The History of Pride Events Around the World
Participants take part in the NYC Pride March as part of World Pride commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising on June 30, 2019 in New York City. Image: Angela Weiss
Pride is a time to focus on the history of the LGBTQ+ community, which encompasses a broad spectrum of people, including non-binary and gender non-conforming people. It is a time to protest, celebrate, and surround yourself with your chosen family. Ranging from solemn gatherings to festivals and parades, events held during Pride Month commemorate a turning point in a country’s LGBTQ+ history. The annual celebration of LGBT History Month began in the United States in 1994 and has now spread worldwide.
This year marks the 53rd anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising of June 28, 1969, a momentous moment for the queer liberation movement that’s since paved the way for countless achievements in LGBTQ+ civil rights in the US. On this day, police officials from New York City’s Public Morals Division conducted a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar at 43 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City.
This was something that happened regularly, but on that day, patrons decided they had enough and decided to fight back. Riots ensued, and patrons from neighboring bars joined the fight, cars were set alight, windows smashed, and the police barricaded themselves inside the Stonewall Inn. The protests lasted six days. Although the uprising at the Stonewall Inn was spontaneous, it was a response to a long history of mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people in New York and around the world. It was this moment in history that is regarded by many as the birth of the Gay liberation movement and the start of the fight for LGBTQ+ equality in the United States.
E.G. Smith (left) and his mother, Norma Isaacs, 88, ride past the site of the original Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village during the annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade on June 25, 1989. Image: Sergio Florez
The Frist Pride Events
On June 28, 1970, Brenda Howard, a bisexual activist, organized the first Pride event. Christopher Street Liberation Day honored the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The march traveled 51 blocks to Central Park, making it the first gay Pride march in New York history. A couple of years later, gay Pride marches began to spread in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. By 1972 the participating cities in America included Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington DC, Miami, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.
Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag representing Pride for San Francisco’s Pride March in 1978.
The Stonewall Riot commemorations underwent a profound cultural shift in the 1980s. More structured and less radical segments of the homosexual community took over the previous, more loosely organized grassroots marches and parades. The demonstrations began omitting the words “liberation” and “freedom” from their names, replacing them with the ideology of “Gay Pride.”
A vital part of this movement was to encourage conversations regarding the lives and perceptions of LGBTQ+ people, as well as to fight for radical change in how LGBTQ+ people were treated by society. In the UK, for example, the Pride movement saw the growth and establishment of grassroots organizations that worked to stop the oppression of LGBTQ+ people. A key example of this is the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.
Pride in Canada
The first Pride celebration in Toronto occurred just three years after the Stonewall Riots in New York. The first gay rights protests took place in Ottawa and Vancouver in August 1971, with small demonstrations seeking an end to all forms of state discrimination against gays and lesbians. One year later, Toronto held its first Pride celebration with a picnic on the Toronto Islands organized by the University of Toronto Homophile Association, Toronto Gay Action Now, and the Community Homophile Association of Toronto.
Pride March on University Ave in Toronto, 1972. Image: Jearld Moldenhauer
On February 5, 1981, Toronto police raided four bathhouses and arrested about 300 men. A mass of 3,000 people proceeded to the streets the next day, marching on the 52 Division police precinct and Queen’s Park, shattering car windows and starting fires along the way. These protests and others that went on for over 20 years led to the establishment of Lesbian and Gay Pride Day in Toronto, which attracted 1,500 participants that same year. The City of Toronto did not endorse Pride until 1991. Since then, Pride has been held annually in Toronto and several cities across the country.
Pride in South Africa
In South Africa, the first Lesbian and Gay Pride march was on October 13, 1990, in Johannesburg. It was the first Pride March on the African continent and acted as a gay pride and anti-apartheid march. The Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (Glow) organized the march that attracted a crowd of about 800 people. This march was part of a broader struggle to decriminalize homosexuality in South African law and end apartheid.
Cape Town Pride, 1994 Image: Obed Zilwa
Since 1990, Pride marches have continued to grow in South Africa. By the late 1990s, Pride March became the Pride Parade. This caused widespread divide within the community, with many saying that the Pride march should retain its political legacy and highlight issues affecting LGBTQIA+ people in South Africa today.
Today, Pride marches take place in every province, speaking to the existence of queer people in every corner of South Africa. While Johannesburg Pride remains the largest Pride event in Africa, other parades held in the Johannesburg area include Soweto Pride, which has taken place annually since 2005 in Meadowlands, Soweto, and Ekurhuleni Pride, which has taken place annually since 2009 in the East Rand township of KwaThema.
Pride in Great Britain
Louis Eakes, a famous Young Liberal, was arrested for cruising in Highbury Fields in London during a police entrapment operation in November 1970. In protest, 150 gay and lesbian members of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) led a torchlight procession and rally. This was the first-ever open public demonstration for LGBTQ+ rights in British history. In 1967, homosexuality was only partially decriminalized in the United Kingdom. However, the age of consent was set at 21, which was much higher than the age of consent for straight people.
The Gay Liberation Front at Trafalgar Square, early 1970s
In 1971, the Youth Group of the Gay Liberation Front held a highly visible demonstration to oppose this inequality. On July 1, 1972, The London Gay Liberation Front, inspired by their American counterparts, held Britain’s first-ever Pride march. About 2,000 LGBTQ+ people marched through central London, culminating with a kiss-in at Trafalgar Square. This date was chosen because this was the closest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969. Pride marches in the UK are held up and down the country, particularly in big cities. They will typically be full-day events with floats, live acts, and celebrity appearances. Despite June being Pride Month, many Pride events are held in July, August, and September in the UK.
The Legacy of Stonewall
Since the Stonewall Riots, LGBTQ+ people have fought globally for their rights and liberties. LGBTQ+ people now have personal and political rights such as equal partnership in countries worldwide, such as Colombia, New Zealand, Iceland, Ireland, and the UK. The Pride movement continues to fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the twenty-first century because the fight for liberation is still far from over in many countries across the globe.
The history of the Pride movement teaches us how, in the past, and sometimes today, LGBTQ+ people are not able to express themselves safely. Stonewall says that Pride is a reminder of the power of standing together in defiance of those who seek to divide us. The joy found at Pride events across the globe can give power and strength to the aims of the Pride movement. Pride celebrations are crucial to bringing about positive change for the LGBTQ+ community.