For almost 50 years, the LGBT community has flown its flag high and shown it’s pride in parades across the world. However, while the parades of today are full of color and jubilation, their origins are from a much more solemn place. Even though society seems to be evolving and more accepting of the community, many countries still oppress it and the struggle for equal rights is still very much alive and well. This is reflective of much of LGBT history: creating a rainbow after the rain. In order to understand and appreciate our present, we must know it in the fullest context of our history.
Pride parades got their start from a place of unfortunate violence: the Stonewall Riots. The riots, regarded as the most pivotal moment for the movement and the original spark for major change, occurred in 1969 at a gay club in downtown Manhattan called the Stonewall Inn. Protests broke out after police raided the club, which happened routinely in the few gay bars that existed under the guise of regulating the alcohol being sold. This discriminatory raid led to a violent conflict between protestors and police officers that lasted over a week. One year later, a march was dedicated to the event, called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. The march went on from Greenwich Village to Central Park, and looked very different from what a pride parade looks like today. Those in attendance held banners and signs as they walked, chanting “Say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud.”
While this march was a major influence, the first “real” parades were held that same weekend in Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. Los Angeles’s parade was the first parade that was officially city-sanctioned, being a registered event rather than a demonstration. Pride parades began to resemble their modern-day equivalent in 1974 when the Los Angeles parade added their first festival element. While these events slowly began to become more joyful, the first pride parades in the 1970’s were really full of fear. Many were genuinely worried about being hurt or killed for holding up signs proclaiming their sexuality, not even sure if they’d make it to the end of the parade’s route alive. For context, homosexuality was still illegal at the time and marriage equality was far from a liveable notion.
While pride parades have a long history in America and the country continues to make large strides towards equality, they’re also being seen across the world in countries that are still struggling. South Africa’s first pride parade was held in 1990 in Johannesburg, called Joburg Pride, nearing the end of the apartheid era. In 2012, Uganda held its first pride parade to protest the government’s proposed sodomy laws, nicknamed the “Kill the Gays Bill.” Guyana, the only South American country that still criminalizes homosexuality, had its first pride parade this year with hundreds of participants. Unfortunately, not every country has been able to launch their own pride parades. The Middle East’s first ever LGBT pride event, called Beirut Pride, was canceled with its organizer being arrested. Although Lebanon is one of the very few Arab countries that allow LGBT individuals to be open about their sexuality, sexual intercourse different from the “order of nature” is still illegal and can be punished with prison time.
The rights of LGBT people have definitely seen progress towards equality in the past 50 years, but many still struggle to live their day-to-day lives due to archaic laws still in place. The disparity of rights between different countries is still so wide, with many countries legalizing marriage while others are still punishing homosexuality with death. So, while we attend our parades, celebrating our fighting and advocating for more change, we should also remember the point that we came from and what people still go through across the world.
by Jessica Grioua