Remembering How Pride Began

June is usually a happy month for people. Not only is it warm in most places, many people take vacations this time of year. But to another group of people, June signifies revolution.

If you look around San Francisco right now, you can see that our rainbow flags are more present, as are our pink triangle flags. How many of you know that June is the official month for Gay Pride? Now how many of you know why this month was chosen?

As I was traveling this month, I turned on the TV between interviews and settled on PBS. The night's program: Stonewall Uprising, a chronicle of the Stonewall Riots. I've always known that the Stonewall Riots were pivotal to the gay movement, but I never knew just how much came after Stonewall happened.

So for those of you, like myself, who need the history lesson, here it is. Stonewall Lodge was located in New York's Greenwich Village, which, during the 1960s, became home to the city's bohemian, enlightened, homosexual and artistic communities. At the time, Stonewall Lodge was a place where homosexuals could be openly affectionate and dance together. Stonewall had no liquor license and was run illegally by the mafia. Though it was regularly subjected to police raids, it was the only place where gays could be themselves.

The 1960s were a tumultuous time in U.S. history for many individuals. Being gay was seen as a mental defect and many homosexuals were sent to insane asylums, where they would receive shock therapy. Being gay and out was a huge risk: you could be fired, arrested or worse. The police beat, harassed and busted homosexuals constantly. Gay people barely had any rights at all.

Drag queens and trans-women were forced into restrooms with female officers, where they were forced to display their genitals. If the parts didn't match the outfit, one was arrested on the spot for impersonating another gender. The police had the upper hand and they knew it. But one night, all of that changed.

At 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, two plainclothes undercover officers, four officers in uniform and a police captain walked into the Stonewall Lodge. They announced that it was a raid and everyone was to stand up against the wall and produce identification. Then the men dressed like women were asked to go into the restroom and prove they were anatomically female. The police called for backup, but backup was slow to come.

A crowd began to form in front of the Stonewall with more and more dissenters showing up. Suddenly, the crowd wasn't fearful or apologetic, it was angry and tired of the police abuse. Inside Stonewall, patrons refused to produce their ID's while others refusing to be strip searched in the bathroom. The police threatened arrest. But backup still hadn't come and the crowd outside loomed larger.

Onlookers became energized and began taunting the police, calling them "Lily law" or "Betty badge." A lesbian was getting arrested, as she fought with police. When they threw her into the back of a paddy wagon, she yelled to the crowd, "Why don't you guys do anything?" All hell broke loose.

The crowd that formed outside, greatly outnumbered law enforcement and was ready for action. They threw pennies, beer bottles, whatever they could get their hands on. Once things outside got overwhelming, and still no backup had arrived, the police barricaded themselves into the Stonewall for their own protection.

When reinforcements to the police arrived, the crowd was ready to fight. At one point gay men had formed a chorus line and kicked at the officers, while yelling taunts. This was a fight no one expected, certainly not the police. The evening sparked a six-day riot that many marginalized people participated in. It was the gays, the Black Panthers, the anti-war movement, the feminists and more. Fires were set, tear gas was used and the police did not know how to contain the chaos.

Stonewall made headlines in the media, which was a first for the gay community. But the riots were a catalyst for the gay rights movement. June 28 became a date that people remembered and it was considered a day of liberation for homosexuals. On June 28, 1970 the first gay pride parade happened in New York City and covered 51 blocks.

It has been 43 years since Stonewall and can we really say a lot has changed? In 13 states, gay people can legally be married. Five years after Proposition 8 was passed in California and a Supreme Court battle later. As of this morning, California was the 13th state to legalize same sex marriage. We have openly gay politicians, police officers and gay people are taught to be proud of who they are. We also have laws that protect basic human rights for gay people, along with anti-hate crime laws.

So, why is a parade important? This is not just a parade folks -- it's a proclamation that being gay is okay. That being gay does not make you a sinner, a psychopath, a pedophile, or any other number of things biggots say about homosexuality. We need a parade so that all the children that are born into this world know they can be whomever they are; that being gay does not make you defective or disgusting, it is simply a part of who you are.

The fuse that was sparked 43 years ago still burns bright, and the gay rights movement still has many more hurdles to overcome. It is my hope that in my lifetime, all 50 states allow gay people to marry. After a historic ruling for California this morning, I have more hope the other 37 states will sign on. Enjoy Pride week and remember that people fought for this, and that fight continues today.