The hundred-year period leading up to 1970 was a hugely significant one for queerfolk. From a series of small, disparate socio-sexual communities with no real sense of wider identity or framework for understanding their orientation, to an established subculture with a naming convention, identity, and political presence. In response to a repressive legal atmosphere in the UK and USA, “homophile organisations” such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis were formed with the aim of politically liberating queerfolk. While other rallys and marches had been organised in the past, it was the uprising following the botched raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York which really provided the catalyst for the modern Pride movement.
In November 1969, five months after the Stonewall riots, the idea of a commemorative parade was mooted at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organisations (ERCHO) in Philadelphia. The date was set for the last Saturday in June, and its aim was both to remember the uprising on its anniversary, and “encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged”.
All the attendees with the exception of the Machinette Society — who preferred a more conservative approach to their activism — voted in favour of the march.
The first demonstration, titled the Christopher Street Liberation Day, was a march 51 blocks from Christopher Street to Central Park. The organisers secured a two-hour parade permit, but the march only lasted half that time, partly due to over-excitement from the marchers, and partly because people were nervous of walking through New York waving gay banners. Despite some misgivings, the marchers encountered little resistance. The New York Times recorded in a front-page headline that the parade took up fifteen blocks from front to end.
On the same weekend, activist groups held similar marches in LA, San Francisco, and Chicago. The following year, marches took place in the additional cities of Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. The year after, Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington D.C., Miami, and Philadelphia also held parades. Gay pride had been born.
Today, pride celebrations and parades are held in most major cities across the world. They can be short walks with few attendees, or elaborate, week-long festivals, but they all share the same common purpose: to make the queer community visible and celebrate its diversity. The notion of “pride” is important because for too long, being queer was considered shameful — queerfolk were either criminal or psychologically damaged. Pride serves to remind the community how far we have come, that we won’t back done, and that we’re not alone.