A brief history of Pride Month

Jon O'Brien

Designed to champion, commemorate and celebrate the LGBTQ community, Pride Month has become an increasingly visible presence on the events calendar. Here’s a look at how it’s grown from a local affair into a global phenomenon.

How it all began

The origins of Pride Month are rooted in the Stonewall riots of 1969. Frustrated by years of brutal persecution by the New York authorities, patrons of Manhattan gay bar the Stonewall Inn decided to fight back during one particular early morning raid in which 13 people were arrested.

"Be respectful and avoid treating Pride as a spectacle of the gays"

A significant proportion of the Greenwich Village neighbourhood’s LGBTQ community subsequently came out in force to protest against their mistreatment. Windows were smashed, police cars were trashed and attempts were made to set fire to the Inn itself during a violent uprising which lasted six days.

The riots became a pivotal moment in the history of LGBTQ rights—both the Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Liberation Front were formed within months as a result.

In 2016 President Barack Obama declared the Stonewall Inn site a national monument.   

 

The very first Pride


Image via The Advocate

On June 28, 1970, exactly a year after the Stonewall riots began, America witnessed its first ever Gay Pride march.

Organised by Brenda Howard (above left), the LGBTQ rights activist hailed as the "Mother of Pride", the event was dubbed Christopher Street Liberation Day as a tribute to the Stonewall Inn’s home address.


People march in New York City during the first ever Pride parade. Image via CNN

Alongside fellow activists L. Craig Schoonmaker and Robert A. Martin, Howard is also credited with coining the "Pride" phrase which has since become synonymous with the LGBTQ community. 

 

The evolution of Pride


In 2018 Sao Paolo held the world's largest Pride parade

Howard also helped to extend Pride’s reach by coordinating a week-long series of events. The concept has since been adopted by LGBTQ communities across the globe and now encompasses a whole month.

In 1999 President Bill Clinton officially declared June as Gay & Lesbian Pride Month. Barack Obama then did the same (with the more inclusive title of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Pride Month) for each and every one of his eight years in the White House.


Frances Goldin, who has two lesbian daughters, holds a sign while watching the 2015 Gay Pride Parade in New York

Most countries designate June as their official Pride Month, but many also stage events across the summer, with the UK’s biggest, Brighton Pride, typically held every August. 

According to reports, three million people attended the world’s largest Pride parade in Sao Paolo in 2018, while events in Madrid, Cologne, Toronto and London regularly attract visitors in the seven-figure mark.

 

Who celebrates Pride Month?


London Mayor, Sadiq Khan leads the 2016 Pride march in London (via Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Pride Month is largely celebrated by anyone whose sexual identity is considered non-mainstream, from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities referenced in the LGBTQ acronym to those who define themselves as intersexual, asexual or gender-fluid

Straight people are also welcomed to show their support. However, as former GLAAD campus ambassador Gianna Collier-Pitts once said, it’s advisable to “be respectful and avoid treating Pride as a spectacle of the gays.”

 

How is it celebrated?

The centrepiece of most Pride Month festivities is typically a large colourful street parade in which floats, performers and marchers are cheered on by thousands of onlookers.

Poetry readings, dance parties, sporting events, film festivals and drag shows are just some of the other ways in which the event is celebrated in cities all over the world.

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The rainbow flag

“We needed something beautiful, something from us,” said Gilbert Baker, the artist responsible for one of the LGBTQ movement’s most iconic images. “The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things.”  

Baker was tasked with creating a flag for the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade by Harvey Milk, the pioneering gay politician who was tragically assassinated later that same year. 

The rainbow flag, whose original eight colours were cut down to six in 1979 (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet), has since become adopted as a worldwide symbol of gay pride.

 

The fight continues

Although the Pride movement has helped to spark huge changes since the early 1970s, it still has plenty to fight for.

"The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity"

72 countries still class same-sex relations as illegal—eight can issue the death penalty for the offence (including Iran, Yemen and Sudan), while dozens more can hand out prison sentences. And in 2017 Russia introduced a controversial law which outlawed the "promotion" of homosexuality.

Anti-trans bathroom bills, workplace discrimination and the fight for same-sex marriage are just some of the issues facing the LGBTQ community in various parts of the Western world.

 

The future of Pride

Some members of the LGBT community believe that the increasing reliance on corporate sponsors and celebrity allies is taking the focus away from Pride Month’s core concerns.

But with many major celebrations citing record-breaking attendances in 2018, the event looks set to stick around for at least another 50 years.