Allies are invited and encouraged to join the LGBTQ community for Pride celebrations! Here’s some history and guidelines to help you do so respectfully.
Pride celebrations have become common across the United States, with flamboyant costumes and wild decorations. Pride parades are arranged in our largest urban centers as well as in smaller cities and townships. Pride month events are famous for being joyous, colorful, and fun! But what is Pride? Where does it come from? What does it mean?
What Is Pride?
Pride, or gay pride, is a celebration of the beauty and resilience of those who fall within the LGBTQIA community. It is a space for the expression and celebration of gayness, queerness, transness. It’s here to acknowledge that the LGBTQ community is broad, diverse, and beautiful. For a lot of those within the community, Pride may be the only time that they feel safe being outwardly, visibly queer. That makes the space at Pride incredibly important.
“Pride” refers to a few things. June is recognized as Pride Month, and the entire month is full of opportunities to learn about and celebrate the history of LGBTQ people and to come out in support of gay and trans liberation.
There are a lot of important dates during June:
- June 12th - Pulse Night of Remembrance. This is the anniversary of the 2016 shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. During this shooting, 49 people were killed and another 53 were wounded. It’s the single deadliest incident in the history of violence against LGBTQ people in the United States.
- June 26th - LGBT Equality Day. June 26th marks the date that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that states may not deny marriage licenses to people in the LGBTQ community.
- June 27th - National HIV Testing Day. While people of any gender or sexual orientation can contract HIV, it has particular significance to the gay community. This day is an opportunity to maintain AIDS awareness and to encourage HIV testing.
- June 28th - Stonewall Riots Anniversary.
Why Pride Month?
This is a question that is asked a lot. If you’re not a member of the LGBTQ community, I think the need for Pride may be difficult to understand.
The fact of the matter is, the survival of LGBTQ folks is a triumph. The exercise of visible queerness or transness is a triumph. In queer history, people have been imprisoned and even killed for being gay or trans.
As recently as 1952, being gay was listed as a sociopathic personality disturbance in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. It wasn’t removed from the DSM until 1973.
In 1961, Illinois became the first state to decriminalize homosexuality. The Federal government wouldn’t officially decriminalize homosexuality until a Supreme Court ruling in 2003.
The AIDS epidemic, which began in 1981 and went on until 1995, when AIDS cases started to decline. The virus killed hundreds of thousands of people in the US; nearly half of them were gay men. By 1995, 1 in 9 gay men had been diagnosed with AIDS, and 1 in 15 had died. Nearly everyone in the community knew multiple people who had died from the disease. The LGBTQ community is missing queer elders because of the epidemic. Ronald Reagan didn’t even mention AIDS publicly until 1985; 4 years after the pandemic began. Even then, the government response was initially lackluster.
Matthew Shepard was beaten to death in Wyoming in 1998.
Even today, only 15 US states have banned the use of the “trans panic” defense, a legal defense that indicates that people who murder trans people in a panic at discovering that they’re trans are justified in doing so.
So, with that bit of history, that may give a little bit of context to the idea of celebrating LGBTQ Pride. We’re proud to be who we are. We’re proud to be visible, unconquered, and loud. And we’re proud to still be here.
The History of Pride
The thing that initially made June Pride Month is the Stonewall Riots.
Stonewall Was a Riot
On June 28th, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City. During the 1960s, the US was particularly hostile toward members of the LGBTQ community, and same-sex relationships were illegal. Members of the community flocked to gay bars, as they were the only place that felt safe to be openly gay. In response, police took to raiding gay bars. The New York State Liquor Authority shut down establishments believed to cater to LGBTQ people. Even the gathering of members of the LGBTQ community was seen as “disorderly,” and was punished under the law. Those who were suspected of cross-dressing were taken to the bathroom to have their sex checked, a humiliating experience, and then arrested under the state’s gender appropriate clothing statute.
As police beat and dragged employees and patrons out of the bar, both customers and neighborhood residents began to gather. The crowd became more and more agitated as they watched police manhandling the arrestees. An officer hit a lesbian woman over the head while forcing her into a squad car, and the crowd moved.
The onlookers began throwing objects at the police, from pennies to stones to bricks. Marsha P. Johnson was already well known locally. She was a trans woman, and performed on stage regularly and had modeled for Andy Warhol. She arrived at the Stonewall Inn with the riot already started.
While she is widely credited with throwing the first brick at the Stonewall Uprising, this claim has never been verified, possibly out of fear that her participation and her gender could be used against her. One of the most important things to remember about Stonewall, though, is that trans people, people of color, and sex workers were not just present, but instrumental.
The Stonewall Inn burned that night. Despite the damage caused by the fire and by the police, the bar opened up the very next night. Not to serve alcohol, but as a center for gay rights protests.
Demonstrations and riots at and around the Stonewall Inn continued for 6 days.
The Aftermath of the Stonewall Uprising
Stonewall wasn’t the beginning of the gay liberation movement, but it marked a turning point. The events at Stonewall spawned new LGBTQ rights organizations. A year later, on the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, thousands participated in a march from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park, chanting “say it loud, gay is proud!” This would be the country’s first Pride parade.
Similar demonstrations were held in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Each year, demonstrations were held in more and more cities across the United States.
From thousands in 1970, the modern NYC Pride March saw 2.5 million participants in 2016.
Though Pride these days is often more of a celebration than a demonstration, marches and political action events are still held throughout June. Efforts toward gay and trans liberation are ongoing.
How to Participate in Pride as an Ally
Allies to the LGBTQ community are welcome to come celebrate at Pride. There’s a lot to see, experience, and learn about the community there that allies can benefit from. But if you want to participate in Pride as an ally, there are some guidelines that you might want to follow.
Here are some things to do throughout Pride month:
- Identify Yourself As An Ally - being public about your support of the LGBTQ community is a vital form of support. It lets members of the community know that you’re a safe person that they can turn to, someone they can be out and loud around. It helps them feel seen and supported, even if they aren't out and loud. This can include LGBTQ allyship pins, patches, shirts, and stickers, or even a social media post about gay rights.
- Learn About LGBTQ History - being informed about the struggle and the history surrounding the LGBTQ liberation movement is vital for allies. Without this information, you’re not able to understand what the community has been through, and much less able to discuss LGBTQ with your straight and cisgender friends.
- Donate to LGBTQ Organizations and Events - if you’re able, donating money or time to organizations that support LGBTQ liberation helps out a lot and is a material gesture of support. If you can’t donate money, you can volunteer for these organizations, which are often strapped for labor and cash.
These are things that you can practice during Pride month, but it’s better to do them year round.
Here are some guidelines for Pride celebrations:
- Attend Pride For The Right Reasons - there’s an awful lot to see, hear, and experience at Pride events. They’re often loud, colorful, and joyous. However, you should make sure that you’re not just attending for entertainment. You’re there to show support, to honor the act of being out and openly queer; not to gawk.
- Take On The Labor Of Dealing With Hate - members of the LGBTQ community deal with homophobic and transphobic speech and actions every day of our lives. A great way to show support for the community as an ally is to deal with detractors, and at the vast majority of Pride events, they will be there. Intercept them before they can harass gay and trans people.
- Don’t Ask About People’s Orientation or Gender - it’s considered rude to ask about someone’s orientation or gender. Typically, if someone is comfortable disclosing this information to you, they will. Asking these questions has often been a prelude to harassment and even violence toward members of the community. Allow us to celebrate without feeling scrutinized or othered.
- Ask Before You Take Photos - Pride celebrations can be weird and wonderful, but be mindful that for some at Pride celebrations, photographs in the wrong hands can destroy lives. People can lose jobs, family members, friends, and even housing. If you want to take someone’s photo, please ask first. Those in costume are often willing and eager to have their photos taken.
- Introduce Yourself With Your Pronouns - normalizing the use of personal pronouns in introductions is a great way to help your trans and genderqueer friends feel comfortable and supported. You may want to avoid asking for pronouns, as this introduces the risk of closeted people outing themselves. If you introduce yourself using your pronouns, though, folks will often offer theirs in return.
- Center Members of the LGBTQ Community First - sometimes as a member of the dominant social group, it’s easy to think that your opinion is welcome on any topic. But members of the community understand their identities and struggles and history better than you ever will. Take a backseat and allow LGBTQ people to lead these conversations. This is especially important during panel discussions, workshops, and memorials.
- Bring Your Children - having kids at Pride celebrations is so wonderful! The practice of hiding LGBTQ people and performances from children implies that being queer is something dirty or shameful or secret, when the opposite is true. LGBTQ people are the same as heterosexual and cis people, and we don’t hide heterosexual romance or cis binary genders from children. Acknowledging that these genders and orientations are normal and healthy is a wonderful way to help your kids grow up to be good allies as well! Not to mention that if your kids happen to be LGBTQ, this is a gesture of support from you to them as well.
- Help With Organizing and Executing The Event - Pride events take a lot of work to arrange, and the groups that organize these celebrations are often cash-strapped. Helping out with organizing before the event and with things during the event is a great way to show support. Contact the local organizer of the event and ask if you can volunteer or donate!
- Recognize That All Identities Are Valid - don’t gatekeep Pride, especially as an ally. Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Bisexual, Trans, Nonbinary, Intersex, and Asexual people are all valid and are all members of the community. Don’t question the terms that people use to describe their gender or orientation. They will always know better than you do.
A Note For Community Members
To members of the community during Pride Month.
You are beautiful, resilient, and strong. Your presence is a miracle. Regardless of your particular gender or orientation, you’re a member of this community. If you’re not out, if you’re not loud, you’re still valid, and still precious. You are never obligated to be out. Thank you for being here and for being you.
There’s our beginner’s guide to Pride! Just demonstrate respect, center members of the community, and offer your support.
Chocolate and Steel is a company that takes pride in supporting the LGBTQ community year-round. 20% of proceeds from our Pride Collection are enthusiastically donated to the Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing suicide in the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ youth aged 13-24 are at four times more risk of dying to suicide than their peers.
If you’re a young person in the community in need of a safe space, free of judgement, to discuss what you;re struggling with, you can call their hotline at 1-866-488-7386. Your conversation will be anonymous and confidential, and their counselors are educated in issues facing members of the community.