Pride is always important. What it represents is important. And this year, in 2017, when LGBTQ rights are being rolled back, and what are sneeringly dismissed as “identity politics” are being questioned, it’s worth briefly examining some of the major events in the history of the LGBTQ Rights movement.
Homosexual acts were criminalized under British buggery laws, and these biases continued for most of American history. During the 19th century, Enlightenment thought surrounding gay rights slowly started to form. By the 1950s, the “Homophile” movement lobbied to make homosexuality more acceptable, and to perhaps influence politicians to decriminalize homosexuality. They failed. Their demonstrations consisted largely of suit wearing mean assembling in an orderly fashion. Public displays of affection between partners were explicitly forbidden, including holding hands. This movement was ignored by both politicians and the press.
What was it like being a gay person then? If law enforcement became aware that you had sex with someone of the same sex, you were subject to arrest and prosecution. If your employer became aware, they could fire you on the spot. The DSM listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. The FBI kept track of known homosexuals in the country. And the police would routinely raid the establishments where homosexuals were known to congregate.
A major tipping point was the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Its patrons were the most marginalized in the queer community. Many were transgender. Many were people of color. Most were poor. Some were homeless. For people who were some of the most rejected and marginalized in society, it operated as their de facto community center. The police raided the bar. Patrons were beaten. A crowd formed, shouting Civil Rights slogans. And they would not disperse. Angry crowds gathered at the Stonewall Inn for several days thereafter. And something happened: not only gay rights issues, but the existence of gay people were acknowledged in New York newspapers at an unprecedented level. Queer people around the country were inspired; gay liberation groups sprang up in cities and on college campuses around the nation.
Bisexual activist Brenda Howard organized the first Pride march in 1970s. The date was chosen to coincide with the Stonewall Riots of two years before. The core idea around these Pride marches is to be flamboyant. It is to be seen, it is to be heard.
It is different around the world. In San Francisco today, it will take the shape of a festive, carnival atmosphere. In Istanbul today, Pride marchers are being shot at with rubber bullets.
It’s worth noting that homosexuality was decriminalized in many parts of the country in 2003 with the Supreme Court decision of Lawrence v. Texas. We are still very much in living memory of any kind of queer expression being a crime. Two of the people most committed to rolling that back are serving as the Vice President and Attorney General.
Our current government has wasted no time in rolling back protections against discrimination. The mere existence of Trans people in public spaces is the latest issue they have weaponized to further their agenda. Currently the judiciary is still nominally upholding basic Civil Rights protections. But this could quickly change as Trump nominates more judges.
There is a call for the Left to abandon Identity Politics. The kindest thing that can be said about such people is that they have forgotten their history. The Gay Rights movement, like so many other Civil Rights movements, have gained nothing by staying calm and quiet and respectful. Abandoning disruption as a tactic and visibility as a strategy will make it all the easier for the hard fought rights of LGBTQ people to be rolled back.
To celebrate one’s own existence shouldn’t be a politicized act. But in our messed up world it is. So to my queer friends, inasmuch as it is within my meager power, I support you. Stay strong. Stay angry. Stay loud.