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Pride started with 'revolutionary riots': Advocates point to movement's radical roots

"Right now we are reminded that the 1st #Pride wasn’t a party or celebration, it was a RIOT," one LGBTQ advocacy group wrote. 
Men holding Christopher Street Liberation Day banner, 1970
Men holding Christopher Street Liberation Day banner, 1970.Diana Davies / New York Public Library

LGBTQ advocacy groups Monday hastily reoriented planned Pride Month programming, already significantly altered by the coronavirus pandemic, to address the anti-racism protests that have erupted across the United States.

In statements declaring support for #BlackLivesMatter protests against racism and police brutality, organizations including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLAAD pointed to the radical roots of the early gay rights movement. They called for solidarity with the black and brown communities and many of them cited the now-iconic uprising at New York’s Stonewall Inn in June 1969, which led to the country’s first Pride marches the following year, and some groups also gave a nod to the lesser-known 1966 riot at San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria.

“Today is 6/1, the official start to #PrideMonth. But right now we are reminded that the 1st #Pride wasn’t a party or celebration, it was a RIOT led by Queer POC,” NCLR tweeted, referring to queer people of color.

In a Monday appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David spoke of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Nina Pop, all black people who have been killed recently, and spoke of the “countless other names and faces” of victims who are still unknown “because there was no camera.” He then drew the connection between the current protests and Pride Month.

“We are celebrating Pride Month starting today, but we have to also remember Pride Month has its roots in the struggle, in protest,” he said.

On Friday, more than 100 LGBTQ civil rights organizations published an open letter condemning racial violence and affirming that they “recognize we cannot remain neutral, nor will awareness substitute for action.”

“We celebrate June as Pride Month, because it commemorates, in part, our resisting police harassment and brutality at Stonewall in New York City, and earlier in California, when such violence was common and expected,” the letter states. “We remember it as a breakthrough moment when we refused to accept humiliation and fear as the price of living fully, freely, and authentically.”

New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman, the body’s only openly gay member, called for a total overhaul of planned Pride Month celebrations — most of which were already canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and tentatively replaced by a streaming event scheduled for June 27.

“This is no time for a milquetoast, corporate Pride celebration that simply celebrates the progress we've made since 1969,” Hoylman wrote. “It would be unconscionable for the LGBTQ community to ignore that our black and brown neighbors are crying out for justice.”

Hoylman called for Pride 2020 to be replaced by a “return to our roots,” a “radical protest against bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobia and police brutality.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights tweeted that for this year’s Pride, the group “will be planning and taking part in events that have a focus on racial justice and anti-blackness, in order to help show how they are intersectional and intertwined with the #LGBTQ community.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, a national LGBTQ advocacy group, promised that her organization will be “centering and lifting up the voices of Black LGBTQ people” this month. “There can be no Pride if it is not intersectional,” she said.

The actor and activist George Takei was among the LGBTQ celebrities to speak out about the need for a shift during Pride Month.

“You cannot remain silent today and celebrate Pride tomorrow” he said, endorsing #BlackLivesMatter. “We must stand today with our black brothers and sisters.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a vocal LGBTQ ally, gave a nod to some of the queer movement’s most iconic black and Latino activists in her call for solidarity during Pride Month.

“Because Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera, and countless other LGBTQ+ people had the courage to stand up for their rights, we now celebrate #PrideMonth,” she wrote on Twitter. “Those pivotal events showed what we know to be true to this day: no one should be left to fight alone.”

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