Beyond Rainbows: Pride’s Radical Roots


The history of LGBTQ+ rights is as diverse as the community itself. Like other marginalized groups, the LGBTQ+ community’s journey towards liberation has been marked by struggle. With the rise in anti-trans and homophobic laws, opposition groups, and increased violence, it’s crucial to remember queer history and how any progress has been achieved. Let this history be a reminder that it is only when we act up and refuse to accept oppressive social norms that we can begin to see a liberated future.

The gay rights movement didn’t begin at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969, although it was a turning point after decades of oppression. That night, queer youth, many of them people of color, were fed up with relentless harassment by the cops in this gay bar, which was one the few places they could openly be themselves. During a police raid, patrons refused to disperse and resisted arrest, sparking off a three day rebellion. The uprising drew increasing crowds, reigniting gay rights organizing and leading to the first Pride Parade a year later.

Over a decade earlier, in 1950, the Mattachine Society was founded by communists and labor activists like Harry Hays to oppose the unequal treatment of gay men in society. Five years later, the Daughters of Bilitis formed, becoming the first lesbian organization in the U.S. They published The Ladder magazine, providing a voice and community to lesbians nationwide. A 1966 cover featured Ernestine Eckstein, the publication’s first Black woman and an early participant in pickets for gay rights, who said “Any movement needs a certain number of courageous people, there’s no getting around it.”

1966 saw such people, with trans women and drag queens at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district fighting back against police harassment one night. This marks the first known collective resistance by queer people in U.S. history. Acts of courage such as this laid the foundation for the future LGBTQ+ rights movement.

In 1979, 75,000 people participated in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Throughout the 1980s, ACT UP organized massive demonstrations to highlight the AIDS epidemic, originally seen as a “gay disease,” leading to significant advancements in life-saving treatments.

Today, Pride Parades fill the streets of major cities, supported by corporate giants like Target, Bud Light, and Starbucks. Companies sell their rainbow-colored products, claiming to support LGBTQ+ folks, but really just wanting to profit from queer people. What is missing from Pride is its history, and the fact that the protections and rights that exist now were only possible due to the activism and fierce battles fought by the queer community and supporters.

But that fight is not over. Over 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been proposed in the U.S. so far this year, led by so-called “parents rights” groups and conservative politicians. These range from bans on drag performances, to restrictions on life saving gender affirming care, to prohibition of transgender people from using restrooms. Books featuring LGBTQ+ characters are being banned, bills are attempting to exclude non-binary and trans people from protection under the law, and regulations are requiring “forced outing” of students in school.

This year, Pride has been different. Beyond the rainbow-clad festivities and corporate sponsorships, a deeper current of activism has surged through the celebrations. This activism reminds us of the roots of Pride itself – a radical defiance against oppression and a demand for the right to exist freely.

In Boston, protesters blocked the parade route to demand Pride organizers stop accepting money with ties to Israel. In Washington D.C., queer Palestinians and allies blocked Capital Pride and demanded they call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Philadelphia Pride participants shouted “Free Palestine!” while marching. And many other Pride Parades featured the slogan: “No Pride in Genocide.”

This solidarity underscores a crucial truth: the fight for LGBTQ+ rights cannot be divorced from struggles against the injustices of the capitalist system globally. As our rights are being rolled back here in the U.S., the need for solidarity with all oppressed peoples grows ever more urgent. Pride, in its truest essence, demands not just visibility and acceptance, but also an unwavering commitment to stand with all oppressed peoples, Palestinians included.

It will only be through our collective struggles that we can break free from the shackles of capitalism.

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