Since humble beginnings in 1970 to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969, Pride has sought to celebrate, unite and provide a platform for the LGBTQ+ community. With so many changes within legislation and human rights, the question has emerged in recent years; why is Pride still relevant?
Some argue that the rise in acceptance and greater visibility of LGBTQ+ issues and people means that Pride is becoming outdated and has lost its meaning. Pride now takes many forms, with numerous events happening worldwide which speak to all members of the community, seeking to represent the vast diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. However, in order to answer the question of Pride’s relevance it’s important to look at the origins of it, and who was at the forefront of the movement.
In the early hours of 28 June 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a well-known gay bar in New York City. Tired of the police brutality and persecution that they were facing daily the LGBTQ+ community fought back, which began the Stonewall riots. The two people at the forefront of this were Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans women who were activists and respected members of the community. Johnson is noted as ‘throwing the first brick’ at Stonewall, an act of defiance and courage which sent a strong message to the law that LGBTQ+ people would no longer stand for the abuse and injustice that had become commonplace.
A year later the first Pride march took place; a gathering of a few hundred people to commemorate the Stonewall riots and campaign for equal rights. This sparked greater political activism with the rise of the Gay Liberation movement, which would then shift into a wider movement which encompassed and represented all members of the LGBTQ+ community.
In the UK Homosexuality had only been partially decriminalized in 1967, with the age of consent for same sex couples remaining at 21, significantly older than the heterosexual age of consent. In the early 70s activists Aubrey Water and Bob Mellor flew to New York and attended the Black Panthers Revolutionary Peoples’ Convention, where for the first-time delegations from the women’s and gay rights movements had been invited. Drawing inspiration from the Black Panther movement, they returned to the UK and began the Gay Liberation Front. Following this, the UK’s first gay Pride took place in London in 1972. People from the LGBTQ+ community attended and marched in an act of defiance and courage, signaling to the world that they not only exist but are proud of their identities.
In the time since these first Pride marches and the formation of various LGBTQ+ activist groups, we have seen huge worldwide developments in legislation and equal rights: the decriminalization of same sex relations, the repeal of Section 28, the Gender Recognition Act and the Equalities Act to name a few. We have seen intersectionality and the issues of visibility addressed within our own communities and internationally, so that everyone is represented and can feel pride in their identity.
With all these incredible leaps forward, many wonder why events such as LGBTQ+ History Month and Pride are still needed. The answer? There’s still work to be done. As a community we still face prejudice, discrimination and social isolation, and it is our responsibility to educate and support our communities, young and old, so that the world is a safe place for everyone regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. In my opinion, we must also celebrate our successes and champion the people who worked so hard to achieve these milestones; activists who defied the law and societal norms in order to campaign for justice and equality. As much as Pride is a celebration, it will always remain political, as long as our (LGBTQ+ peoples’) existence remains political. We should also stand with those around the world who haven’t yet achieved equality or the decriminalization of their existence, of which there are still 73 countries worldwide.
On reflection, the development of LGBTQ+ rights and the various political movements throughout history shows us that by standing together to defend human rights, change does happen. Whether this was the Gay Liberation Movement marching with Women’s rights and Black rights groups such as the Black Panthers, to the unlikely relationship which sparked Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, compassion and action for human causes will always provoke lasting and meaningful change.
Written by Michael Radford, Learning Officer at the National Justice Museum