June is one of my favorite months of the year, for many reasons. As a teacher, I have always enjoyed June because it is the first chance most of us in the trenches get to unwind and breathe after the craziness that is a 180-day school year. In addition, I have fond memories of annual beach trips with family and friends to North Litchfield, Pawley’s Island and Edisto Beach. Finally, if I am being quite honest, I enjoy the days where if I don’t want to leave my house I don’t have to and if I don’t want to change out of my pajamas, I don’t. There – I said it.
This year, however, June is even more important. I would go so far as to say that this June is momentous or historic. What makes this June any more special than any of the other Junes? Why should this one stand out and be celebrated? The answer can be found in tiny little bar on the island of Manhattan in Greenwich Village – The Stonewall Inn.
On June 28, 1969, 50 years ago today, the Stonewall Inn was one of the few gay bars in operation in New York City. The mafia-owned bar with no liquor license was the favored “safe place” of many of societies outcasts at the time (LGBT teen runaways, trans people, prostitutes, minor drug dealers, etc.) and was subjected to monthly police raids. The raid in June 1969 happened on the 28th, but it went differently than previous raids. This time, the fairies stood their ground and fought back.
According to most stories, a large crowd gathered and began questioning why the officers were mistreating and arresting patrons of the bar. Waiting longer than usual for the Patty Wagons to arrive, a butch lesbian names Stormé Delervarie repeatedly escaped from and fought with officers to avoid being arrested. She reportedly yelled “WHY ISN’T ANYBODY DOING ANYTHING?!” before being hit repeatedly with batons and roughly shoved into the wagon. When the crowd saw her bloodied face, they went berserk. At this, Stonewall Sheroes Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera threw bricks in the direction of the officers and through the front window of the bar. And just like that, the modern Gay Rights Movement was born.
Starting in June 1970 and continuing every year since then, a Pride Parade has been held in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. As time has passed, the entire month of June has officially become Pride Month; and like clockwork, every year come the grumblings from privileged people in our society asking why a pride month is necessary. That question is quickly followed by someone chiming in to ask why there is no straight pride month.
Usually, I just ignore the question because I feel it is so stupid that to acknowledge it with a response would be to give it more credit than it deserves (which is none). Not this year. This year is too important to the movement to not answer the question. So, to finally silence the critics, here are the reasons why Pride is important.
1. It is a Reminder of our Historic Contributions
You cannot be proud of who you are if you do not acknowledge the past, and history is full of important LGBTQ people who have given the world so much. And for the record, I am not just talking about Broadway musicals, either. Some of the most influential people in world history were LGBTQ people, including Alexander the Great, Hatshepsut, and Leonardo Da Vinci. The world would have been very different now had Alan Turing, a gay man, not created the computer that eventually allowed the Allied Powers to crack the Nazi codes and bring the war to a much quicker end.
Without LGBTQ people, the first woman in space wouldn’t have inspired hundreds of girls into becoming scientists and astronauts. There would be no The Matrix franchise and countless other movies and books. There would be no Sheldon Cooper and no Ellen Degeneres. There would have been no March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There would not have been heroes on a highjacked airplane who saved lives by sacrificing their own to take back the plane on the morning of September 11th.
2. It is a Love Letter to our Chosen Family
When it comes to our families, LGBTQ people have not always “won the genetic lottery.” Many LGBTQ people are disowned by their families and thrown out into the streets. The majority of homeless youth in this country identify as LGBTQ and while in that moment most people believe they have no place to go and nobody to help, we pick each other up, and we form chosen families. These families run deeper than most biological families, because these families are built on unconditional acceptance and love. In the two video clips below from the historic and groundbreaking FX series Pose, you can see aspects of how Chosen Families form and function. The first clip highlights house mother Blanca’s relationship with Damon, one of her children throughout the first season. The second clip shows how similar house mother’s can be real mothers with an argument between Blanca and another one of her children, Lil Papi.
I have yet to attend a pride related function that wasn’t completely filled with love and warmth. It is nothing but supportive chosen families loving each other and showing their families off. Even the street preachers and protestors are met with love and support. If you have never been to a pride event before, this reason alone is a reason to go – just take some tissues with you for the happy tears that will invariably flow while you are there.
When the world followed President Reagan’s lead and turned his back on the LGBTQ community as thousands of young men began dying of AIDS we picked each other up from the pits of despair and we raised money for research. We buried our brothers and sisters. We became our own families because that was what we had to do.
3. Its a Celebration of Achievements
In the 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, the world has completely changed for people who are part of the LGBTQ community. What was once considered a mental disorder by doctors is now seen differently. In 50 years we have seen:
- The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
- The End of the Defense of Marriage Act
- The Legality of Same Sex Marriage Nation-wide
- An increased push from major politicians to support the equality Act
- A sitting Democratic President announce support for same sex marriage
- The Passage of the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act
- Openly Gay politicians, included a married gay man currently running for president.
- Stonewall becoming the first place on the National Historic Monument registry to be recognized solely for its importance to the Gay Rights Movement.
In a span of 50 years, that amount of progress is historic. So forgive us as we celebrate that fact. But if you are a fan of glitter, short shorts, pop music, and yelling “YAAASSSSS QUEEN!,” by all means, come join the party.
4. It is a Chance to be “Normal”
For many people – especially those in more rural or conservative areas – Pride is the only time of the year for people to take advantage of the many things most cisgendered, heterosexual people take for granted. Things like walking down the street holding the hand of their same-sex spouse. Or a quick kiss while you wait on the sidewalk for an Uber. Or walking in your short shorts and tank top to meet your friends for some drinks. Or spending the night dancing with your friends in a club.
It might seem silly that those are brought up, but for most people in the LGBTQ community, it is the truth. There is not a gay person I know who hasn’t received dirty looks, been called a homophobic or derogatory slur, or been on the receiving end of actual physical violence because they were a little bit different. This includes Sean Kennedy, who was a year older than me in high school. He was the first openly gay person I ever met and we had art class together. I always found him funny and he was always nice to me. I learned so much about life in that class from him. Towards the end of my senior year in high school, Sean was tragically assaulted and beaten to death as he left a restaurant in Greenville with some friends because of his sexuality. I often think of him as Pride rolls around every year, because I know I would run into him during one of the events held.
5. It is Flipping the Bird to All the Negativity.
Society has always had a fear of things that are different from the majority or what is considered normal. This is not just true of people, either. In nature, a flock will attack any bird that is more colorful than the others because being different is seen as a threat. The first Pride was a riot – in the form of a big middle finger to a discriminatory police department. The second pride in 1970 was a middle finger to society telling us we should remain silent. If there is one thing the LGBTQ community has never been really good, however, that would have to be remaining in the shadows away from the spotlight.
Pride is our chance to give those who would seek to keep the LGBTQ community harm or keep us in the shadows a big middle finger. It does not matter whether it is a reality tv President and his homophobic and bigoted followers or if it is a sheriff/pastor who stands in the pulpit urging his congregation to kill gay people. Our middle finger message to both and all the others in between is simple: We exist. We are NOT going anywhere. That in spite of all your attempts to silence us, to change us, to hate us, to scare us, and to kill us, we are not going to be defeated. No now. Not ever.
Why do we have pride? We have pride because we take all the hatred, discrimination, fear, violence, homophobia, anger, and rage that is constantly rained on our community and we THRIVE. How? By turning the rain you have thrown at us into a fucking rainbow. And for that, we will always be proud!