Colourful, uplifting parades with floats and celebrities, joyous festivals, workshops, picnics, and parties are among the principal components of LGBTQ (Gay) Pride Month, which is celebrated in June in the United States. Pride Month commemorates years of struggle for civil rights and the ongoing pursuit of equal justice under the law for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, as well as the accomplishments of LGBTQ individuals. But why is Pride Month celebrated in June?
The organized pursuit of gay rights in the United States reaches back to at least 1924 and the founding of the Society of Human Rights in Chicago by Henry Gerber. But the event that catalyzed the gay rights movement came in June 1969 in New York City’s Greenwich Village, at the Stonewall Inn. In the early morning hours of June 28, police raided this popular gathering place for young gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people—arresting the employees for selling liquor without a license, roughing up many of the patrons, and clearing the bar. Outside, the crowd that watched the bar’s patrons being herded into police vans became enraged. Whereas previous witnesses to police harassment of members of the LGBTQ community had stood by passively, this time the crowd jeered the police and threw coins and debris at them, forcing the police to barricade themselves in the bar to await backup. Meanwhile, some 400 people rioted. Although police reinforcements dispersed the crowd, riots waned and waxed outside the bar for the next five days, and these Stonewall riots (also called the Stonewall uprising) provided the spark that ignited the gay rights movement in the United States.
Four years prior to the Stonewall riots, gay rights activists in Philadelphia had staged an “Annual Reminder” protest outside Independence Hall on July 4, but these had been carefully constrained picket demonstrations in which men were required to wear suits, women were called upon to don skirts and blouses, and displays of public affection were forbidden. At the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations in Philadelphia on November 2, 1969, the idea of a march in response to the Stonewall events was proposed. Scheduled for June 28, 1970, the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the march was named the Christopher Street Liberation Day march after the street that was the epicentre of New York City’s gay community and from which the procession originated.
Although “gay power” had been proposed as the slogan for the march, it was argued that the movement had yet to be politically empowered but that its members felt great pride in their sexual identity. Thus, it was decided that the march’s theme would be “gay pride.” Sources differ as to the exact number of people who ultimately participated in the march—estimates ranged from 1,000 to 20,000—but no one disputes that at the start there were at most a few hundred marchers. Later, however, by the time the march ended 51 blocks north on Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, its numbers had swelled dramatically, as individuals joined the procession en route in solidarity, chanting, “Say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud.’
The day before the pride march in New York City, some 150 people in Chicago had capped off a weeklong event with the country’s first march commemorating Stonewall. On the day of the New York march, “the world’s first permitted parade advocating for gay rights” was staged on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles and a “Gay In” was held in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Thereafter, Gay Pride generally came to be celebrated in the United States on the last Sunday in June (though there are many exceptions) as sombre marches evolved into joyous celebrations. In time, the day expanded to become a monthlong event. Elsewhere in the world, Gay Pride is sometimes celebrated at different times of the year.