Even though Pride is often viewed as a party or parade, its origins stem from a refusal to accept the police violence plaguing the LGBTQ community. The event often considered the spark of the gay rights movement was the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. Patrons of a New York City bar, The Stonewall Inn, were routinely harassed by the police, subjected to degrading strip searches, and consistently at the mercy of police raids. Homosexuality was illegal, and bars and clubs were often the only places LGBTQ individuals could express themselves. However, during a police raid on June 28, 1969, people at the Stonewall didn’t just sit back and wait to get arrested. They fought back.
Nor did neighbors just walk past. They stood by, becoming increasingly agitated at the escalating police brutality. Within minutes, hundreds of people were resisting the police violence. This had become a riot. The police became outnumbered and scared, eventually barricading themselves inside the bar.
And for five more days, protests erupted in the city, sometimes including thousands of people. On the one-year anniversary of the riot, several demonstrators marched past the Stonewall, marking the first Pride Parade. Though this event was not the first instance of LGBTQ people fighting back against police violence or discrimination, it has come to symbolize the beginning of a movement.
But like many important historical events, the concept of Pride has been rewritten and reconstituted for the sake of profit. For example, even though the LGBTQ community has rates of alcohol dependency up to five times higher than the general population, Pride Parades exhibit float after float of alcohol sponsors. Even though LGBTQ individuals are more likely to live in poverty, many Pride celebrations require expensive entrance fees just to join in on the festivities. Even though up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ, there exist a plenitude of gay cruise lines and luxury travel companies, ready to sell you a vacation at Pride festivals.
And the stores trying to sell us their support don’t care about human rights. Target won’t provide adequate sick pay to employees during COVID-19, but they’ll plaster Pride posters and sell rainbow colored clothing. Starbucks has been publicly donating money to LGBTQ foundations, while simultaneously using prison labor. Nike is giving money to organizations benefiting LGBTQ communities, though it recently blocked labor rights groups from monitoring its factories.
During Pride month, we should remember and celebrate the struggles of LGBTQ people for the right, and the right of future generations, to exist. We should see the similarities in the riots and protests today, in which Black people are refusing to let police violence plague their communities any longer.
And we should also remember, that it has only been when regular people stand up and fight back that we see changes. But making sure our resistance doesn’t get co-opted by corporations looking to make a buck off our struggles is going to require an even bigger vision. One where we stand in solidarity together, against the system that works to rob us all of our humanity and of our livelihoods.