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A Brief History of Pride Month

By Michael J. Parker, Esq.  

June is Pride Month. It is an opportunity for the LGBTQ Community and their allies to celebrate their identity; essentially, to show their pride in who they really are.  Why is Pride necessary? Well, for most of the LGBTQ Community, their formative years are filled with silence as to their identity.  LGBTQ adolescents suffer from very high suicide rates. The reason for this is simple.  No other identity can cause an individual to be afraid of losing their family and friends by simply revealing who they are.  This fear is real.  In some instances, it never goes away.  This fear forces many people into the proverbial closet. It is a defense mechanism because to some in the LGBTQ Community, they literally could lose everything, including family, friends, employment, and their lives for expressing their sexual identity. In recent years, we have seen adolescents coming out of the closet far earlier than before, which shows the progress that the LGBTQ Community has gained in establishing acceptance and making it essentially safe for younger people to express their identity without fearing that they are going to lose everything.  This perhaps is the greatest achievement of the Pride Movement.  As a student of history, it is important to understand how Pride actually came to be and why it is in June.  

 

The first Pride Event in the United States occurred in 1970; however, the event that triggered the first Pride Event occurred exactly one year prior.  On June 28, 1969, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) raided a bar in Greenwich Village known as the Stonewall Inn.  It was illegal for an establishment to cater specifically to the LGBTQ community in 1969.  The New York City Mafia owned the Stonewall Inn and other establishments as they recognized that this “vice” could be profitable. Historian David Carter presented information that the owners of the Stonewall Inn were blackmailing wealthier customers who frequented the bar.  Some member of the NYPD, reportedly, would receive kickbacks from the liquor sales of the Stonewall Inn, but they did not receive kickbacks on the extortions scheme, so the members of the NYPD decided to close the Stonewall Inn permanently.   

 

At approximately, 1:30 a.m., several members of the NYPD arrived at the Stonewall Inn and announced “Police! We’re taking the place!” Police began to line up the patrons and check their identifications.  A trans patron, Maria Ritter, who was not open about her identity, explained, “[m]y biggest fear was that I would get arrested.  My second biggest fear was that my picture would be in the newspaper or on a television report in my mother’s dress!” Patrons were required to wait in line outside of the building for 15 minutes while the patrol wagons arrived.  This created an increased sense of tension for the bar patrons.  Their identities were safe in the bar where they could be themselves.  They were now forced to confront their fear of identification as they stood and waited in front of the world.  

 

However, the patrons and the police did not get the response they thought from the crowd of people who began to assemble.  This was Greenwich Village.  There was a large population of LGBTQ individuals, and it was the first time that the crowd came together in a show of force and solidarity.  A scuffle broke out.  The NYPD began to break up the crowd with force.  However, the crowd fought back.  The situation turned into a riot. The NYPD Tactical Patrol Force arrived to free the police who were trapped inside the bar.  The NYPD then turned its attention onto the ever growing crowed.  The protestors fought back; however, by 4:00 a.m., the streets had mostly been cleared.   

 

The three big newspapers in New York covered the riots and a strong increase in support for the rioters began to flourish.  People began writing slogans of support on the exterior walls of the Stonewall Inn.  On June 29, 1969, thousands of people gathered in front of the Inn.  A second night of rioting ensued.  It was a moment for the LGBTQ community of New York City to assert their identity. It was a moment where the community allowed itself to be seen and, in a way, reject the notion that the community would or should remain in the shadows.   

 

On the one-year anniversary of the police raid and ensuing riot, the Christopher Street Liberation Day occurred in New York City with corresponding Gay Pride Marches in Los Angeles and Chicago.  Pride had arrived.  It soon spread to major cities throughout the United States.  Over the years, since 1970, and to some early protestor’s consternation, Pride shed its violent birth and replaced it with a more jovial celebration of the LGBTQ community.  However, the meaning of Pride remains the same.  It is an opportunity to gather and show the LGBTQ Community’s force and identity. 

Pond Lehocky Giordano’s DEI Committee honored Pride Month this year with multiple internal initiatives focused on educating and engaging staff.  

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