May the Spirit Never Die

Pride is more than just a Parade

By Emma Wenig, Associate Board Member

When one thinks of Pride Month in 2017, some things that come to mind are parades, copious amounts of glitter, pride flag reactions on Facebook, and lots of and lots of rainbows. It is a celebration of self, of community and of love. It is a celebration of all the accomplishments made that year, and of the years before.

While it is absolutely wonderful to have such large, loud and often colorful festivals of acceptance and resilience, it is important to remember why this celebration exists: To commemorate the discrimination, the violence and the systematic oppression that collectively kept the community in the closet for centuries. Pride is also a celebration of visibility and of overcoming injustice.

It is often said that “the first Pride was a riot.” The reason Pride Month is set in June is that it was created to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, an event that can be considered a sort of “big bang” in the conception of the modern LGBTQ+ movement. To add some context for the political and social climate, the riots happened in June of 1969. Woodstock would happen in Upstate NY just a few months later. During this time, being publicly “out” was almost unheard of except for small pockets of communities in bigger cities. Earlier that decade, the mayor of New York City had made it his mission to rid the entire city of gay bars. The Stonewall Inn stood in the center of the most prominent gay neighborhood in New York City, making it a frequent target of the New York Police Department’s raids. Undercover cops often subjected patrons to violent and unjust treatment, and one night patrons decided they’d stay silent no more.

It is important to note that in 1969, there were no community LGBTQ+ centers or Gay/Straight Alliances. The communal meeting place for anyone LGBTQ+ was the gay bar. It was a space where people could be themselves without judgment or discrimination. So, it is understandable that a gay bar became the setting for rebellion. As patrons were being hauled away, shot glasses, garbage cans, and anything else that could be picked up was thrown at the police. This was one of the first acts of rebellion by the LGBTQ+ community that caught the attention of the news. It was a turning point in history, in which the community refused to be institutionally closeted any longer.

If the Stonewall Riots were the spark, the fire that occurred after can only be described as an inferno. Organizations started popping up all over the country such as the ​Gay Liberation Front​ and the ​Gay Activist Alliance​. An international symbol of LGBTQ+ pride was adopted in the form of a rainbow flag in 1978, with more flags reflecting individual groups following soon after. Student-run LGBTQ+ clubs began popping up all over the country. Unsurprisingly, the LGBTQ+ movement had a large population of women at the forefront. While people of all genders joined the movement, many of the most notable activists were women. Some contributions that can be attributed to women are:

– Sylvia Rivera was a co-founder of the ​Gay Liberation Front​, the ​Gay Activist Alliance​ and the ​Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries​. Rivera’s activism was based in New York City, where she was present during the Stonewall Riots. Rivera was a transgender woman who fought to ensure that all non-binary and people of color would have a seat at the table.

-Marsha P. Johnson was a co-founder of the ​Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries​ with her dear friend Sylvia Rivera. Johnson was present the nights of the Stonewall Riots, and is said to have shattered a mirror with a shot glass during the event. Her activism then turned towards the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was largely affecting the gay and transgender community. She was an unapologetic transwoman, and when asked what the “P” stood for in her name replied “Pay No Mind”.

-Brenda Howard, the “Mother of Pride”, helped popularize the use of “Pride” within the vocabulary of the LGBTQ+ community. She had a large hand in organizing the first Pride Parade, and is credited for popularizing the idea of having events that last the week leading up to the main event. A member of the ​Gay Liberation Front​ and the ​Gay Activist Alliance,​ she identified as bisexual and was staunch about having people recognize she loved both men and women.

-Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin may be two separate individuals, but their lifetimes of activism are so deeply intertwined that it is impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other. Lyon and Martin met in the early 1950’s and were a couple until Martin’s death in 2008. The two are founders of the​ Daughters of Bilitis​, a lesbian rights organization, and editors of​ The Ladder​, a lesbian circulation. Through the ​Council on Religion and the Homosexual​ they helped bring acceptance to churches on the West Coast. In 2008, they became the first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco.

-Janice Langbehn’s wife passed away in a Miami hospital in 2007, without her partner or children by her side. This occurred because there were no laws protecting LGBTQ+ couples’ hospital visitation rights at the time. After a failed court case, Langbehn’s story made national news with the help of organizations such as ​Lambda Legal​ and the ​Gay and Lesbian Medical Association​. Langbehn’s story promoted the ​Human Rights Campaign​ to create the​ Healthcare Equality Index​, which assess hospitals inclusivity of LGBTQ+ patients and their families. In 2010, President Obama’s administration announced that any hospital in the United States that participates in Medicare or Medicaid cannot discriminate against LGBTQ+ families in regard to visitation rights.

-Barbara Gittings devoted her life to LGBTQ+ activism and the feminist movement. Her work with the American Library Association​ helped prevent the censorship of LGBTQ+ literature, and to promote media that positively portrays the LGBTQ+ community. She held a panel with the ​American Psychiatric Association​ where she debated the Association’s labeling of homosexuality as a mental illness. The APA retracted this statement and changed the labeling in their ​Statistical and Diagnosis Manual​ in 1973.

-Cecilia Chung made San Francisco the first city in the United States to provide gender reassignment surgery for uninsured transgender individuals when she served on the Health Commission board for the city. She was the first Asian and first transgender woman to serve on the ​San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration​ board and the first transgender and HIV+ board member for the ​San Francisco Human Rights Commission​. She currently serves as the senior strategist for the ​Transgender Law Center​.

These women, and many others, gave their blood, sweat and tears in the name of justice and equality. These are activists that go largely unnoticed in history, whose names do not appear in textbooks. It is important to remember those who came before us and built the world we live in today. Without the contributions of these women, and the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, the world would be a very different place.

Pride is an integral pillar of Kappa Delta Phi N.A.S. Always have pride in yourself and your sisterhood but this month take time to reflect on what communities you are proud to be part of. And whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or an ally to the community, think of how you can best demonstrate kindness, devotion and pride this month.

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