What is LGBT+ Pride Month and why is it important?

The rainbow flag flying on Whiteknights campus.

LGBT+ Pride Month is celebrated across the world during the month of June. Thousands of Pride marches are organised around the world to celebrate the achievements and contributions of the LGBT+ community to our society but also to highlight and remind us of the work that still needs to be done to progress the rights of LGBT+ individuals worldwide. This blog will cover the origins of LGBT+ Pride Month, it’s importance and resources to help you learn more about the history of LGBT+ rights.

Origins of LGBT+ Pride Month

The Stonewall Riots, also known as the Stonewall uprising, was a major turning point for gay rights in America, and across the world. During the 1960s, the LGBT+ community were subjected to a large amount of harassment and persecution, including in bars and restaurants. “In fact, gay men and women in New York City could not be served alcohol in public due to liquor laws that considered the gathering of homosexuals to be ‘disorderly’” (History.com editors, 2022). This led to many restaurants and bars refusing to serve people they believed to be part of the LGBT+ community due to fear of being shut down by the authorities. In 1966, “members of the Mattachine Society in New York City staged a “sip-in”—a twist on the “sit-in” protests of the 1960s—in which they visited taverns, declared themselves gay, and waited to be turned away so they could sue” (History.com editors, 2022). This led to the reversal of anti-gay liquor laws when they were denied service at the Greenwich Village tavern Julius, which resulted in “the Commission on Human Rights [getting] involved, claiming that homosexuals had the right to be served in bars, and the discriminatory policy by the State Liquor Authority no longer viewed homosexuals as “disorderly” (History.com editors, 2022).

Three years later, the Stonewall Riots occurred. Despite, the Commission of Human Rights ruling that LGBT+ individuals had a right to be served in bars, “gay behaviour in public (holding hands, kissing or dancing with someone of the same sex) was still illegal, so police harassment of gay bars continued, and many bars still operated without liquor licenses” (History.com editors, 2021). The Mafia saw “profit in catering to shunned gay clientele, and by the mid-1960s, the Genovese crime family controlled most Greenwich Village gay bars” (History.com editors, 2021). The Genovese family bought the Stonewall Inn and opened it as a gay bar; They decided to open the bar as a private “bottle bar” meaning that it did not require a liquor license as people were supposed to provide their own alcohol (History.com editors, 2021). Stonewall Inn “quickly became an important Greenwich Village institution” as it was relatively cheap, welcomed drag queens (who were often met with a bitter reception at other clubs), became a nightly home for many runaway and homeless gay youths and was one of the only bars who allowed the LGBT+ community to dance together (History.com editors, 2021). In order for the police to ignore the activities which occurred within the club, the Genovese family bribed them to let them know when they were coming to raid the club. This allowed the owners to “stash the alcohol (sold without a liquor license) and hide other illegal activities. In fact, the NYPD had stormed Stonewall Inn just a few days before the riot-inducing raid” (History.com editors, 2021).

On the morning of June 28, the Stonewall Inn was raided without the bar being tipped off. “Armed with a warrant, police officers entered the club, roughed up patrons, and, finding bootlegged alcohol, arrested 13 people, including employees and people violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute (female officers would take suspected cross-dressing patrons into the bathroom to check their sex)” (History.com editors, 2021). The LGBT+ community was fed up with the constant harassment and discrimination they faced, so rather than dispersing after the riot they decided to hang around outside the bar after the raid. People were being aggressively manhandled increasing tensions between the LGBT+ community and the police. “At one point, an officer hit a lesbian over the head as he forced her into the police van— she shouted to onlookers to act, inciting the crowd to begin throw pennies, bottles, cobble stones and other objects at the police” (History.com editors, 2021). “Within minutes, a full-blown riot involving hundreds of people began” (History.com editors, 2021). Police, some prisoners and a Village Voice writer decided to barricade themselves within the bar, which the mob attempted to set on fire after breaching the barricade repeatedly” (History.com editors, 2021). Eventually, the fire department and riot squad came to disperse the crowd and rescue those inside. Over the next 6 days, protests continued within the area as “thousands of people showed up to express their solidarity with the LGBT community” (Holland, 2019). “The violent attack on this sacred bar that many called home was the breaking point for those looking to advance LGBT political activism” (Holland, 2019). The Stonewall Riots made one thing clear that “nothing was going to change if they continued their passive, non-threatening tactics. [The LGBT+ Community] needed to get organized” (Holland, 2019).

“Five months after the [Stonewall] riots, activists Craig Rodwell, his partner Fred Sargeant, Ellen Brody and Linda Rhodes proposed a resolution at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) in Philadelphia that a march be held in New York City to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the raid” (Holland, 2019). The idea behind the annual march was that it would happen on the last Saturday of June with “no dress or age regulations” (Holland, 2019) – this was a large change as other walks and protests would always require men in jackets and ties and women in dresses. The Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee planned the march and L. Craig Schoonmaker, a member of Christopher Street Liberation Day March planning committee, suggested the term “Pride” as the slogan for the march (Holland, 2019). Schoonmaker stated the reasons behind this term was because “a lot of people were very repressed, they were conflicted internally, and didn’t know how to come out and be proud. That’s how the movement was most useful, because they thought, ‘Maybe I should be proud” (Holland, 2019). This led to the official chant of the march to be “Say it loud, gay is proud”. This march is known as the first LGBT+ Pride March and is the reason why LGBT+ Pride month is celebrated in June.

Why is LGBT+ Pride Month important?

Although there has been progression in LGBT+ rights since the Stonewall riot, there is still a long way to go before the LGBT+ community can achieve true equality, therefore it is clear that the original message of Pride marches and LGBT+ Pride Month is still very poignant today. Here are some thoughts from people across the University of Reading on why LGBT+ Pride Month is important to celebrate and recognise:

For me, LGBT+ Pride Month, is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the hard battles that have been fought and won by our community. There has been much recent progress in the legal recognition of same sex civil partnerships and same-sex marriage however, there are still societal, cultural and legal issues that need to be addressed, which impact on the mental health of many in our community.”Allan Laville he/him (Dean of Diversity and Inclusion)

“LGBT+ pride month is important for visibility, voice, and recognition. That we at UoR are able to celebrate publicly and proudly is a privilege that many people around the world do not have – and it is therefore also a responsibility: to be seen where others are invisible; to speak also for those without voice; to be recognised by our peers and allies, and to recognise those whose society, family, and friends are still failing to embrace.”Ruvi Ziegler he/him (Leader of the LGBT+ Staff Network)

“LGBT+ Pride month is about acceptance and equality and being proud of who you are and who you love. It is particularly important to celebrate and support our LGBT+ communities but also to educate and raise awareness of the presence and the damage that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia causes. For those who don’t identify as LGBT+ it is a rallying call for true and authentic allyship and the wider recognition that there is still much to do in terms of social reform.”Anne-Marie Henderson she/her (Director of Student Success and Engagement)

At its core, LGBT+ Pride month is a protest: we attempt to resist and protest against a society that shuns and dehumanizes us. As a transgender woman, LGBT+ Pride Month is a moment for me to carry on the fight for our human rights: to allow us access to essential medical care, to not be spat at and attacked, for “conversion therapy” (a practice that the UN has classified as a form of torture) to finally be banned. LGBT+ Pride month is also a time of celebration, which allows members of the community to unashamedly celebrate the progress we have made. For trans people, this is a unique experience: even by segments of the LGB community we can find ourselves maligned and rejected, but at these inclusive LGBT+ Pride gatherings we know that we are surrounded by allies and people like us – making us feel safe and allowing us to dance together, to celebrate together, to cry and comfort each other. This is what makes LGBT+ Pride special.” – Mason Grant Considine she/her (Inclusion Consultant)

Resources to learn more about LGBT+ History Month

If you are interesting in learning more about the history of LGBT+ rights globally, here are a couple of resources to get you started:

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