Beginner Question: Why was the month of June chosen as Pride month?
The month of June is celebrated as Pride month in commemoration of the June 1969 Stonewall Riot, a landmark event in the history of LGBTQIA+ liberation.
In the early hours of June 28th, 1969, four plainclothes police officers from the First Division morals squad walked through the doors of the Stonewall Inn, a mafia-owned bar frequented by gay men, transvestites*, drag queens, and transsexuals*, and announced, "Police! We're taking the place!".
This, on its own, was not unusual. The Stonewall Inn had been raided before, as had a number of other clubs and bars catering to the same clientele. This night was different for one reason: the crowd fought back.
It did not start with violence. It started with camp.
As the police turned the bar inside out, sending the patrons out into the street, a crowd began to form. The crowd responded with applause and laughter as the boldest and most glamorous customers were filed outside. As Lucian Truscott of The Village Voice reported, "Wrists were limp, hair was primped, and reactions to the applause were classic."
Soon a Paddy Wagon arrived and the already tense situation escalated. The crowd started to jostle and yell. A cry of "Gay Power!" rang out, and voices echoed the cheer.
The police became nervous and more aggressive with their arrests. The growing swell of bodies began to beat and rock the Wagons. An officer shoved a transvestite* who then smacked him with her purse. The officer responded by hitting her with a club.
The angry crowd responded. Young patrons began throwing the few coins in their possession. It started with pennies, then dimes. Next came nickels and quarters. Eventually, a glass bottle was thrown. The night erupted.
To escape the threat of the overpowering crowd, the police officers retreated into the Stonewall Inn, barricading themselves in with the same two-by-fours the mafia used to try to keep the police out. The world would never be the same.
A few questions remain from that night. We may never know why that raid was the one to cause a riot, or who threw that fateful bottle. One thing we know for sure is that the actions of those patrons launched a series of events including the decriminalization of homosexuality, the repeal of don't ask don't tell, the passage of marriage equality, and the ongoing movement to ban conversion therapy. For these reasons, President Obama named the Stonewall Inn a National Historic Landmark in 2016, and the New York Police Department issued an official apology for the raid.
While we don't know exactly who threw the bottle that launched the riot, most historians will cite two trans women of color, Marsha "Pay it No Mind" Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, for their courage and advocacy at the time of the unrest. That these women aren't household names is a reflection of the fact that transgender women of color have historically been, and continue to be, overlooked and undervalued. Despite the progress made at Stonewall, LGBTQIA+ rights remain under attack, and no group has been more threatened than transgender women of color. We honor the legacy of the Stonewall Riot by celebrating Pride month and centering the voices of transgender women of color who have moved the LGBTQIA+ rights movement forward since its inception.
One excellent way to stand up for transgender women of color is to submit a comment to the Department of Health and Human Services regarding their proposed regulation that falsely says discrimination against transgender people is legal. Your voice as a health care professional carries weight and can make a real difference in the lives of trans people nationwide.
*Note: The words transvestite and transsexual are used here as these were terms used by the LGBTQIA+ community at the time of the Stonewall Riot. However, the language of the LGBTQIA+ community has evolved, and these words are no longer considered to be respectful unless used by individuals who themselves identify with these terms.
Advanced Question: When was the Gilbert Baker Pride flag first debuted?
The Gilbert Baker Pride Flag, pictured here, was commissioned in 1978 by San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk for use in the Gay Freedom Day celebrations.
Milk requested a new symbol for gay liberation to replace the pink triangle, which was used to demarcate homosexuals sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, due to his belief that the symbol was too denigrating.
Baker's first flag was composed of eight colors, with each color holding symbolic meaning:
On November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk was assassinated by fellow city supervisor Dan White. The event galvanized the LGBTQIA+ community in San Francisco and beyond. In response, the Pride Parade Committee decided to endorse and display the Baker flag throughout the parade route. In preparation for this event, the Baker Flag was slightly amended to the 6 stripe version popular today.