Each June, we celebrate Pride Month — a time to recognize the progress made by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community while raising awareness about how far we still have to go to achieve full equality for LGBTQ people. While Pride is more widely celebrated than ever before, complete with corporate sponsorships, and massive, city-wide celebrations, many people are unaware of the origins of Pride Month.
Pride started as a way to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, which took place on June 28, 1969 in New York City. In the 1960s and earlier, LGBTQ Americans were openly discriminated against in New York and the rest of the country. In New York, police could arrest individuals who were wearing less than three gender-appropriate articles of clothing, or anyone who solicited same-sex relations. LGBTQ people took refuge in gay bars and clubs, where they could express themselves freely and in safety. But the New York State Liquor Authority shut down establishments that served alcohol to anyone who was either known or suspected to be LGBTQ, and the police harassed the patrons of gay bars and regularly raided these clubs.
On June 28, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay nightclub where law enforcement routinely harassed, assaulted, arrested and discriminated against the LGBTQ clientele. On this night, the patrons fought back. Led by a Black transgender woman, Marsha P. Johnson, the club goers threw cans, bricks and other objects at the police. The police, a few prisoners and a writer from the Village Voice barricaded themselves inside of the bar, which the crowd of hundreds attempted to set on fire. Protests, involving thousands of people, continued for five more days after the raid.
While the Stonewall rebellion was not the start of gay activism in the United States, it did help to galvanize the movement, leading to the formation of at least four different LGBTQ organizations. One year after the uprising, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March — later dubbed the Gay Pride March — was held along the street where the Stonewall Inn is located. In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn a national monument.
In an era where Black trans women are at an increased risk of violence and discrimination, we recognize Marsha P. Johnson as one of the leaders of the LGBTQ movement, who helped to spark the uprising that we now celebrate as Pride Month. Beyond her actions in June 1969, Ms. Johnson co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization dedicated to helping homeless LGBTQ people throughout the country. STAR had a particular commitment to helping homeless transgender youth. Tragically, she was murdered on July 6, 1992, at the age of 46.
The writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde stated, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” This quote can be applied to all of us: how can any of us be truly free, when others face inequality? Pride Month is the perfect time to reflect on that quote, the life of Marsha P. Johnson, and the brave men and women of the Stonewall rebellion.
At Blackburn Center, we know that the struggle for equality is far from done. We also know that many people in the LGBTQ community are impacted by sexual violence, domestic abuse, and other types of violence and abuse. Our organization is committed to inclusivity, and to providing to services to all women, children and men who need them.