Sep 11, 2012

Why We Celebrate Prides

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Early on the morning of Saturday, 28 June 1969, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning persons rioted following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar at 43 Christopher Street, New York City. This riot and further protests and rioting over the following nights were the watershed moment in modern LGBT rights movement and the impetus for organizing LGBT pride marches on a much larger public scale.

On November 2, 1969, Craig Rodwell, his partner Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, and Linda Rhodes proposed the first pride march to be held in New York City by way of a resolution at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) meeting in Philadelphia.

The proposal – “That the Annual Reminder, in order to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged, that of our fundamental human rights, be moved both in time and location.”

“We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY. No dress or age regulations shall be made for this demonstration.”

“We also propose that we contact Homophile organizations throughout the country and suggest that they hold parallel demonstrations on that day. We propose a nationwide show of support.”

Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street and the first Gay Pride march in U.S. history, covering the 51 blocks to Central Park. The march took less than half the scheduled time due to excitement, but also due to wariness about walking through the city with gay banners and signs. Although the parade permit was delivered only two hours before the start of the march, the marchers encountered little resistance from onlookers. The New York Times reported (on the front page) that the marchers took up the entire street for about 15 city blocks.

Fast forward forty two years and we see the fruits of those frustrated pioneers. We have awesome Pride Events in most major cities throughout the US and the world. My point in mentioning our conception as a group to be reckoned with is twofold.

First, we need to understand that things were a lot different forty years ago. The idea that gay people could have rights was a new concept. Before the movement began we were the scum of the earth, creeps, un-godly, and other terms of depravity. As the movement progressed, people realized our numbers and we were part of their families. That’s when respect began to grow.

Second, we have made enormous inroads getting the message out to the big cities, but our rural areas are still suffering. As a group, we need to begin attending the out of the way places and show support for the small number of heroes who risk everything by displaying themselves, their businesses, and their families, while there is still plenty of discrimination.

Creating community in a small town isn’t always easy. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome; among them is fear, shame, stigma and all the old standbys. They don’t have armies of organizers, and often the same people are the ones organizing every event. Burnout is common. Sometimes they just need some encouragement.

The fight for LGBT Equality is not going to be won in the cities. It’s already mostly won there. It’s going to be won in small-town America, where people need to see gay people as human, normal, and neighbors. It’s going to be won when the casual onlooker comes to the parade hoping to see “freaks” and walks away disappointed, when he sees families and friends laughing and cheering.

We need your support at the pride events that we plan to attend this year. If you live within reasonable driving distance of a Pride event, make it a day trip and come out to support those who really could use your help.  If you would like to be a part of the solution and help us at a Pride event, please contact Don Davenport, Vice Chair of Outreach and Membership at [email protected].