The slogan on T-shirts right now is correct: the first “Pride” was a riot; an uprising, deliberate acts of no longer accepting oppression, defamation, and brutality by those with power and authority. Truth be told, there were such prideful acts by brave LGBTQ people even before what happened in New York City fifty years ago, in June of 1969.
In Los Angeles in 1959 and ‘67, Philadelphia in ’65, San Francisco in ’66, among others. Local homophile organizations in the US and abroad were secretly organizing and starting to come together, speaking out about the ongoing police harassment they regularly experienced. It’s difficult to imagine, though not impossible, with the lens of today's popular culture, but it’s our history; our truth we dare not forget.
The folks at GayPrideApparel asked me to share some thoughts about how Pride and Pride Events have changed over the years. The response that comes to my mind immediately: quite dramatically. How did we evolve from Gay Liberation Protest Marches, on Washington DC and in urban centers comprised of, well, just LGBTQ folks to LGBTQ Pride Parades in cities and towns, large and small all across America with LGBTQ and straight elected officials, business and corporate leaders, leaders from the faith community, activists from a variety of social justice seeking communities and many allies all proudly participating?
There’s no short answer to this question. It’s complex. Identifying the arc and trajectory of the LGBTQ movement for full equality over time, and the work of many organizations, philanthropists and leaders to get us where we are today, requires simultaneously acknowledging the immense pressure and hard-fought challenges to our political and legal structure that were advanced while the most important shift was subtly and powerfully underway: the cultural shift in the heats and minds of Americans, and their feelings and beliefs about LGBTQ people.
Absent change in the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Americans, the laws and our politics would not have so dramatically shifted as they have, though we are not yet fully free. On the most difficult and contentious social topics of the day, which LGBTQ equality was for a long time, culture leads; changes in our politics and laws, follow.
We have gone from protest marches to pride parades because we became visible; no longer in the shadows of society. We have come out, with more and more of us choosing to live authentic and open lives with regard to our sexual orientation and gender identity. That act, in many cases still a brave one, matters because it influences the hearts and minds of everyone around us. And as we have come out in greater numbers, most of our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors on your block and at your church, all decide to stand with us as allies. And that, has been of tremendous value in changing Pride from protest to parade.
Some lament that Pride events now are too hetero conforming, too corporate, with so many voices of our allies that the LGBTQ folks are again marginalized. I don’t share that view. We would not be where we are without our allies joining with us in our quest for full equality. Our allies are among the data which doesn’t lie: twenty-five years ago only 30% of Americans approved of and accepted “homosexual rights”. Today that number is north of 75%. Friends, that’s beyond enormous cultural change in our society.
Is Pride for the LGBTQ community in 2019 vastly different than it was even just fifteen years ago? Absolutely. Is it all 100% good change? Probably not. But I’m proud and deeply appreciative of my straight family members, friends and co-workers who recognize LGBTQ equality if something we must continue to fight for, together.
To all I say: Celebrate Pride, Remember the Protest.
Neil G. Giuliano was the first directly elected openly gay mayor in the United States (Tempe, AZ 1994-2004). He served as CEO of GLAAD from 2005-2009 and CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation 2010-2015. He completed the 545-mile AIDS/Lifecycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles six times and is the author of “The Campaign Within: A Mayors’ Private Journey to Public Leadership. He has attended over 35 Pride events in cities all across the US and internationally over the last twenty years.