30 LGBTQ+ People, Resources and Historical Events That Define Pride Month
By Gina Rubel
1960’s Mark First LGBTQ+ Marches in Philadelphia
On July 4, 1965, 39 activists from Philadelphia, Manhattan and Washington, D.C. marched along the cobblestone streets at Independence Hall, the location where the Declaration of Independence had been signed roughly two hundred years previously. They wanted to remind the nation that their rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” had been denied. Dressed in formal attire, demonstrators carried signs that read “equal treatment before the law” and “homosexual bill of rights.”
The organizer of that protest, Craig Rodwell, along with Barbara Gittings (mother of the gay rights movement) and Kay Tobin Lahusen (gay rights pioneer and photojournalist), marched in Philadelphia annually – their marches became known as “the Annual Reminders.”
In 1967, Rodwell opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop at 291 Mercer Street, between Waverly Place and East Eighth Street in New York City to provide LGBTQ+ people with intellectual engagement. Little did he know then, what was going to happen during the summer of 1969.
Stonewall Sparks the LGBTQ+ Revolution in 1969
I’ve always been proud to say I’m a child of the 1960’s, even if I wasn’t born until mid-1969, just a few weeks before the Stonewall Uprising began in New York. If you’re not familiar with Stonewall, it was a series of events between police and LGBTQ+ protesters which began at the end of June 1969 and stretched over six days. The events, including a police raid of a gay, lesbian and transgender bar at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, fundamentally changed the discourse surrounding LGBTQ+ activism in the United States – many say Stonewall sparked the “Gay Revolution.”
Key people at the Stonewall Uprising who went on to tell their stories were:
- Sylvia Rivera: LatinX transgender and co-founder of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a.k.a. STAR.
NOTE: “The Sylvia Rivera Law Project continues her legacy, working to guarantee “all people are free to self-determine their gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence.” The intersection of Christopher and Hudson streets in Greenwich Village, two blocks from The Stonewall Inn, was renamed “Sylvia Rivera Way.” In 2015, a portrait of Rivera was added to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., making her the first transgender activist to be included in the gallery. In 2021, New York City will unveil a monument to Rivera and Johnson. It will be the city’s—and according to New York City, the world’s—first monument dedicated to transgender individuals.”
- Martha P. Johnson: Black transgender activist and pioneer, co-founder of STAR, and founder of one of the first organizations to protect transgender youth. Johnson was relatively disregarded in her lifetime and then celebrated with a retrospective obituary, Overlooked, in The New York Times in 2018.
- Dick Leitsch: A president of the Mattachine Society (the first gay and lesbian rights group) of New York from 1964 to 1972, and best known for leading a well-planned protest in 1966 called the “sip-in,” which was directly inspired by the earlier lunch counter sit-ins of the Black civil rights movement in the American South.
- Seymore Pine: The deputy police inspector who led the raid on the Stonewall Inn and later apologized for his role in the raid.
- Craig Rodwell: In addition to marching on Philadelphia and founding the first gay bookstore in New York, Rodwell was the one who called the New York City newspapers to garner press coverage of the Stonewall Uprising as it was taking place.
The PBS Documentary, Stonewall Uprising, can be streamed at www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/stonewall/.
Just one year after Stonewall, LGBTQ+ activists hosted the first Gay Pride Parades in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. According to History.com,
“The [New York City] march was 51 blocks long from west of Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place, in Greenwich Village, all the way to Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, where activists held a ‘Gay-in.’ Borrowing a technique that had been popularized by the Civil Rights Movement, the ‘Gay-in’ was both a protest and a celebration. The front page of The New York Times ran with the headline, ‘Thousands of Homosexuals Hold A Protest Rally in Central Park.’”
There is something mischievous and ingenious about the word “pride” which is derived from Old English, pryto, meaning “excessive or unreasonable self-esteem; pomp, love of display.” Today, to have “pride” is to have a “reasonable or justifiable self-respect.” Personally, I prefer the modern definition – as everyone should be proud of who they are.
The 1970’s and 1980’s
It’s still difficult for me to grasp that homosexual acts were illegal in all states except Illinois in 1969 – the year of Stonewall. Then, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), after considerable advocacy by Frank Kameny (father of the gay rights movement who fought against the federal government after being fired because he was a homosexual) and members of the Mattachine Society, changed the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. It was not until 1987, however, that homosexuality was completely removed from the APA list of mental disorders.
In 1987, the APA found that “the latest and best scientific evidence shows that sexual orientation and expressions of gender identity occur naturally…and that in short, there is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation, be it heterosexual, homosexual or otherwise, is a freewill choice.”
NOTE: Today, the National LGBTQ Bar Association presents the Frank Kameny Award to a member of the LGBTQ+ community who has paved the way for important legal victories without a United States Juris Doctorate. The award was created to honor the memory of Kameny, the only recipient of the LGBT Bar’s Dan Bradley Award, and the only recipient who did not have a law degree.
In 1976, the book, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A., was written by Jonathan Ned Katz based on his play of 1972. This was the first book that documented gay history in the U.S. Katz was interviewed in a 2019 video, The Stonewall Oral History Project, by Joey Plaster as part of the National Park Service’s Stonewall Oral History Project, in partnership with The LGBT Community Center and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
During June 1978, a Rainbow Flag is flown in San Francisco during the Gay Freedom Parade. The artist Gilbert Baker, an openly gay man and a drag queen, designed the first rainbow flag. He later revealed that he was urged by Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S., to create a symbol of pride for the gay community. Today, the rainbow flag is a global symbol of LGBTQ+ pride. Milk, who served as a San Francisco Supervisor, was later assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone. In 2015, Furia Rubel team member Rose Strong wrote about the topic in a blog post entitled, Rainbow Flag: Logo, Symbol or Both.
A year later, in 1979, an estimated 200,000 people gathered for the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The march aimed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, urging then President Jimmy Carter to sign a bill to stop all discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military and federal jobs and demanding Congress to include sexual orientation in the Civil Rights Act of 1954. Marchers also insisted on a repeal of anti-gay legislation and the addition of family protection laws that would allow gay and lesbian parents to receive fair custody trials. The march provided much of the framework from which 21st-century national LGBTQ+ advocacy and activism was built.
In 1980, Steve Endean founded the Human Rights Campaign Fund (HRC), one of the first LGBTQ+ PACs (political action committee) in existence. The group sought to provide support for candidates who backed legislation that push the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement forward. With more than three million members, the HRC has become the largest organization advocating for LGBTQ+ civil rights. From 1986 to 1991, Endean was field director for the fund of a grass-roots program called Speak Out, generating letters to Congress from gay rights supporters.
During the 1980’s, the AIDS epidemic (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) took a foothold across the U.S. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. When left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS which disproportionately impacts the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, the LGBTQ+ community experienced setbacks because the “Moral Majority” pushed against them, tagging AIDS as the “Gay Plague.” Little was done by the U.S. government until 1987 when activists, frustrated by government inaction, founded the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or ACT UP, in New York City. According to its website, “ACT UP was formed in response to social neglect, government negligence and the complacency of the medical establishment during the 1980s. Soon it found itself needing to fight corporate greed, lack of solidarity and various forms of stigma and discrimination at home and abroad.” Today, scientists continue to battle HIV for which there are various treatments to keep the virus in remission. In 1985, the AIDS Quilt was conceived and implemented by Cleve Jones, an LGBTQ+ activist in San Francisco.
In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was brutally attacked and tied to a fence in a field outside of Laramie, Wyoming. He was left to die because he was gay. This remains one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in America. His parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard, started the Matthew Shepard Foundation which helped pioneer the Hate Crimes Prevention Act which was passed in 2009. The Act created a federal law against crimes directed at the LGBTQ+ community.
The LGBTQ+ Community and the 21st Century Transformation
The 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark decision ruled by a 6-3 vote in Lawrence v. Texas, that a Texas law criminalizing gay or lesbian sex was unconstitutional. This decision solidified the importance of constitutional liberty and privacy consistent with the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In 2010, Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” so that gay and lesbian people could serve openly in the military. One person present at the signing ceremony in the White House was Frank Kameny who had been released from military service in 1958 because of discriminatory policies against gay and lesbian people.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court repealed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in U.S. v. Windsor. By a vote of 5-4, the Court ruled that defining marriage as just between a man and a woman is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment guarantee of equal protection. DOMA was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996 and stated that marriage or legal unions are between one man and one woman. This decision ruled the congressional law as unconstitutional. It further ruled those states have the authority to define marital relationships.
Just two years later, in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages are legal in all 50 states in Obergefell v. Hodges (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissented). The Court voted 5-4 that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This decision mandated that all states must allow same-sex couples to legally marry.
Thereafter, I have had the privilege of witnessing nearly a dozen nuptials of same sex couples and am grateful to all of them for inviting me, my husband, and in some cases our children. It is my hope that our children and their children will never question the rights of two people who wish to join in matrimony – irrespective of their gender.
So, here we are in 2021, and it’s time for Pride Month.
On June 1, 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration championed LGBTQ+ equality with a proclamation affirming June 2021 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month, marking a time of hope, progress, and promise for LGBTQ+ Americans and their allies across the country. I urge our readers to learn about the strides our country has taken in just the first six months of 2021, all of which are detailed at www.tinyurl.com/LGBBTQproclamation2021.
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