History of Pride Month.
Stonewall and Gay Rights
Though the Stonewall Riots were not the beginning of the gay rights movement, it is often what people first think of when they think of the history of Pride Month and gay rights in the United States.
Occurring in 1969, the Stonewall Riots started when New York City police raided Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in Greenwich Village. The actions of the cops and the mistreatment of bar patrons sparked a six-day protest outside of the bar on Christopher Street, in nearby neighborhoods, and at Christopher Park.
In the 1960s, LGBTQ+ people often attended gay bars and clubs because they were seen as a place where they could express themselves without the worry of being caught, outed, or hurt. However, these bars and clubs were not entirely safe from public scrutiny. For example, the New York Liquor Authority essentially banned places that served alcohol to gay individuals, claiming that the gathering of gay people was “disorderly.” (This regulation was overturned in 1966, so LGBTQ+ patrons could be served alcohol, but holding hands, kissing, or dancing with someone of the same sex was still illegal.)
Movements Prior to Stonewall
Before Stonewall, there were still gay rights activist movements. Some of these include the Society for Human Rights (SHR), which was founded in 1924 by German immigrant Henry Gerber. Though short-lived, this organization was able to publish several issues of their “Friendship and Freedom” newsletter, which served as the country’s first LGBTQ+ focused newsletter. The lesbian equivalent of this organization was The Daughters of Bilitis, which was formed in San Francisco in 1955.
In 1966, members of the Mattachine Society, an organization dedicated to gay rights, staged a “sip-in.” During this event, people declared their sexuality at bars, threatening to sue establishments that turned them away for being open about their sexuality.
Likely influenced by this event, The Commission on Human Rights ruled that gay individuals had the right to be served in bars, so police raids were temporarily reduced.
Some crime syndicates saw the possibility of profit in catering to ostracized gay clientele, so by the mid-1960s, the Genovese crime family had control over most of the gay bars in Greenwich Village.
In 1966, they bought Stonewall Inn, cheaply renovated it, and re-opened it as a gay bar in 1967. The club maintained its false exclusivity by requiring patrons to bring their own alcohol, having attendees sign in when they arrived, and the Genovese family bribed New York’s Sixth Police Precinct to ignore the activities at the club.
By bribing the police, the Genovese family could cut costs at the Stonewall Inn. For example, the club did not have a fire exit, there was no running water behind the bar, and drinks weren’t watered down.
Despite the fact that raids were still a fact of life, corrupt cops would still tip-off Mafia-run bars so owners would have ample time to hide their alcohol and other illegal activities. In fact, the NYPD had stormed the Stonewall Inn a few days before the riot-inducing raid.
The bar wasn’t tipped off on the morning of June 28th. Because of this, the raid came as a surprise, and thirteen people were arrested when the police entered with a warrant. Within minutes of the raid, full-blown riots exploded between patrons and police officers. During the riot, the police, a few prisoners, and a Village Voice writer barricaded themselves inside Stonewall while protesters tried to set the building on fire.
The fire department was able to douse the flames and save everybody inside. However, the protests remained for several days.
Aftermath of Stonewall
The events that happened at Stonewall led to several LGBTQ+ organizations being founded. These include the Gay Liberation Front, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
The first pride-based march was on the one-year anniversary of Stonewall, on June 28, 1970. Thousands of people marched in the streets of Manhattan from Stonewall Inn to Central Park. Instead of calling it a Pride March, it was called the “Christopher Street Liberation Day.” The official chant of this march was, “Say it loud, gay is proud.”
President Bill Clinton announced that June would be Pride Month in 1999 and 2000, and presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden have followed in suit.
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama designated the sites of the riots (Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park, and the surrounding area) a national monument.
President Joe Biden declared June as Pride Month again this year. His declaration of Pride Month on Instagram described the unfairness and discrimination that the LGBTQ+ community faces to this day. In closing, he reiterated that LGBTQ+ rights are human rights and that LGBTQ+ people should be cherished and loved.
Written by Arran Davis