Little did we know on New Year’s Day that six months later at the start of Pride Month the whole world would be in lockdown. In a way it gives an opportunity to re-evaluate the message of Pride. It’s time for people in cities around the world to realise just how privileged they are. This year they can feel how many of us felt for decades – left out of Pride. Pride events are still an activity only accessible to those who can afford, or able, to travel. Perhaps now more than any other time in the history of Pride Month provides a unique opportunity to reach out and involve all those in the lgbt community who have never been able to attend a Pride event, either by physical or geographical circumstances, by political restrictions, or family and cultural pressures.
I grew up in a rural village in north Nottinghamshire. I didn’t knowingly meet another gay man until I was 32. The only gay role models were camp stereotypes in television comedies which I could not identify or sympathise with. Not once was any attempt made by lgbt activist in a city to reach out to me. I had to take a 50-mile bus ride to my nearest city once a month before that happened. The isolation was depressing. City-based lgbt communities should think themselves lucky they HAVE a community, because many people around the world don’t and are ignored.
Fifty years after the first Pride its time to change. Many Prides will go online this year. They should reach out to those isolated outside cities and towns. It’s a start, but will it continue? Will Prides next year return to the privileged metropolitan elite? Sermon over.
We know that the word “pride” was used 50 years ago for the commemorations of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, even if it wasn’t applied to the marches. It was suggested by Lee Craig Schoonmaker (1944-2018) at a committee meeting of the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day (retrospectively the first New York City Pride) that Gay Pride Week would sound better than the proposed Gay Power Week. But there was an earlier use, and it is very likely that Schoonmaker got his idea from there.
It appears in the abbreviation of a 1960s gay right organisation called Personal Rights in Defense and Education – P.R.I.D.E. Its legacy is still felt today, and not just because of the use of the word “pride”.
Way back in the early 1960s there were several gay and lesbian rights organisations in the USA. The most well-known of these were the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. When these were formed in the 1950s the emphasis was on convincing society that gays and lesbians were ordinary people and not perverts or mentally ill. They organised pickets and peaceful protests in a very conservative manner so as to appear “normal”.
Younger generations of the 1960s were more attracted to the general civil rights movements that emerged with its vocal message and active protests. Even before the Stonewall Riots of 1969 several lgbt rights activists took to the newer methods of political protest and radical approach with enthusiasm. Police raids on gay bars and police intimidation grew in the 1960s and the response from the lgbt community needed to be equally more aggressive.
In May 1966 in Los Angeles a 27-year-old activist called Steve Ginsburg (1939-2007) decided to form P.R.I.D.E. Steve may rightly be credited with starting to bring a new definition to an old word, the meaning of lgbt Pride that has now become accepted in the world’s dictionaries.
Steve wanted to instil pride into the lgbt community, hence his deliberate choice of the organisation’s name. In particular the part of the community he wanted to reach were constantly being targeted by the police, the gay bars and venues, what Steve called the “leather and lace crowd”.
The first real test of P.R.I.D.E.’s response to police harassment came after New Year’s Day 1967. The Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles had only been open for a few weeks and it was packed to celebrate the New Year. Also in the bar were several undercover, plain clothes police officers. On the stroke of midnight several gay couples celebrated with the traditional kiss. This was enough for the police to launch their raid. Several party-goers were beaten and 14 people were arrested. Steve Ginsburg and P.R.I.D.E. decided this was the time to make a stand and they organised one of several demonstrations that were held across Los Angeles a few weeks later in February.
The call for volunteers and participants for P.R.I.D.E.’s demonstration was advertised in their monthly newsletter. Several members of P.R.I.D.E. – Richard Michaels, Bill Rand and Sam Winston – realised that the newsletter was in need of a wider circulation with more news of what was happening. Later in 1967 the newsletter was renamed “Los Angeles Advocate”. This newsletter evolved into the present day “Advocate” magazine and is another legacy of P.R.I.D.E.
|From Pride to Advocate - evolution of a publication|
Less than a year later the Stonewall Riots took place. While it is generally regarded as the turning point in lgbt history, the Black Cat raids and P.R.I.D.E. should share that distinction.
Steve Ginsburg continued with his activism. In 1973 he was co-chair of the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco (retrospectively the 3rd San Francisco Pride). Steve also founded an organisation for lgbt Jews called Chutzpah. Later in life Steve became somewhat reclusive and he died in 2007 at the age of 68.
However you celebrate Pride Month, don’t forget that Stonewall didn’t start it, Black Cat came before it, and there are many lgbt individuals in the world who still cannot celebrate.