pride parade Tag Archive

Origins of the Gay Pride Movement and Pride Parades

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The sixties were a time when many groups started to fight for their rights. Everything from the civil rights movement, women’s feminist movement, and the anti-war movement polarized Americans and got everyone out to organize, march, protest, and campaign. It was a time for big strides in social change on a variety of fronts. It saw the rise of the gay pride movement and the beginning of the now worldwide celebration of Pride parades.

The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were working towards uniting and providing support for the gay and lesbian community since the 1950’s. After the riots at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, it was no longer enough to protest quietly or disguise your identity in a vaguely named organization. The gay rights movement became much more vocal and confrontational. The Gay Liberation Front was created barely a month after Stonewall. Six months later, members of the GLF splintered off to help form The Gay Activists Alliance. Stonewall had become a rallying cry that gained momentum over the year that followed.

Members of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations decided at their meeting in Philadelphia to have a march in New York on the one-year anniversary of Stonewall. Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Brody, and Linda Rhodes were pivotal figures in getting the referendum passed. Back in New York, Rodwell hosted meetings in his apartment and at his bookstore, the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. Brenda Howard attended these meetings and would eventually become a driving force not only for the first march but many more Pride events that followed.

The Christopher Street Liberation Day March took place on Sunday, June 28th along 51 city blocks from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Those attending the first march worried they would not even make it from Christopher Street to Central Park. There was lots of hostility from a largely homophobic public. Despite the fear of being attacked, the march grew in number and jubilance as it made it’s way to Central Park. They chanted and carried signs, making sure to tell the public they were no longer going to stay quiet about their cause. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago also had a march that year. The following year saw more marches around the US, then the first international marches began.

In time, Pride would grow in attendance and host cities worldwide. The 1970s and 1980s were difficult times as the LGBT community had to fight hard against discrimination and also some hard fights within their own communities. Despite this, the passion to change politics and public opinion never waned. Gay Freedom Marches, Gay Liberation Day and Gay Freedom Day continued to be events to bring LGBT issues to the forefront and to make its causes known to a wider audience. The community and burgeoning rights groups would see many challenges in those early decades, from the assassination of Harvey Milk in 1978 to the struggle against increased fear and homophobia during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s.

Pride events quickly evolved from the one-day march to weekend and weeklong festivals. The tone was more political in those early years but even as Pride celebrations became more festive, the undertone of politics and advocacy never went away. By the 1980s, the events changed from “freedom” and “liberation” titled events to the term “Gay Pride.”

Pride would be celebrated around the world, London in July of 1972, Stockholm in 1979, and Berlin in 1979. The ’80s saw an increase in world Pride events with cities like Paris, Dublin, Winnipeg, and Hamburg. Many Gay and Lesbian film festivals started in the US and internationally around this time. Pride events saw a great expansion around the world in the ’90s with the addition of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Israel, Japan, Thailand, Austria, Iceland, many Eastern European countries, and the start of EuroPride which changes the hosting European city every year.

The largest celebration is in Sao Paolo, Brazil with 3,000,000 participants and was named the largest pride parade in the world by the Guinness World Records in 2006. EuroPride has the next largest participants while San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have the largest numbers in the US. Taiwan is the largest in Asia, Tel Aviv is the largest in the Middle East and Toronto is the largest in Canada. The smallest had 100 participants in Sligo, Ireland.

You can now find Pride events in almost every country, from the largest cities to smallest islands, and the numbers continue to grow. Check with your local LGBT organizations, LGBT Community Center or online resources for lists of Pride events near you.

 

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Marsha P Johnson: Transgender Activist

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For Pride Month, I looked into the history of the Stonewall Riots. An important part of that history is relevant this month. The Stonewall Inn was significant because it catered to the outcast amongst the outliers. They not only provided a safe space for underage homeless gay kids but a place for the transgendered, cross-dressers, and the gender fluid. Gay, lesbian and trans patrons socialized together. It was a place where they could find others like themselves, a place where they could feel safe even if it was only between police raids.

Long before the riots, activist groups were already forming and worked under the radar for equal rights. Constant raids, harassment, and abuse leading up to Stonewall made it an exploding pressure cooker. There are many conflicting accounts of who “started” the riots. What’s more significant are the amazing people who stood up for their rights that night. One of the notable people present that night was Marsha P Johnson, a trans person of color.

Marsha P Johnson was born Malcolm Michaels Jr. on August 24, 1945, in Elizabeth New Jersey. Malcolm moved to NYC in 1966, and legally changed her name to Marsha P Johnson. The “P” she said, stands for “Pay It No Mind,” a preemptive answer to a question she knew was on people’s minds. Marsha identified as a drag queen, though sometimes she would slip into a male persona and become Malcolm on occasion. When that happened, she could be mean and vicious. A majority of the time, she was kind and gentle.

She spent much of her first years in Greenwich Village on the street, a fate for most trans folk and drag queens. Wearing women’s clothes or looking effeminate in a way was unacceptable so kids were often thrown out of the house or they ran away. Marsha decided to escape her family that would not allow her to leave the house dressed as women by moving to the Village. To make ends meet, Marsha found sex work a reliable, if dangerous, way to make a living. She lived for many years couch surfing, staying overnight with Johns or even sleeping in a movie theater during the matinees. She would later find a permanent home with friends.

Marsha’s exuberant nature coupled with her love for extravagant accessories on a non-existent budget was well known and loved. She could often be found with massive amounts of flowers in her hair or with an elaborate hat. She would piece outfits together between dumpster diving, second-hand clothes, and castaways from the flower market. Marsha’s penchant for dramatic clothing served her well while she was a member of the Hot Peaches, a renowned gay theater troupe that ran from 1972 to 1998. In the same spirit as San Francisco’s Cockettes, Hot Peaches was well known for its entertaining and thought-provoking performances. Marsha would read poetry or sing, to much acclaim.

While Marsha was already a member of the Gay Liberation Front, she formed the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, STAR, with her friend Sylvia Rivera in 1970. STAR helped young drag queens and trans women with food and shelter. Their goal was to help cast out young street queens, but they were open to anyone who needed their help. They looked after any street kids trying to survive around the Christopher Street docks. Housing was a challenge. At first, Marsha and Sylvia put up as many as they could in their hotel rooms. They then tried using an abandoned tracker trailer until the owner recovered it with the street kids still inside. Eventually, they renovated a burned out house owned by the mafia that became known as STAR House. Marsha was “mother” to the kids at STAR House during the two years it lasted before they were forced to leave. She and Sylvia hustled on the streets to make money to provide for them so they could stay off the streets. They ran STAR as a collective with everyone helping to provide food and supplies as best they could.

Marsha and Sylvia continued to advocate and help street queens and queer youth even after their attempts to provide a permanent place for them was foiled. They were often seen at marches and protests together. Marsha was also involved with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), an AIDS advocacy group that formed in 1987.

In 1974, Marsha was photographed and painted by Andy Warhol. Warhol decided to do a series based on drag queens. He went to the Gilded Grape, a nightclub popular with cross-dressers, and took photos of several drag queens hanging out at the nightclub. These large format polaroids were transferred to paintings as a silk screen. Marsha’s photo, a brightly smiling portrait with a playful pigtailed wig, became part of his “Ladies and Gentlemen” series first shown in Italy.

As she became a beacon of light for street queens, an inspiring performer and a work of art, Marsha also struggled with mental illness. She even claimed to have visions. Despite not being accepted by the Catholic Church, she was very spiritual and was known to pray prostrate at the foot of a statue of Mary at the local churches. Living as gender non-conforming drag queen and a person of color was already a challenge. Coupled with the dangers of sex work this added immense pressure and stress in her life. During her lifetime, she experienced several attempts on her life by Johns, so many arrests she lost count, and many nervous breakdowns. Despite all this, Marsha was always known to give what little food and money she had to others. There’s a story that she used the last of her money to buy a back of cookies then wound up giving away most of it to the street queens she passed. Marsha’s would rather give away the last of what she had rather than see others go in need.

Marsha’s live was cut short in July of 1992. A few hours after the Pride March on July 6th, her body was found floating in the Hudson River near the Christopher Street piers. The police dismissed it as a suicide, but everyone who knew her argued that was impossible. There had been no indication she was suicidal. What they did know was that she was harassed shortly before she was found dead. Friends rallied to have her death investigated, but the case was closed. In 2012, Mariah Lopez lobbied to reopen the case and won. The New York police department reopened the case as a possible homicide2012. Unfortunately, I can find lots of info about the reopening of the case but nothing about any results. As far as I can tell, the case is still open and unsolved.

Marsha was a champion of trans rights and a guardian angel for the cast off runaways she found in the West Village. There are amazing stories of her vibrant personality and her endless generosity. While not without her demons, she made a big different in the lives of many and continues to be an inspiration long after her death.

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History of the Pride Flag

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By РадужныйФлагКопия2.png: *Rainbow_flag_breeze.jpg: Benson Kua from Toronto, Canada derivative work: Ligth Mehanist (talk) derivative work: Hotshot977 (РадужныйФлагКопия2.png) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By РадужныйФлагКопия2.png via Wikimedia Commons

I remember getting ready to join my friends for my first Pride parade viewing. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but never seemed to get around to. This time I was invited by a group of friends, which is so much more fun than just going by myself. Everyone was going to dress up in bright rainbow inspired outfits; tutus, striped stockings, t-shirts, wigs, sunglasses, et al. Gothy me took one look in my wardrobe and made a dreadful discovery… I hadn’t a stitch of bright colored clothing and the idea of wearing anything bright and cheerful was downright terrifying.

But it’s Pride so I acquiesced. I went to the store and bought rainbow colored fishnet tights and wore my red Sex Geek t-shirt. That was an explosion of color for me.

I had a great time even though it was insanely crowded. There were fun floats, dazzling dancers, and significant supporters. It was great to see political figures; a few celebrities and proud parents along with the LGBT community celebrate with what seemed like the longest parade I had ever witnessed. I wonder how many of those Pride revelers knew the significance and history of the colors they were wearing. It’s not just about glitter eye shadow, rainbow tights, and tutus. The Pride flag has a history and there is meaning to the colors.

The original flag first flew in the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco on June 25th, 1978. Gay Pride parades had been around for 8 years at this point, starting with the parade on Christopher Street Liberation Day commemorating the Stonewall Riots of the previous year. Gilbert Baker wanted to create flags for the parade but found there really wasn’t a symbol for the movement yet. He came up with the idea of a rainbow to represent all the different gender, nationalities, and races as well as representing the beauty and magic of nature. Baker was influenced by the “Flag of the Human Race” that was popular during world peace demonstrations in the 60’s. It’s also been said he was inspired by the song “Over the Rainbow” Baker learned how to sew to make his own outfits for his drag performances. He brought together 30 volunteers who hand dyed and stitched together the first two flags in the attic of the Gay Community Center.

The first flag comprised of 8 colors, each imbued with a meaning. They are; hot pink – sexuality, red – life, orange – healing, yellow – sunlight, green – nature, turquoise – magic/art, indigo/blue – serenity/harmony, and violet – spirit. Baker then started working at the Paramount Flag Company where he convinced them to manufacture the new Pride flag. It became very popular, especially after the assassination of Harvey Milk in November of 1978. Paramount dropped the hot pink when fabric in the color was unavailable. In 1979, the turquoise strip was eliminated when the flag was hung from Market Street lampposts. They thought three colors on each side looked better than having the pole split the odd numbered stripe down the middle. The Indigo stripe was also changed to royal blue at this time. The flag has remained in this configuration ever since and is traditionally flown horizontally with the red stripe on top

Baker created two mile-long flags to commemorate the anniversaries of Stonewall and the original flag. On the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots the mile long, 30-foot wide flag consisting of the original eight colors stretched down Manhattan’s First Avenue. It was even confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the largest flag in the world. That flag would be dismantled and given to sponsors and activists. In 2003, an 8,0000 foot flag, 15 feet wide, was unfurled in Key West at the “Rainbow 25 and PrideFest” for the 25th anniversary of the first pride flag.

Today the Pride flag is flown all over the world. I hope you remember all the thought that went into this icon when you don your rainbow top hat, knee socks, and booty shorts. A great deal of suffering and strife is behind those bright colors. What’s wonderful about the flag and the overall feeling at Pride parades is that for a day we joyously celebrate life and freedom of expression while remembering the sadness and pain that many have experienced in the history of the movement.

 

 

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