In the early hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar and dance club located in New York City. The Stonewall Inn was a space that accepted even the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans and gender non-conforming people of color, a group that was and continues to be discriminated against and the least recognized within the queer community. During the raid, one woman in handcuffs, later recognized as Stormé DeLarverie, was hit over the head by an officer and pleaded to the crowd: “Why don’t you guys do something?” And do something, they did. The raiding of the police in what was a safe queer space turned into days of demonstrations and rebellions from bar patrons, later becoming the notorious “Stonewall Riots.” Bar patrons, predominantly people of color, fought back against the police for the mistreatment and targeting that they were fed up with. The uprising was a driving force for queer activism and organizations, including, but not limited to, the start of the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay Liberation Movement and the birth of Pride.
Before Stonewall, the protests and demonstrations of the gay rights movement were passive and unthreatening. The marches were done in silence and even had dress codes. Stonewall showed that passive acts weren’t going to cut it anymore. Pride needed to be more than a march with a dress code. It needed to speak for Stormé DeLarverie. It needed to do something.
The first Pride march took place on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots to commemorate the uprising. Heavy with emotion and strife, the march was organized by many queer activists. Craig Rodwell, his partner Fred Sargeant, Ellen Brody and Linda Rhodes wrote a proposal for the march to be held in New York City, as well as an annual march to be held every last Saturday in June with “no dress or age regulations.” While the proposal was getting approved, bisexual activist Brenda Howard was doing the planning. Meeting in Rodwell’s apartment and bookstore, the details for the first NYC Pride Parade, then known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, were decided. Using the bookstore mailing list, they were easily able to get the word out. It was also Howard’s idea to turn the festivities into a week-long celebration, which is something many cities continue to do to this day. With the hard work and passion of this team, the first pride march was held on June 28, 1970, with no dress code or age regulations.
Clearly, Pride began as a passionate response to police brutality, discrimination and queerphobia. It began to commemorate the mistreatment of an incredibly marginalized group of people and to ensure that we would not forget how far the LGBTQ+ community has come and where it needs to go. Pride began to instill hope in queer people. It began to instill resilience. If you’ve ever attended a Pride parade, then you know how free and welcoming of an atmosphere it is. The first time I attended a Pride march, I was brought to tears by the amount of support, community and love there was in one location. We’ve come so far.
However, by coming so far and making so much progress, the Pride festival and march has developed into an extremely commercialized event. During June, you can walk into Target and purchase a rainbow tank top or a T-shirt that says “Love Wins.” If you attend the parade, you’ll see Food Lion, Wells Fargo, Bud Light and so many more companies selling shirts, passing out merchandise and wearing rainbow colors. This should be a good thing, right? This means that corporations are endorsing equality, right?Not necessarily. A lot of queer folks take issue with what Pride has become. They argue that corporations attending and endorsing Pride has made Pride too white, straight and commercialized. They argue that we’ve strayed too far from where we started. If I am going to be honest, I mostly agree with them.
Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the ways this is a sign of success for the LGBTQ+ community. The fact that corporations are able to confidently back the LGBTQ+ community without fear of backlash shows how far we’ve come since Stonewall.
In Charlotte, we have the largest Pride festival in North Carolina. However, Charlotte’s Pride parade is officially named the Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade. Pride has gone from the “Liberation Day March,” to a name like the “Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade.” What does this say about Pride? Is it really about instilling hope and resilience anymore?
Truly, that’s not all it’s about anymore and that’s not the problem. It’s okay that Pride has changed, because society has changed. People have changed. We have progressed since Stonewall. The parade is not only a sign of hope, but it shows how far we’ve come and that it’s a celebration of the community. It’s a celebration of what we have survived and how we have thrived. However, the celebration is now being used by corporations as a profiting tactic. Companies are attending Pride, putting out Pride ads and if you go into any store during Pride, you can most likely find rainbow flags. With Charlotte being a prominent banking city, this is especially true. I mean, hell, the Pride parade itself is named after Bank of America. Banks and big companies will attend Pride festivals across the country, which would be fine if they truly walked the walk.
I think it does say a lot about our growth as a society if corporations are able to attend Pride and be public about it. I think that in the abstract, it is a great thing. In fact, companies will sell Pride merchandise, rainbows and all, and donate it to queer charities. However, they will donate such a small fraction of the profit made from the merchandise that it’s a cheap excuse for support. For example, H&M donates 10 percent of its sales from its “Pride Out Loud” collection, while J. Crew donates 50 percent of the purchase price of its Pride shirts. Not only could H&M donate more to LGBTQ+ charities with how big they are, but H&M also has a manufacturing plant in China, a place known for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. How can a corporation claim to be supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and not be ethical in its production? They want money. That’s it. And that’s not what Pride is or should be about.
When the New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, they were not met with rainbows or 10% of a fight. They were not met with negotiation. They were met with rebellion. They were met with strength. They were met with Pride. Not Pride that is now reduced to a rainbow T-shirt that barely even benefits queer people, but Pride that makes people feel supported and recognized. The type of Pride that represents Stormé DeLarverie, Brenda Howard, and all the other activists that got us to where we are. The type of Pride that should be remembered, commemorated and celebrated, not capitalized on.
Photos by Pooja Pasupula.