In a blog post from the beginning of June, I shared the question the main character from Felix Ever After asks throughout the book: “how do we find and cultivate pride for each other and ourselves when we’re in a world that seems like it doesn’t want us to exist?” Every June (or every October in Ashland), the LGBTQIA+ community cultivates their own Pride through parades, performances, education, and other community building events. But these celebrations haven’t always been around, and they certainly haven’t always looked like they do now. Today I want to talk about the complicated history of Pride parades, how we got to where we are now, and where Pride goes from here.
The concept of the LGBTQIA+ Pride movement is in many ways very recent, and Pride parades are much newer than most people realize. While there have certainly been queer people and organizations for much longer, what is widely considered to be the birth of Pride celebrations was only about fifty years ago and was actually not a parade but a multiple day riot at a gay bar in New York that began on June 28th, 1969. At that time, gay bars were illegal and the only bars and nightclubs that LGBTQIA+ customers felt safe at were owned by the Mafia. In the early hours of June 29th, the Stonewall Inn, one of the most popular options for its dance floor and drag shows, was raided by police. But instead of customers enduring the usual identity checking and arrests, the customers, employees, and community members from the area (largely led by drag queens and trans women of color) rioted as an attempt to fight back against the arrests and the oppression of LBGTQIA+ people as a whole. Protests against the harassment of the community continued off and on for days, and while no laws were immediately changed and police raids on gay bars continued in New York and around the country after the Stonewall Riots, it has since been acknowledged as the turning point for the LGBTQIA+ rights movement that spurred a rise in political action, community marches and protests, and eventually a growth in acceptance from the general public. Curious to learn more? Check out this article!
To celebrate this major event, planned marches happened on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, Los Angeles, San Franscisco, and Chicago, followed by more large cities every year. These largely focused on political protest demanding equal rights and were a mix of somber education and events to mourn those lost to hate crimes and violence (and later those lost to AIDS) and celebrations that took advantage of the safety of being in a crowd. These events were a place for LGBTQIA+ people to build solidarity, prove that the community was not going anywhere, and find safety in numbers to be visibly queer with less fear of arrest or harassment. In the 1970s, and even decades later, it was still illegal in many states to publicly show affection as a gay person or wear clothing that was not deemed appropriate for someone’s sex, and people were much less likely to be arrested for dressing in drag or kissing a partner in public with hundreds of others around to support and protect them.
As public opinion got slowly but surely more accepting, Pride celebrations themselves became more common throughout the country, and also less about protest and more about celebration as a community. This turn toward celebration has increased even more in the last decade or two, after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011 and the Supreme Court declared same sex marriages as a constitutional right in 2015. Pride has evolved to become almost a sort of festival in many places, with large scale entertainment sponsored by large companies and a significant increase in attendance from those outside the LGBTQIA+ community. There have even been additions of specialized Pride celebrations, like Black Pride in the UK and Alternative Pride in New York. The changes to Pride can be a mixed bag for many people, as some festivities can unintentionally exclude more marginalized queer people who would want to celebrate, while simultaneously being a huge sign of how far we’ve come to be able to focus more on celebration and fun and to not have to fear being yourself in public. Check out this article for more on how Pride celebrations have evolved since the Stonewall Riots.
So, where does Pride go from here, and how does the library play a part? From marches to parades, Pride has always had some aspects of education and political protest, and with over 100 anti-trans bills introduced in state legislatures in 2021 alone, those education, protesting, and political engagement aspects aren’t going anywhere, and may even return to being a main focus of these events in coming years. As it often is with those looking to educate themselves or get involved in their community’s political process, this is a great place the library can come in! The library can provide books, movies, and more that provide representation and a voice for those in the LGBTQIA+ community, offer programs and community-building opportunities both for the queer community to learn about their peers and for those on the outside to learn about those unlike themselves (like the recent panel JCLS hosted, which you can watch here), provide resources explaining how to get involved with local government, voting, and more, and initiate partnerships and support for local LGBTQIA+ businesses and events. And because the library is free, it can help to fill the gap that some Pride events leave for more marginalized or poor participants. There is always room to keep supporting the evolving needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, and the library has tools to aid in that ongoing struggle.
For more information about LGBTQIA+ history and the struggle for equal rights, check out books on Pride history from this list.