There have been gays in the world ever since there have been straights. After all, sex is a part of animal life and human beings are part of this kingdom. In the last 2000 years, western culture has actually moved from castigation of same gender sexual contact, though always present despite the harshness of the punishment inflicted, to permissiveness to the point of non segregation. The history of Gay Pride may be short but nevertheless, is one that has left an impact on our society.

Pride flag
The Pride flag

In our days and ever since its appearance on June 28, 1970, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Gay Pride is the supposed expression of gay culture. Is it so? We will try to gain an understanding of gay pride, examining its history and goals, contemplating at the same time gay culture, its needs, dreams and accomplishments. Thus, it’s Gay Pride vs. how much it really expresses gay culture, today.

Understanding Gay Pride

Gay pride or LGBT pride refers to an anti-discrimination position towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. Its main role is to support a positive attitude towards these groups, fighting for self-esteem, equal rights, dignity as well as the organization of publicity to increase the way these groups are perceived by society, building communities and commemorating sexual diversification and gender divergence. Its name has been used in organizations, institutions, books and magazines that sympathize with LGBT goals ans beliefs.

Pride sponsored events tend to be held during Pride Month or a period that celebrates a turning point in a nation’s LGBT action. These events range from parades, marches, parties and festivals in favor of LGBT groups. They have a flag which consists of a rainbow and is known as the Pride flag. Another symbol used to express Gay Pride is the lowercase Greek letter, lamda (λ).

How Gay Pride came to be

The 50s and 60s were very difficult years for gay people. They were discriminated, considered mentally ill and looked down upon. It took courage and organization for LGBT persons to actually be able to raise their voices and demand to be heard. The Daughters of Bilitis and Mattachine Society were the first organizers of demonstrations, basically pickets that they named “Annual Reminders”, letting people know that their civil rights were being repressed. These demonstrations began to take place on the 4th of July, every year, at Independence Hall, in Philadelphia.

On Saturday, June 28, 1969, early in the morning, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and people who were not in accord, participated in riots after the police raided on the Stonewall Inn which was a gay bar in New York City. This was the riot, along with mass protests and more rioting over various nights that is considered to be the moment of modern gay rights movement and the force behind the organization of LGBT pride marches on a large scale that began to make the public more aware of the infringed rights of these marginalized groups, making large sectors unite in the demand of justice.

Stonewall Inn
The Stonewall Inn in 1969, the year of the riots.

On November 2, 1969, Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, and Linda Rhodes suggested as part of a resolution at a meeting held in Philadelphia by the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO), that the first ever pride march should be held in New York City. Thinking that there would probably be a larger turnout if the march were to be held on a Sunday and to honor the beginning of the Stonewall uprising, the march was scheduled for Sunday, June 28, 1970.

On that Sunday, people assembled on Christopher Street to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It was called Christopher Street Liberation Day and was the first Gay Pride march in the United States. The march covered the 51 blocks, all the way to Central Park in less than half the scheduled time, partly because of eagerness and partly because of prudence as this was a walk through the city with gay banners and symbols. The permit for the march was delivered only two hours before the start, nevertheless, there was no resistance encountered from onlookers. The New York Times front page report talked about the march taking up the entire street for 15 blocks and the Village Voice praised the defiance that had grown from the police raid one year ago.

Brenda Howard, came to be known as the “Mother of Pride”, as she was the coordinator of the march. She also formed the concept of holding various events around Pride Day, which gave birth to what today has become the LGBT Pride festival, held every June in various cities, all over the world.

On the same weekend as that of the first Gay Pride march, various LGBT groups based on the U.S. West Coast, marched in Los Angeles and held a march and “Gay-in” in San Francisco. One day before that, a march was organized by the Chicago Gay Liberation.

One year later, there were Gay Pride marches in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm and by 1972, Atlanta, Brighton, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington D.C., Miami, and Philadelphia were also on the list.

In the words of Frank Kameny: “By the time of Stonewall, we had fifty to sixty gay groups in the country. A year later there was at least fifteen hundred. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was twenty-five hundred.”

Kay Lahusen photographed the marches in 1965 and stated that up until 1969, the movement was described as a homosexual or homophile movement while a lot of new activists considered the Stonewall uprising as the genesis of the LGBT liberation movement, the birth of gay pride on a mass scale.

As a result of the first Gay Pride taking place in June as a commemoration of the Stonewall riots, today most Gay Pride parades take place on this month with many other events hovering around the same date or coinciding. In some cases, a special date, where a specific accomplishment of the movement has been attained, is assigned in place of June.

Understanding Gay Culture

Gay Pride in Moscow
Gay Pride in Moscow

When we refer to “gay”, we are talking about lust and love but in the past, being gay meant a lot more. It used to describe boldness and independence and it was about a certain road that one took, full of struggle. Gays had to fight so that their presence and problems could become visible and be able to arrive to all that can today be appreciated. Almost everything that used to make up gay culture, the various codes, wardrobe, songs and rites that were used and even the spirit that was in the air, are now gone.

What was gay culture has now taken the road of no return and disappearance that may soon result in its complete extinction. Of course there will be gay men and women but being gay will not describe this person anymore, as the differences between straight and gay cultures will have practically vanished. The two cultures will interweave to such a point where it will probably be better if they were not inspected independently. It seems that both will be looked upon as human beings and their traits will not have anything to do with their sexual preferences.

The AIDS Variable

In the early 80s, HIV or AIDS as is commonly known, hit the gay community and it hit it hard. The thousands of deaths that occurred because of this disease put homosexuality on the map and made it a valid topic quicker than any movement could ever have done.

While AIDS raised havoc amongst homosexual males, gay men and lesbians where building institutions to fight the HIV virus and free themselves of this plague. Doing this, they came closer and formed bonds with scientists and politicians that could help them in the discovery of a cure and the creation of mechanisms to assist them socially. They came closer to their natural families and those of the ones they loved. The emotional and psychological ties that were made became the center of a new gay identity. Through disease came unification and a new way to look at culture. Gay society began to see that no man is an island and began to mingle within the greater society instead of being outcasts. They began to get involved in scientific research and politics to survive, thus becoming a part of the culture that everybody shared instead of finding their own little corner.

When the disease was under control with better HIV treatments, the older generation of gays had died or where very tired. Many had lost their partners and/or friends and lesbians began to take control of the scene, in charge now of magazines and political lobbies. Gay men began to celebrate but many in a post-mortem way, doing rave parties and experimenting with drugs.

World Aids Day Ribbon
World Aids Day Ribbon

In the aftermath of AIDS, the new generation consisting of gay teens, arrived. Unlike older surviving men, they grew up in a world where being gay wasn’t taboo anymore. They went on to become musicians, athletes, politicians and everything else that is part of mainstream society. Gay men have occupied all types of posts in the working world and it in turn, began to embosom them.

The integration into “normal” society and the ability to communicate with more gay people through the Internet, has led many to come “out of the closet”, leading to more visibility of gays. This does not go to say that what’s visible is a gay community or groups, but gay persons, indistinguishable from straight ones.

Because of the mayhem the AIDS plague left, the new generation was practically uninformed of their history as meeting older gays, was not that easy. Gays are raised within the majority of society now-days and they are not perceived as different to the norm as in the past. They are homosexual men and women and apart from having a distinct sexual identification, they are the same as anyone.

Religious groups and churches of all kinds have embraced gay believers, many without even distinguishing between sexual identities, as the interest lies mainly in the soul and not the body. Civil associations and businesses are seeking to close into and encompass gay associations and customers. The polarization that once existed is now subtle or nonexistent. Gay athletes for example, are first athletes and then gay. Gay identity grows more distant every day.

On the other hand, heterosexuals have been adapting many of the ways of gays, making it even more difficult to point to differences between the two identities.

Merging of Cultures

Gay Pride has for some time now been receiving criticism from inside LGBT community and from outside as well. Somehow, yearly parades and events of gay centered interests just isn’t as attractive anymore. Gay Pride seems to be promoting segregation of the LGBT community instead of the merging of society. It seems as if it were forming a ghetto which is sensed as part of the history of the gay community and not of its present. Indeed, a sort of answer to how Gay Pride can be seen as discriminating, is the formation of the conservative Straight Pride, as there is no heterosexual civil rights movement.

In this article we have been basically following the ongoings and history of Gay Pride within the United States because it’s where it began and where it probably exists in its most advanced form. Nevertheless, the LGBT movement and culture expands around the globe and there are many ways Gay Pride is seen and perceived in various countries. “The Politics of Pride”, a documentary by Bob Christie takes a look at Gay Pride in different countries as seen by local opposition.

The facts all point to a change in gay culture. They show that both straight and gay societies are gaining an understanding of each other and a respect never before enjoyed. In actual gay society, the feathers are a thing of the past. Gay people are a part of a general culture where gay doctors, lawyers, football players and construction workers co-exist with their respective straight counterparts. The LGBT culture has matured and it’s only a matter of time   until the skin is completely shed. Straight people have come of age and acceptance of gays is everywhere to be found. It’s a big world and this acceptance will take time to manifest itself everywhere. But the change is here and it looks and feels great!