms than ever before. Our achievements were finally getting the credit they deserved and our battle continued. More advances were being made in the medical field too as  HIV was finally losing some of its stigma as a death sentence. The decade also brought serious stories about our community to mainstream film. Brokeback Mountain and Milk stand out as two important films that were widely received by the public in general. Milk, the story of Harvey Milk, was a film that told a story we wanted the world to know, and with its director and cast Harvey’s story was told as a brilliant tribute thirty years after his death.

Now halfway through the second decade of the 2000’s, Pride, now in its forties, has grown and matured into what it is today, but that could change tomorrow. A pill to help prevent the spread of HIV is now available, DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) was repealed, DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) has been shot down; yes, these are major wins, and there is still more to do. There are still places in this world where being LGBT is punishable by death. Hate still rears its ugly head, and we have quite the road ahead of us. The Transgender community is finally getting long awaited recognition in their struggle for acceptance and equality, a fight that still has a long way to go. There is still violence against us, and there is still ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice, but we can change that, and that is what Pride is all about. Pride is a time to celebrate our community and all that is good within it, although there are changes that still must come within as well.

Laverne Cox

Pride is more than just a party, more than just a few days in June. Pride is inside of us. Pride is our past, our present, and our future.

And just breaking today, June 26th, 2015, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that marriage equality is effective and protected in all fifty states-just one more reason to be proud.

Happy Pride

-The Otter

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