The story goes that in the small hours of the morning, on June 28th, 1969, Marsha P Johnson cocked her arm and hurled a brick at a police officer. This act was the catalyst for the Stonewall riots, which led to the gay rights movement.
Today, Pride is associated with parade floats and rainbow flags. It’s easy to forget, and often portrayed in such a way that we are encouraged to forget, that the first pride was a riot.
In the late 60s the Stonewall Inn was the biggest gay bar in the USA. It had a somewhat shady reputation, mainly down to the fact that it was a Mafia-run establishment, with 3 Mafioso’s being investors in the establishment.
The Stonewall Inn was subjected to nearly monthly police raids. These raids were attributed to the establishments lack of liquor licensing, but raids were a common threat used to extort many gay bars at the time. The raids were often kept at bay by a weekly kickback collected by the NYPD.
On the night of the Stonewall riots, the police attempted to conduct a routine raid. Unfortunately the patrol wagons meant to transport arrested Stonewall patrons away were delayed. This lead to a crowd of bystanders confronting the police outside the bar. The confrontation quickly escalated into a riot when one woman resisting arrest called out to the crowd, ‘Why don’t you guys do something?’ They did.
The riots went all until 4am that night and the standoff carried over until the following night which resulted in another swirl of emancipatory violence.
In the months and years following the Stonewall riots a wave of activism emboldened by the direct action organised. The following year, on June 28th, 1970, the first Pride parades took place. Across the US the first carnivalesque, shameless assertion of queer identity started down the road towards equality and acceptance.
Today pride is an internationally known event, firmly establishing itself in the mainstream. People from all walks of life, LGBTQ+ or not, come together to celebrate diversity and acceptance. It is also now practically a marketing must for a brand to slap a rainbow-themed lable on their products in an attempt to be ‘down with the kids’.
Queer rights weren’t given, they were seized. During the rainbow jubilance of pride month it can be easy to forget that LGBTQ+ people weren’t always accepted. Each pride march should be recognised for what it is; a revolutionary assertion of identity, as blunt and implacable as a hurled brick.
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