Pride parades have existed in many forms all over the world for more than 50 years, and today, Pride Month is an annual celebration that features parades, parties, and protests. But not that long ago, something like Pride Month would have been completely unheard of. It wasn't until the 1970s, following the Stonewall uprising, that the modern gay rights movement began. Today, this movement encompasses everyone in the LGBTQIA community, and while much progress has been made, the work is ongoing.
The Stonewall uprising wasn't the first time LGBTQ+ people stood up against police harassment; earlier protests laid the groundwork for the events at New York City's Stonewall Inn. But Stonewall was the event that led to the creation of Pride Month. The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village was bought by several members of the Mafia in 1966 with the intention of making money by catering to an audience that was often shunned. It operated throughout the late 1960s as a popular bar where same-sex couples could drink and dance together. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, as they had many times before over the years; homosexuality was a crime, and so was cross-dressing. But this time, a crowd of patrons and bystanders accumulated outside the inn, and when a police officer roughed up a woman who was being arrested, the crowd starting shouting and throwing things at the police. The scene erupted into violence. Over the next few nights, the protests continued, and as word spread, what happened at Stonewall sparked LGBTQ+ activism across the country.
Following the Stonewall uprising, this spirit of resistance led a group of organizers to plan a march focused on gay pride. On June 28, 1970, the first anniversary of the Stonewall protests, the first Pride march occurred, starting outside the Stonewall Inn and making its way to Central Park. Gay liberation groups in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles also created their own marches around the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. This date was not only chosen because of the events that took place the year before but also because it was a Sunday, a popular shopping day in many major cities, meaning that the marches would be more visible. Throughout the 1970s, similar marches were organized in other cities, with the goal of advocating for equality as well as bringing queer culture into public spaces, showing that LGBTQ+ people weren't bad, just different. After several years of parades and marches on this date, the day was labeled in some cities as "Gay Freedom Day" or "Gay Liberation Day." In the 1980s, the movement became less radicalized, and these events became known as Gay Pride parades; later, the word "gay" would be dropped to be more inclusive of others in the LGBTQ+ community.
Pride has always been a political event, and even though today, these events may seem more like parties, they're also focused on community outreach. In major cities, Pride events have encouraged queer people to register to vote in order to help pressure local, state, and federal politicians to express their support for the community by marching and voting against laws that could harm people in the LGBTQ+ community. When the community has won important legal cases, including the decision to legalize marriage equality, the decision to end sodomy bans, and the ruling to stop hospitals from turning away trans patients, they have often occurred in June, giving the community more to celebrate.
In more recent years, Pride has expanded to encompass the whole month of June, starting in 1999, when President Bill Clinton declared June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. As Pride Month has grown and evolved, an increasing number of corporate and commercial interests have attempted to attach themselves to these celebrations, leading some in the community to question how much protest is still involved in Pride, given that large companies now help to fund some of these events as well as profit from them through merchandising. This has led to independent Pride events popping up in cities all over the country that are more focused on working for change, not just wearing pins and patches and waving flags.