What is Pride Month? Why the Stonewall Riots were a turning point for LGBTQ+ civil rights

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Jun 01, 20215 mins

What is Pride Month? Why the Stonewall Riots were a turning point for LGBTQ+ civil rights

Today marks a month of celebrations for the LGBTQ+ community — but what is Pride Month, and the history behind it?

It is celebrated each year to honour those who identify as LGBTQ+,  and anyone can be involved regardless of their sexual orientation — as long as they are an ally.

So, in honour of Pride Month, we take a look back at the historic Stonewall Riots...

What is Pride Month? Today marks the start of Pride Month 2021 (Credit: Unsplash)

What is Pride Month?

Pride Month takes place every June and is a celebration of LGBTQ+ communities from all around the world.

It is celebrated specifically in June to honour the people who bravely took part in the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan. The protests against New York police changed gay rights for LGBTQ+ people in the United States and beyond.

The following year, the first Pride Month was held in 1970. Since then, it's been celebrated every June to educate people about pride history, teach tolerance and remind everyone of how dangerous homophobia is.

What is Pride Month? Pride Month is a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. (Credit: Alamy)

What caused the Stonewall Riots?

The Stonewall Riots were a series of spontaneous protests that started on June 28, 1969, in response to a police raid at a bar called the Stonewall Inn. The hangout, which was situated in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood, served as a safe space for LGBTQ+ people.

At the time, gay Americans faced an anti-gay legal system. Homosexual acts were illegal in almost every state, and bars and restaurants could be shut down for having gay employees or serving gay individuals.

However, when police attempted to raid the Stonewall Inn on that particular night, members of the LGBTQ community decided to fight back. This started an uprising, which turned into a new era of resistance against homophobia and intolerance.

The Stonewall Riots lasted for five days.

What is Pride Month? The Stonewall Riots were a series of spontaneous protests sparked by members of the LGBT+ community. (Credit: Alamy)

What happened at the Stonewall Riots?

The Stonewall Inn was packed out when eight undercover police officers entered the bar. As they walked in, they proceeded to single out LGBTQ+ patrons, targeting drag queens and other cross-dressing individuals in particular. In New York City at the time, it was illegal to "masquerade" as a member of the opposite sex.

More NYPD police officers arrived at the scene as bar patrons who managed to escape joined the growing crowd of spectators outside the front door. Law enforcement then started loading Stonewall employees and drag queens inside police vehicles. In total, they arrested 13 people.

While accounts vary as to what exactly kicked off the riots, eyewitness reports reach some consensus that the crowd erupted after police began to get aggressive. One officer hit one woman on the head and then applied handcuff so tightly to her wrists that she was in pain. The female, who was later identified as Stormé DeLarverie, then turned to the crowd and pleaded for them to do something. As she was then hurled into the back of a police van, the people decided it was time to fight back.

The crowd reportedly started yelling "pigs" and "copper" at the police before throwing pennies at them. This was followed by more violence, including hurling bottles, slashing the tires of the police vans, and making impromptu firebombs. The mob, which kept growing, eventually forced the initial NYPD officers into retreat into the Stonewall bar.

Speaking about the infamous night, Mark Segal recalled: "That night in June of 1969, we felt rage at the police. We were enraged because, in a sense, 2,000 years of repression built up in us. And the New York City Police Department that night, when they violently came into Stonewall and beat people up against the wall and extorted money from people, got us angry."

"And it was that night that we said to the police, 'We are taking our street back. This is our neighborhood. You are no longer going to control us,'" he added. "You’re no longer going to dominate us. We’re going to create our identity. We’re going to create a community where you wouldn’t allow us to have community."

What is Pride Month? (Credit: Unsplash)

Did anyone die in the Stonewall Riots?

Surprisingly, no one died in the Stonewall Riots, and no one was critically injured either. But a few members of law enforcement did report some injuries.

However, on the second night of rioting, a mob swarmed a cab on Christopher Street. They proceeded to rock it back and forth. The driver later died that night from an alleged heart attack.

Why were the Stonewall Riots a turning point?

The Stonewall riots were a turning point for gay rights as they led to the founding of hundreds of new LGBTQ+ civil rights organisations across the country and around the world.

While it was not the start of the modern gay rights movement, its impact can be felt today. Earlier organisations like the Mattachine Society gave way to more radical groups such as the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA).

What is Pride Month? The Stonewall riots were a turning point for gay rights. (Credit: Alamy)

Does Stonewall still exist?

Sadly, the Stonewall Inn folded shortly after the uprising. It was rented out to different businesses over the years, including a Chinese restaurant, a bagel shop, and a clothing store.

Another bar named Stonewall operated from 1987 to 1989 out of Christopher Street. When it closed, the historical vertical sign was removed.

What does Pride stand for?

Pride stands for "Personal Rights in Defense and Education". The first Pride organisation was founded in Los Angeles, California, by Steve Ginsburg.

The notion of Pride revolves around being proud of your sexual identity, instead of experiencing shame and social stigma.

What is Pride Month? Pride stands for "Personal Rights in Defense and Education". (Credit: Alamy)

Where did the rainbow flag come from?

The rainbow flag was first designed by the artist, Gilbert Baker, in 1978. He was an openly gay man and a drag queen.

Baker later revealed that he was told by Harvey Milk — one of the first openly gay elected politicians in the US — to create a symbol of pride for the gay community. He saw the rainbow as a natural flag from the sky, so he painted eight colours to represent the stripes, and each had their own meaning.

Hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit.

Feature image credit: Alamy


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