In Depth

Pride month 2020: how the gay pride movement started

Celebrations will this year move online amid the coronavirus outbreak

Pride month events are moving online this year to ensure that people can celebrate the LGBT+ community in safety.

Global Pride day on 27 June will involve world leaders, human rights activists, international musical acts and drag queens taking part in a 24-hour online Pride event, after the coronavirus forced the cancellation of public festivities.

Parades, concerts and marches all fell foul of social distancing rules, says the BBC, but the spirit of the event will live on.

“Every Pride organiser in the world can tell you a story of someone whose life changed when they visited Pride,” Kristine Garina, president of the European Pride Organisers Association, told The New York Times.

“And so, with so many Prides being cancelled or postponed, as organisers we felt we had a responsibility to come together and deliver Pride online.”

Taking celebrations online may even broaden their reach. “People who aren’t out, or who are living in socially conservative countries, can take part,” Pride president Julian Sanjivan said in a statement.

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What was the catalyst?

On 28 June 1969, riots broke out in the area surrounding New York City’s Stonewall Inn, a bar on Christopher Street in Manhattan. Disputes remain “about how exactly the riots began, but it is agreed that they were the result of police raiding the bar for activity then considered criminal”, says The Independent.

The clashes continued for more than three days, and heralded “a more militant approach - in a more militant era - in which gay people demanded respect and equality, rather than asking for it, or trying to educate the heterosexual population”, Michael Bronski, a professor in women’s and gender studies at Harvard University, told Newsweek.

Yet “there has always been resistance by LGBTQ+ people against oppression - from the law, the police, government officials, church doctrine”, adds Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States. The academic and activist argues that it is a mistake “to elevate ‘Stonewall’ as the sole example”.

“I think that it is useful not to look at how one or two ‘riots’ - Stonewall, Compton Street - had a big effect, but rather how all of the small manifestations of resistance had an overwhelming cumulative effect on the lives of people and the society in which they lived,” he says.

How did Pride begin?

LGBTQ+ communities across the US immediately latched on to the Stonewall riots as an event that cast a spotlight on their cause. In 1970, a committee was formed to commemorate the New York uprising.

It was committee member L. Craig Schoonmaker who suggested “gay pride” as a slogan for their cause. “People did not have power then - even now, we only have some,” Schoonmaker said in a 2015 interview with The Allusionist podcast. “But anyone can have pride in themselves, and that would make them happier as people, and produce the movement likely to produce change.”

That first weekend of commemorations would eventually turn into a month-long series of events and parades, all under the banner of Pride.

The movement’s rainbow flag wasn’t introduced until 1978, however. Before then, the pink triangle had symbolised the LGBTQ+ community.

But “since that image had been used during Nazi Germany to mark ‘sexual deviants’ in concentration camps, plenty of people felt like the triangle wasn’t hopeful enough, or even appropriate”, says lifestyle magazine Bustle.

Artist Gilbert Baker created the first rainbow flag for a San Francisco march organised by a friend, activist Harvey Milk. Baker’s original version had eight stripes rather than the six on the flag today, and he explained that he intended each stripe to represent an aspect of the gay identity: “hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit”.

What does Pride mean today?

By the 1980s, most major cities in the US held a pride parade, with the tradition soon spreading to various parts of the globe. But it was only in the early 1990s that Pride “began to resemble what it is today: a celebration of queer life and sexuality in addition to a political and social demonstration”, say advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.

Nevertheless, Pride parades throughout the decades have reflected the face of the LGBTQ+ movement, from groups “of activists in the 1970s, to the somber tones of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, to the liberated muscle boys of the 1990s”, Chris Frederick, managing director of NYC Pride, told Mashable.

“These days, modern parades showcase families with their children, mirroring advances of marriage equality,” he adds.

Pride events today range in size from the parade in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo, which attracts up to 3.5 million participants, to the Irish city of Sligo’s annual march, which began in 2016 with around 100 people.

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