Pride parades have been key to spreading the philosophy of the LGBT movement worldwide, but where did the orginal idea for a parade come from, asks Caitriona O’Sullivan
The first time I heard someone questioning why there wasn’t a Straight Pride Parade, I simply huffed and thought, “because there’s no need for one.” However, later I mulled over the question again (as I tend to do, deep thinker). Why isn’t there a parade for Straight Pride? Because there’s no need for one? Yes. So, why is there a need for an LGBT+ Pride Parade? Why did they start? What do they accomplish? Is it just an excuse to have fun? Is it a celebration of identity?
I had no idea, which is why I googled it. I learned so much about the history of pride parades and marches, which seem to have originated in North America. There was a surge of LGBT activism and protests in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, which culminated in the Stonewall riots.
This was a difficult time for members of the LGBT community as they faced many challenges in their daily lives, something that I think made them more involved, more active in the fight for their civil rights.
This fight took place in the form of picket lines, general gatherings, protest marches, sit-ins, leaflets and annual reminders that LGBT people did not receive the same basic civil rights protections.
They protested against police harassment, refusals of service, police raids and actions, international LGBT issues such as Cuban labour camps, homosexuality being portrayed as a mental illness, religious persecution and governmental policies. I, for one, see a lot in common with the issues that face members of the LGBT+ community today.
On May 21st, 1966, to protest the exclusion of homosexuals from the United States armed forces, a Los Angeles group held a 15 car motorcade. In other cities, activists held pickets. This has been identified as the nation’s first gay pride parade.
On June 28th, 1969, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning persons rioted following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York City. This was a gay bar that catered to a wide variety of people, but was popular with the most marginalized people in the gay community: for instance transgender people, hustlers, and homeless youth. This riot and further protests and rioting over the following nights were an important moment in the modern LGBT rights movement helped to inspire the organisation of LGBT pride marches on a much larger public scale.
Craig Rodwell, his partner Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, and Linda Rhodes proposed the first pride march to be held in New York City on November 2th, 1969 by way of a resolution at an ERCHO meeting in Philadelphia. Brenda Howard helped to co-ordinate the march and it was her idea to have Pride events take place over the span of a week. She is sometimes referred to as the Mother of Pride.
Howard is also one of the LGBT rights activists credited with popularizing the word “Pride” to describe these festivities. As LGBT rights activist Tom Limoncelli put it, “The next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why Pride Month is June tell them ‘A bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.’”
By the 1980s the loosely organized, grassroots marches and parades that had commemorated the Stonewall Riots were replaced by more organized and less radical events. In many places, the marches began dropping “Liberation” and “Freedom” from their names, replacing them with the philosophy of LGBT “Pride”.
Although I’ve heard complaints that the parades and marches and Pride Month in general have grown over-commercialised and become more about partying than politics, at least it has gained more recognition as an event and a celebration of history.
President Bill Clinton declared June Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in 2000. Then President Barack Obama declared June Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, stating, “I call upon all Americans to observe this month by fighting prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists.” Google marked any LGBT-related search results in June 2012 with a rainbow coloured pattern underneath search results.
Pride events have taken place in every corner of the globe, from Mauritius to India, from Israel to Serbia, from Canada to Argentina. Some of the symbols for Pride are the rainbow or pride flag, the pink and black star, which were used as marks of shame during the Holocaust, in Nazi concentration camps.
These days, the language used in relation to Pride Month has become more accurate and inclusive, though these changes may have met with initial resistance from some. Changing first to Lesbian and Gay, today most are called Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) or simply “Pride”.
Even the most festive parades usually dedicate some aspect to remembering victims of AIDS and anti-LGBT violence and many parades still have at least some of the original political or activist character, especially in less accepting settings.
It varies depending on the political, economic and religious settings of an area. In more accepting cities, parades take on a festive or even character, like Mardi Gras, where even the political aspects are colours with celebration. Floats, dancers, drag queens, and amplified music can be involved in large parades.
Some particularly important pride parades are promoted as tourist attractions for the cities that host them, and are funded by governments and corporate sponsors. Some pride parades are also called Pride Festivals. Some of these festivals provide a carnival-like atmosphere in a nearby park or city provided closed off street, with information booths, concerts, barbecues, beer stands, contests, sports, and games.
When I began researching this topic, I wondered what the original purpose of a Pride Parade was, and what significance it held in today’s society. So, why is there a need for an LGBT+ Pride Parade? Why did they start? What do they accomplish? Is it just an excuse to have fun? Is it a celebration of identity? I think it’s all of these things.
Everyone knows the phrase, “Walk a mile in my shoes.” This means that you should try to understand someone before you criticise them. Isn’t that the whole point? The issues, the identities, the happiness.
In a single march, or parade, the LGBT+ community can show some of what it’s like to be in their shoes. I’m extremely happy to have been given the chance to contribute to this column. I hope you learned as much as I did. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for June.