“A riot is the language of the unheard.”-Martin luther king, jr.
gross pointe high school, march 14, 1968
I’ll admit it. These days, I have conflicted feelings about showing up to Pride festivities.
I’ve been attending the parades for a long time now, and each year I return home with a bag full of advertisements for a plethora of mega corporations. Banks, casinos, law firms, realtors, clothing companies – I’ve got every logo you can imagine stamped on a rainbow flag and glued to a popsicle stick or a pin. Social media is ablaze with their temporary profile pictures, which invariably disappear on July 1st when Pride Month has passed. It might be hard to remember these days that less than a couple decades ago, you’d be lucky to see one or two rainbow flags on a brave neighbor’s front porch. My memories of pride as a young person consist of watching a few fabulous queens in rainbow feathered dresses march shamelessly down the streets of Baltimore without a corporate emblem in sight, while parents clutched their pearls on the news grumbling about how they didn’t know how to explain it to their children. I find myself angry at these Fortune 500 companies for showing up for the community only when it feels safe for their brand, when support for LGBTQ+ rights has now crossed some invisible threshold that indicates that our money is worth more than the minority backlash.
Or perhaps I’m just envious that this generation of queer youth gets to experience unadulterated support from every direction…
Because it’s true. I am conflicted. While I’m irritated with the sudden monetization of an identity I worked hard to embrace, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a group of middle schoolers with trans flags painted across their faces quite literally jumping for joy when handed the corporate swag from their favorite coffee shop at the Annapolis Pride Parade last weekend. Or when I watched a parent pulling her toddler-aged children down the street in a rainbow painted wagon, sporting a “Free Mom Hugs” tank top. The commercialized support for Pride month has certainly helped to normalize acceptance of the queer community, and for that I know I must be grateful.
For the sake of our history though, I feel it is paramount that we remember those who fought with their lives so that we can fearlessly wave our flags today. We march in June to commemorate those who stood up to oppression at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, transforming the gay liberation movement throughout the United States. When gay spaces were limited to unmarked, underground establishments in a few major cities, violent police raids commonly disrupted gatherings, resulting in arrests that could upend a queer person’s life simply because they existed. A few smaller uprisings occurred throughout the country, including the Cooper Do-nuts riot in 1959 and the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in 1966, most organized by trans people in response to police raids and arrests for “wearing gender inappropriate clothing” or “soliciting homosexual relations.” Police routinely separated cisgender patrons and those they suspected of “crossdressing,” during which they would check identification or take them into a bathroom to “verify their sex.” During one such raid in Greenwich Village, tensions between the New York City Police and gay residents of the Village erupted in what has since become known as the Stonewall uprising. Those who were not arrested began congregating outside of the Stonewall in a crowd that grew to hundreds of people within minutes. Quite literally overnight, queer people went from whispering requests to enter a secret basement bar to shouting their pride and opposition on the streets. A year later, to honor their fight, the first gay pride marches took place in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Our commemorative protest has continued every year since, across the United States and worldwide.
Their protests seem like a far cry from the pride parades we know today. But ask anyone of the older LGBTQ+ generation; THIS is why they show up. Many still remember the oppression our people faced to push the movement forward. They remember, and so should we. Next time you see a corporate representative waving one of the many queer flags that exist today, take a moment to consider where that freedom came from. I choose to believe that those who stood firmly on the street in front of the Stonewall in 1969 would, and do, embrace what pride has become, knowing their bravery has opened doors for the youth of today.
Stonewall Education Materials:
LGBTQ+ History Beyond Stonewall: