This year’s Pride marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots (Pride month is generally June).
In the United States in the 1960s, gay bars were raided by police regularly, and anyone found within was alternately beaten or arrested, or both.
But on June 28, 1969, the people fought back. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted the police and as many as 2,000 people took part in the ensuing riot, which lasted several days.
The Stonewall riots are often credited with sparking the modern equality movement of the GLBT community.
It is worth remembering and thinking about this as we celebrate Pride this year. Gay Pride events around the world celebrate the movement’s progress towards equality for queer people, and it’s hard to imagine “the movement” without Stonewall.
We have come a long way in 40 years, but full equality is still elusive. The Gay Pride movement is as important as ever. But some argue that events like Pride parades mar “mainstream” society’s perception of the queer community, doing more harm than good.
Non-queer or non-queer-friendly people may look at the display with disdain, imagining that the nudity, Dykes on Bikes, leather daddies, bears, drag queens, and drag kings are a representative depiction of the queer community as a whole. And these people would be hypocrites who haven’t taken a moment to really think about it.
Do Americans have to struggle to prove their legitimacy and normalcy after Mardi Gras? Does the rest of the world imagine that all Americans are always drunken, vomiting fucktards in elaborate costumes who get naked for some cheap plastic beads? Do Brasilians have to prove their legitimacy and normalcy after Carnival? What about teenagers and twenty-somethings after Spring Break? Do they all have to go back to their respective high schools, colleges, and home towns and prove that they aren’t always drunken freaks who will fuck and suck anyone or anything in front of a camera?
Do people who participate in Mardi Gras, Carnival, or Spring Break relinquish their politics?
Pride, like Mardi Gras, Carnival, Spring Break, and probably most weddings you’ve been to, is a celebration. It’s a liberation. Once a year, queers and queer-friendly straight people come together to celebrate and party. And on Monday they all don their normal clothes and go to their normal jobs, come home to their normal spouses and make a normal dinner for their normal kids (or what-have-you).
You needn’t look hard to see that the political/social struggle for equality and resistance against discrimination and oppression are still alive and well within Pride events: signs, booths, petitions, flyers, buttons, flags, and statements from stage are ubiquitous. Members of the queer community who bemoan Pride events as lacking politics are perhaps missing the point. Gay Pride is a celebration first and foremost, but it is also a political statement by the very fact of its existence.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with a group of friends while watching one of the early season one episodes of the lesbian show The L Word. The conversation was about whether or not The L Word was a political show. Someone asked me my opinion and I said that I thought the existence of the show itself is a political statement.
Marshall McLuhan said “the medium is the message.” In this case, the Pride parade itself—that thumping beat, that rainbow flag, that naked body, that cheering crowd—is the message. That is the politics.
Millions of people from all over the world travel to some of the biggest Prides, in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Sydney, etc. It’s a celebration, but the message is that it’s okay to be queer and proud of it, that it’s okay to celebrate sexuality. These are still political messages.
The sexual liberation of Pride owes a lot to the feminist and “free love” movements, advocating that it’s okay to be sexual, to enjoy sex, to talk about sex (as long as it is between, or among, consenting adults). The queer community embraces and celebrates queerness, sexuality, and the body. That’s political.
Not that Pride is all about sex. Far from it. It’s about community, family, politics, music, kids and dogs, water guns and stickers, drinking and dancing, open-mindedness, acceptance, celebration, and…pride.
Pride is a confluence of politics, community, and celebration. Maybe the overt politics do come second to the celebration. But it is a celebration after all. Some 363 days of the year most queers live their politics, constantly fighting for equal rights. Two days out of the year they celebrate because they are not ashamed of who they are; they are proud to shout it from the back of a flatbed truck.
If Pride were a three-day conference with political speakers and action groups, do you think anyone in the mainstream public would care? Would municipal governments, business owners, and the media clamour to be a part of it? Would we be all over the television, internet, and newspapers? Not a chance.
The gay rights movement, like any equality movement, is about the socio-political struggle for equal rights. Pride is about celebration.
The two can, and do, converge.