I attended my first Gay Pride in New York City on June 28, 2009, the year that the LGBTQ community commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It was a typical hot summer day on Hudson Street in the Village. I was scared, excited, worried and surprised all at once because though I had been working with the LGBTQ community in Harlem, I did not know what to expect at such a large scale event.
It was amazing, taking in all the festivities and how proud the gay community was to display who they were without any censorship! As I waited for my colleagues to arrive and set up our LGBTQ display on the corner of Hudson and Horatio Streets for PRIDEFEST, I was astounded at how many parents and family members were celebrating this special day with their gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender children and how proud they were of them. There was a post-op transgender woman in a bikini with a rainbow boa who kissed my cheeks, while I witnessed, for the first time, the beauty and diversity of a community that so many of my heterosexual family and friends disregard and disrespect. But I saw the potential of what can happen once a group of people come together to celebrate their individuality and sexuality.
While my first pride event was filled with laughter and acceptance, it took me some time to really appreciate the history behind this incredible event and political implications behind it!
The NYC Gay Pride festivities are the biggest party on the LGBTQ calendar. Its celebratory atmosphere is compared to Christmas and it’s commemorated more enthusiastically every year. From what I learned by working with LGBTQ persons throughout the years, the face of Gay Pride has changed and this community has achieved so much:
• 1969: The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City was raided by police in the early morning of Saturday, June 28th. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and people (including many in drag) rioted as a protest to the continued oppression of their rights. The Stonewall riots lasted several days, and many were arrested. For the first time, a significant amount of oppressed persons resisted arrest, including many persons of color. Thus a movement was born. Following the historic Stonewall riots in New York City, people were consumed with the power of liberation and celebration.
• 1970’s: The first gay march occurred in the summer of 1970. These early years were both serious and fun and were utilized to inspire greater movement for gay rights. Other major cities started their own annual marches. Some of these marches were called Gay Liberation Marches or Gay Freedom Marches. By the late ’70s, organizers consolidated the marches under one name, Gay Pride to present a unified front to the nation and to give the movement legitimacy. The Rainbow Flag as we know it today was developed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. Baker explained that the colors each stood for a different aspect of gay and lesbian life: *hot pink for sexuality, *red for life, *orange for healing, *yellow for the sun, *green for nature, *blue for art, * indigo for harmony and *violet for spirit.
• 1990’s: By the early ’90s, during the era of social awareness, families, friends and other supporters began to march with their LGBTQ sons and daughters, the event became known simply as Pride! The march was transformed once again in the early years of HIV/AIDS, for advocacy and remembrance.
Remember, in a world where 80 countries imprison homosexuals for their sexuality, take some time to honor the LGBTQ heroes in stilettos, wigs and make up, the new LGBTQ thugs and voguers, as well as folks in plain clothes, and everyone in between… People of all sexual orientations and gender identities should all have a better appreciation and respect for the LGBTQ community and its advocacy for human rights.
If you are interested in participating in the 2010 NYC Pride festivities, you can visit: www.nycpride.org or to find Pride events near you, google: National Gay Pride Parades.