Pride Month Was Started By Transgender People

by Claire-Renee Kohner

June is Pride month and in honor of the event, President Obama proclaimed that "all people deserve to live with dignity and respect, free from fear and violence, and protected against discrimination, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation." This makes President Obama only the second president to recognize June as Pride month, the other being President Clinton.

For more than 40 years, June has been the de facto month for Pride, and for many years it was referred to as Gay Pride, but few know the origins of the event. The first Pride March was actually co-organized by a bisexual woman named Brenda Howard, who was credited with establishing a full Pride Celebration week. Sylvia Rivera, a woman who is transgender, also played a significant role by giving a passionate speech on Christopher Street after the Stonewall Inn riots, an event led by the transgender and gender non-conforming community on June 28, 1969 that became the flash point of the gay rights movement.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the gay community faced an anti-homosexual legal system. During this time, it was illegal in New York City for a man to dress as a woman. When a surprise raid on the Stonewall Inn took place, female police officers were instructed to take anyone dressed as a woman into the bathroom to verify their sex. Any men dressed as women were immediately arrested

Gender non-conforming people began to refuse to show identification and both police and patrons recalled an overwhelming sense of discomfort. Others felt there was inappropriate touching during the frisking process and those who were released began to gather in the streets.

Forty-six years later, those riots by the transgender and gender non-conforming community are the reason we celebrate Pride across the nation. But once the parades and parties are over and the banners and signs stating, "The First Pride was a Riot" are recycled, the trans voice is once again lost in the shuffle of the gay rights movement and the advancements made in the LGB community over the last five years, and the T is relegated to the bargaining chip of the LGBTQ+ community.

There is a sense among the transgender community that we have been pushed to the back of the line as far as progress and equality go. This was especially evident when, in the 2007 ENDA negotiations, 20+ anti-transgender bills were introduced in state houses across the nation.

The erasure of the trans voice during Pride was quick and sudden. During the 1970s, the transgender voice in the Gay Pride celebrations became more faint when Sylvia Rivera left gay activism to work on transgender and gender non-conforming issues. In 1994, she led an alternative parade for the transgender community, pointing out the over commercialization of Pride and the overall erasure of the trans voice from Pride, which includes the elimination of pink and blue from the original Pride flag.

The original flag was created and flown for the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade in 1978 . The eight-color rainbow flag included blue and hot pink, the colors of the current transgender flag. Each color of the flag has its own meaning; hot pink for sexual liberation, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for the arts, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit. Since a six-color flag was cheaper to produce, two colors were eliminated. Pink was removed as a result of a color shortage and blue was eliminated simply to take an odd number of stripes down to an even six.

It wasn't until 2000 that the first Transgender Pride Flag was flown in Phoenix Arizona by Monica Helms. Helms describes the flag, "The stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, the traditional color for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional color for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are intersex, transitioning, or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender. The pattern is such that no matter which way you fly it, it is always correct, signifying us finding correctness in our lives"

But despite its historic lack of priority within the LGBT movement, the people who are transgender are now making progress in taking back Pride.

"The transgender movement is finally finding its voice after decades of suppression and oppression from heteronormative society," author and activist Kelsie Brynn Jones tells Bustle, "and even exclusion by the mainstream gay organizations of the past."

Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle already have a special Transgender Pride event schedule to increase the visibility of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities. This year in Utah, Janet Mock is the Grand Marshall of their annual Pride festival. In Minneapolis, one of the largest Pride celebrations in the Midwest, the Grand Marshall is Andrea Jenkins.

Jenkins, curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota, tells Bustle, "I am thrilled and honored to be named Grand Marshall of the Twin Cities Pride Ashley Rukes Parade this year. Trans-identified folks have been on the margins of the LGBT community and society in general. As I step forward to lead this parade, I will march with 10 other Trans people of color to symbolize the many people who have helped and guided me to this position in the community. Because while we celebrate the wins that have been gained for this community, we know that Trans people, and especially Trans Women of Color, have bared the brunt of violence, discrimination and hatred that is generally termed LGBT discrimination."

Pride marches on and now, midway through the month, transgender people — specifically trans actors and actresses — are hopeful for a more inclusive celebration.

Michelle Hendley, star of the award winning film Boy Meets Girl and NBC's new pilot series Endgame, tells Bustle, "Trans people are finally claiming a moment right now, and the whole world has taken notice. People are listening to our side of the story, seeing the legitimacy of our place in society, and recognizing that pesky 'T' in the LBGT. It's not perfect yet, but it's nice to see our extended community embracing us."

Michelle is right — it's not quite perfect yet, but we are on our way. This week, to commemorate the start of Pride Month, the Philadelphia city hall will fly the transgender flag along side of the American flag, an incredibly bold gesture and a welcoming sign to the start of the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. “I can’t think of anything more visible than putting the trans flag right next to the American flag at City Hall." Nellie Fitzpatrick, the director of LGBT affairs in Philly told EPGN "...we should take a moment and revel in the empowerment of where the community is going because that’s incredibly important to celebrate.”

"Transgender people have existed in all cultures for all time," Scott Turner Schofield, FTM transgender actor of the Bold and Beautiful tells Bustle, "We were considered special people who had experienced something special and extra compared to average men and women. We still are everywhere and we still are special, but that has been covered over for too long. Pride festivals that intentionally celebrate transgender people are doing the real work of Pride: erasing the shame that has been loaded on us for too long."

We are special and truth be told, it's time to refocus on the T in Pride, and take back what we originally started — an all-inclusive celebration of diversity within the community, and one that recognizes the needs of the transgender community. Gone should be vendor booths from health care corporations that do not offer a comprehensive affordable trans health care plan; eliminate the inclusion of LGBTQ+ legal organizations that are refusing to take on cases from our trans military personnel; scrutinize lesbian run organizations that are exclusionary of our female trans population; increase the overall visibility and inclusion of our trans men who have been silenced for too long, and at bare minimum, include the T in your welcoming banners (I'm looking at you Minneapolis).

As our visibility increases and our voices become louder, trans rights are becoming the civil rights of our generation. Kelsie Brynn Jones reiterated to Bustle, "hopefully society will hear us and come to understand that access to healthcare, a right to equal rights, and a right to live free from discrimination, should be guaranteed for all."