Pride Month is celebrated by millions of Americans every year in June. It is celebrated by members of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning/queer) community, their families, friends, allies, and supporters. We celebrate with parades, conferences, and parties but it is easy to forget the origin of Pride Month. Why June? It is easy to push aside the memories of elders in the LGBTQ+ community and think that our society just gradually and peacefully changed to accept LGBTQ+ individuals. That is not the case.
Pride Month is celebrated in June in recognition of the Stonewall Riots that began on June 28, 1969, in the early morning in Lower Manhattan, NYC, at the Stonewall Inn. The Riots started after, yet another police raid was launched against the LGBTQ+ community, with the backing of the Public Morals Squad. Police raids were unfortunately common and were rooted in nothing but the homophobic mindset of the public at the time. The senseless raids were justified by the police as “searching for contraband and illegal drinking”; however, anything deeper than a surface glance reveals that the police did not carry out raids of this type with any sort of frequency on bars that were not known to cater to the gay population of the city, while bars like Stonewall were raided on a nearly monthly basis.
On the morning of June 28, 1969, the LGBTQ+ community of Greenwich Village finally had enough of disparate treatment and corrupt officers. After several minutes of police assaults, including the invasion of the bodily anatomy of many “crossdressers” at the hands of the police, the decision was made to take all the patrons to the station for processing. Unfortunately for the New York Police and the Public Moral Squad, and fortunately for the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, things did not go as planned. A large crowd of Lower Manhattan’s gay population had assembled as the first of the police transport wagons arrived. When an officer shoved a transwoman to the ground and several peaceful bystanders were assaulted, the crowd could take no more and fought back. The first brick was thrown by transwoman and activist Marsha P. Johnson. The protests lasted until July 3, 1969, during which many LGBTQ+ rights organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance were formed, organizations that still fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals to this day.
The Stonewall Riots mark the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement. Though certainly not the first case of gender and sexual orientation minority protests, Stonewall was a catalyzing moment for the movement, the protests being too large for the general public to ignore, and the abuses to the LGBTQ+ community too blatant to be simply swept under the rug by the corrupt police who wanted to protect the social status quo.
This June, try not to forget that it wasn't always rainbow floats and painted faces. It wasn't always pride flags and fashion shows. Remember that less than sixty (60) years ago, it was the blood, tears, and voices of the systematically oppressed and their allies who fought tooth and nail for every single right and protection that the LGBTQ+ community has, and continues to fight for to this day.
When you see the rainbow flags this year, remember the raised fist of defiance behind them that enabled those flags to fly, and remember the LGBTQ+ individuals in your life that are still fighting.
Author Ben Angstadt is a member of Cipriani & Werner, P.C.’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and is an administrative staff member in C&W’s Harrisburg Regional Office.