Pride is a month-long celebration of LGBTQ+ lives, history and culture. This guide reflects on the origins of the movement, and considers how the history of Pride can help shape how we celebrate in the present.
What is Pride?
Pride is an annual global event which is celebrated every June. From parades and concerts, to workshops and exhibitions, the events of Pride month enable LGBTQ+ people and allies to celebrate their genders and sexualities, discuss LGBTQ+ history, and advocate for further change.
Pride celebrations have grown and diversified since the first parades in the early 1970s. In 2000, for example, WorldPride was founded. This is an event which takes place in a different global city every year - in 2019, the WorldPride in New York City was estimated to have been attended by over 4 million people. This is a huge expansion from the first Pride parade held in New York, where police reports suggest there were around 2,000 attendees!
When, where and why did Pride start?
Pride Month commemorates the June 1969 Stonewall Riots.
The Stonewall Riots began on the 28th of June 1969 when the LGBTQ+ customers of New York City’s Stonewall Inn resisted police raids on their bar. In the raid that led to the Stonewall Riots, two police officers entered the Stonewall Inn and demanded to ‘check the sex’ of some of the bar’s customers by physical examination.
Reports on what exactly took place on that day are unclear. Despite this, broader research by historians such as Martin Duberman has shown that the LGBTQ+ community in New York had endured decades of raids and brutality at the hands of the NYC police's ‘Public Moral Squad’. This research shows us that, although the uprising at the Stonewall Inn was spontaneous, it was related to a long history of mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people in New York, and around the world.
The Stonewall Riots gave a new impetus to the ‘Gay Liberation’ movement around the globe. A key part of this movement was to encourage conversations about the lives and perceptions of LGBTQ+ people, and to fight for radical change in the way that LGBTQ+ people were treated by society. In the UK, for example, the Pride movement saw the growth and establishment of grassroots organisations that worked to stop the oppression of LGBTQ+ people. A key example of this is the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.
The first Pride event was organised by Brenda Howard, a bisexual activist, in New York City on the 28th of June 1970. The first march was called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March (which is the name of the road the Stonewall Inn is on) and the event had both an element of celebration and protest. Howard organised another event the next year in 1971, and soon Pride parades were established all over the world.
What has the Pride Movement achieved?
Since the Stonewall Riots, LGBTQ+ people have fought globally for their rights and liberties. Alex Harlan’s summary charts track the surge in countries which legalised homosexuality following the first Pride. Moreover, LGBTQ+ people now have personal and political rights (for example, equal partnership) in countries around the world, such as Colombia, New Zealand, Iceland, Ireland, and the UK.
The Pride movement continues to fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the twenty-first century. For example, Serbian LGBTQ+ activists successfully held a 2014 Pride march in Belgrade, which came after a long campaign for state support and protection. Similarly, the work of LGBTQ+ campaigners meant that in 2014, Denmark became the first European country to allow transgender people to hold official documents (like passports) which reflect their gender identity.
Why is the History of the Pride movement important today?
In order to celebrate Pride fully, it is important to learn about and remember those who fought for the right to celebrate. This guide explores three ways in which the History of the Pride movement can inform and shape Pride celebrations today.
- Remembering that Pride started as a protest reminds us of how Pride today can continue the fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ people across the globe.
The LGBTQ+ activist charity Stonewall states that whilst ‘there is lots for us to celebrate [...] there’s also a lot more work to be done’. Being LGBTQ+ is still illegal in 74 countries, and is punishable by death in 12 of them. Moreover, former US President Donald Trump took steps to roll back the protection of healthcare rights for transgender people.
Learning about how LGBTQ+ rights were won illuminates the importance of continuing to campaign for the rights of all LGBTQ+ people. Similarly, reflecting upon how the Pride movement was started ensures that Pride month today still honours and belongs to the LGBTQ+ community rather than the big businesses that might pay for some events. The involvement of businesses in Pride events is sometimes called ‘commercialisation’. If you are interested in reading more, the article in the source section called ‘How LGBTQ Pride Month Became a Branded Holiday’ by Alex Abad-Santos talks about commercialisation and how it might hurt modern Pride movements.
- Learning about who started the Pride movement reminds us that Pride Month celebrations must be inclusive.
Many historians have emphasised how lesbian and transgender people of colour were a driving force in the Pride Movement. Sometimes, big Pride celebrations can lose sight of this history. This knowledge of who inspired and fought in the Pride movement is important as it ensures that Pride celebrations today honour the people that fought for change and include and celebrate everyone in the LGBTQ+ community.
- Reflecting on how the people that started Stonewall Riots were treated reveals the importance of Pride as celebration.
The history of the Pride movement teaches us about how, in the past, and sometimes today, LGBTQ+ people are not able to express themselves safely. Thus, the joy found at Pride events across the globe can give power and strength to the aims of the Pride movement. Pride celebrations are a key part of bringing about positive change for the LGBTQ+ community. As the American poet Toi Derricottee wrote in her poem The Telly Cycle, the legacy and power of Pride exemplifies how LGBTQ+ joy is, in itself, ‘an act of resistance’.
Learning about the origins and history of Pride and the Pride movement not only educates us about why Pride month exists, but shows us how this history is relevant to how people might celebrate Pride in the present and future. Stonewall says that Pride is ‘a reminder of the power of standing together in defiance of those who seek to divide us’. Pride is a special celebration thanks to the work of the LGBTQ+ activists and individuals from all around the world.
Good stuff from elsewhere
How LGBTQ Pride Month became a branded holiday
Why the commercialisation of Pride Month could hurt Pride movements.
The first Pride was a riot
Honouring the trans women of colour behind the first Pride Month.