What Stonewall and the First Prides Teach us About Anti-LGBT Attacks Today

Gay Pride London 1999 UK. (Photo by: Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images)
Gay Pride London 1999 UK. (Photo by: Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images)

Hey, why do we have Pride? Well, let's go back to where it all began.

Pride started small, in a bar. It was a riot on a hot June night in New York when people who'd spent their whole lives getting pushed around finally pushed back. The Stonewall Inn was one of the few places where those drag queens and street kids and neighbors felt like they had some small protection. That's what bars were at the time -- a refuge, because back then queer people were routinely arrested, and fired, and beaten, and killed. Through violence and through the law, queer people were terrorized into hiding everywhere they went, except these few gathering places.

So no wonder, when their refuge was attacked on June 28, they rebelled in an act of defiance against a world that wanted to erase them. After all, if you're not even safe in the closet, what do you have to lose if you smash the closet?

Outside that bar, they refused to be erased. The next year, there was a march in three cities. Then eight the next year. Soon it was dozens as Pride became real. Not just the parade, but the feeling. Pride. Defiance, refusing to be terrorized into hiding. Every Pride meant more people coming out, more people seeing them, more people joining them. More refusal to be erased.

Pride transformed shame and terror into a celebration. It gave people the strength and community that allowed them to face hard times. In the 70s, when homosexuality had just barely been de-listed as a mental illness. In the 80s, when a community had to survive not just a disease but a country's indifference to the loss of a generation.

Being open and refusing to be terrorized made advances possible in the 90s, when queer people became more visible on screens. And gaining rights in the 2000s -- first privacy in our own homes, then all the way up to 2015, when the highest court in the land overturned laws that erased the right to have our relationships recognized.

Every year, every June is a return to that riot at a bar in 1969. It's a refusal to be erased by being loud, being out, being open and being ourselves. That's why we still have Pride, why we still defy erasure, and why bars remain refuges. Because that terrorism still exists. There's still violence that pushes people into the closet to protect themselves, still laws that erase us. There are still people who would chase us into our safest places and try to do us harm.

The response now is the same as the response in 1969. Refuse to be terrorized. Defy erasure. Make noise. Be queer. Go to Pride. Have pride.

Forty years ago, queer people needed bars and marches to find each other and be open about who they were. It's because of their courage, and their defiance, that now we can connect openly. To this day, bars remain a special place, a refuge where people are free to be themselves. People have tried to terrorize us in our refuges before. We defied them then. We'll defy them now. That's why we have Pride.

Thanks for watching. As always I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm @mattbaume on Twitter. For more queer voices check out my podcast The Sewers of Paris, and my book Defining Marriage, which is all about people fighting for the freedom to marry over the last forty years. See you out at Pride.