For many communities across the U.S., June means open neighborhood pools, warmer weather, and maybe a trip to the beach or the lake. But it also commemorates the origins of Pride month, a worldwide celebration of both LGBTQ individuals and the history of the LGBTQ movement. It's perhaps more important this year than any other to understand the significance of Pride month. In the early hours of June 12, 49 people were shot and killed at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and 53 others were wounded. The shooting was the deadliest in American history and sparked a conversation about the dangers and discrimination queer individuals face on a day-to-day basis. But, although the events that unfolded at Pulse were horrific, the parades that will take place in cities all over the U.S. provide opportunities for both the LGBTQ community and their allies to take solace in each other and learn from the history of Pride.
"For me, Pride month is a symbolic recognition of LGBT history," says Avi, a queer friend of mine. "It's a chance to celebrate, which is important because being queer comes with a lot of anxieties that can take a big mental toll...at these events, I feel more free to be myself and I feel more connected to others who have gone through similar struggles."
And that's no small matter, especially right now. If you need to brush up on your Pride month history, take a look at some of the most important events below.
Pride Commemorates the Stonewall Riots
The history of the gay rights movement in this country is usually dated to 1969, when the patrons of a New York City bar fought back against a discriminatory police raid. At the time, homosexuality — or "sodomy," as it was referred to in the legal books — was still a crime. Men could be arrested for wearing drag, and women faced the same punishment if they were found wearing less than three pieces of "feminine clothing." The harassment continued for years, infuriating the gay community. On June 28, 1969, the police arrived at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. However, the 200 patrons inside didn't just sit down and wait to be arrested — they resisted, then rioted, sending the police a loud and clear message about their frustration with the status quo for LGBT individuals.
If you ever wondered why Pride month takes place in June, now you know that it's not just because of the generally pleasant weather. It's historically relevant, too!
"Gay Pride" Was Coined in 1970
Gay communities around the country immediately latched on to the Stonewall riots as an event that brought attention to their cause. Just a year later, in 1970, a committee was formed to commemorate the riots. The problem? The committee didn't have a name for the series of events it wanted to hold in honor of LGBTQ rights. It tossed around the slogan "gay power" for a bit, but when committee member L. Craig Schoonmaker suggested "gay pride," everyone else agreed on the phrase right away. "People did not have power then; even now, we only have some," Schoonmaker said in a 2015 interview with The Allusionist's Helen Zaltzman. "But anyone can have pride in themselves, and that would make them happier as people, and produce the movement likely to produce change."
"Anyone can have pride in themselves."
The First Rainbow Flag was Made in 1978
Although it seems like a symbol so obvious it would have been around from the beginning, the rainbow flag didn't come to represent the concept of gay pride until 1978. Before then, the pink triangle had symbolized the LGBTQ community. However, 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. Artist Gilbert Baker created the first rainbow flag for a San Francisco march organized by Harvey Milk. Baker's version had eight stripes rather than the six the flag carries today, and 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." Today, rainbow flags are the most common symbol at Pride parades, and parade-goers often wear bright clothes that incorporate as many different colors as possible.
But the flag can also be misused. "The rainbow flag is a mixed symbol to me," my friend Avi told me. "When I was still figuring out my identity in high school, seeing it anywhere was really meaningful to me — it was a beacon of safety. It's much more common now, and I look for it whenever I'm in a new city. Each color has its own meaning, but I like to see it as representing a spectrum of identities. However, I see it being used by groups to proclaim that they are friendly to the whole spectrum of identities, when they've really only put effort into the L and G but not the BTQ."
Black and Latinx Pride Parades Are a Thing, Too
Most Pride parades don't have a specific cultural focus other than the LGBTQ community at large, but in the 1990s, Black Pride parades started to pop up in conjunction with other Pride month events. The first official celebration was held at the Club House, a popular black gay bar in Washington, D.C., in 1991. Since then, the Center for Black Equity has helped organize and promote Pride parades geared towards the black community. Famous Black Prides include NYC's "Pride in the City" and Detroit's "Hotter than July." Recently, LGBTQ Latinx groups have started holding their own parades to celebrate the ways in which LGBTQ and Latinx identity intersect. D.C.'s Latino GLBT History Project is one such organization.
June is halfway over, but it's still not too late to catch a Pride parade! If you want to attend, take a look at the Gay Pride calendar to locate events near you. Whether you're marching or volunteering, going to a Pride parade can be a highly positive experience, no matter your sexual and/or gender orientation.
So go forth, armed with your new Pride month knowledge, and enjoy the heck outta the rest of this month's Pride events.