June 21, 2019

About Pride

As our Spokane community, and communities across the globe, celebrate June as Pride month, many of us may know what Pride is, but not why we celebrate it. Pride is often a source of kinship, community, and fun activities including marches and festivals. However, Pride was not always full of rainbows and parades. Pride began with a violent raid on a gay club that ended up being a catalyst for the gay rights movement; and we celebrate Pride this month to honor those who came before us to make the U.S. and globe a place where LGBTQ+ people feel proud to express who they are.

Stonewall Riots

This year is the 50th anniversary of a landmark moment in gay rights history. On June 28th, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, NYC. Gay bars and clubs served as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ folks throughout the 60s, and before. Being openly gay in most states was not welcomed, and often illegal. In 1969 NYC, where this landmark event took place, police were allowed to arrest people wearing less than three gender-appropriate articles of clothing. LGBTQ+ patrons could not even be served alcohol until 1966, as authorities stated that gatherings of LGBTQ+ communities caused disorderly conduct.

While there were many gay clubs and bars in NYC, Stonewall was famous for its acceptance of transgender people. Stonewall was also famous for its owners, the Genovese crime family who began taking over clubs in the mid-1960s. The family sought out profit by accepting shunned LGBTQ+ patrons. Despite its shady owners, Stonewall was seen as a place of refuge. It accepted homeless gay youth, and was one of the only gay bars that allowed dancing, as dancing among LGBTQ+ was seen as disorderly in many other bars.

The police raided Stonewall in the early hours of June 28th. Typically bars at this time received warning from police about raids. However, Stonewall was exempted from this courtesy. Police arrested 13 people, including patrons for violating the state’s gender appropriate clothing statute. Female officers would take suspected cross-dressing patrons into the bathroom to check their sex.

Rather than disperse, patrons and neighbors stood outside Stonewall, angered by the police’s action. Two of the leaders of this action were Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans-women of color. They were at Stonewall celebrating Johnson’s 25th birthday when the raids occurred. Rather than leave, they encouraged others to stay and show their anger toward the police for infringing on their right to identity. Johnson and Rivera later became prominent activists in the gay liberation movement.

As patrons waited outside after the raid, they witnessed police abuse against a lesbian woman, as a police officer hit her over the head with a bottle as they arrested her. This caused on-lookers to begin throwing pennies at the officer in protest. Then, a riot began. Hundreds of people joined from around the neighborhood. Police barricaded themselves and their prisoners in the bar. Protesters attempted to set the bar on fire. Authorities arrived to douse the fire, and the crowds momentarily dispersed.

For five more days, protesters gathered in Greenwich Village. Sometimes, thousands of people joined to show their discontent. The Village Voice published accounts of the riots, adding more gas into the already revved up protesters.

After Stonewall

Stonewall was not the first event of the gay liberation movement, though it did bring attention and energy into the movement. These riots led to the Gay Liberation Front, Human Rights CampaignGLAAD (formerly Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and PFLAG(formerly Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

In 1970, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March planning committee formed to commemorate the riots as a major moment in gay liberation history. This committee wanted to name the events that occurred at Stonewall, and the events that would happen for years to come. L. Craig Schoonmaker suggested “gay pride,” as the movement’s motto. “A lot of people were very repressed, they were conflicted internally, and didn’t know how to come out and be proud,” said Schoonmaker in an interview with the Allusionist. “That’s how the movement was most useful, because they thought, ‘Maybe I should be proud.'” Originally, Pride aimed to demand rights under the law. In 1991, the movement began to see more celebration of queer life, in addition to its work to gain equal rights and protections.

In 1978, the rainbow flag was born. Its designer, Gilbert Baker, wanted to create a universal symbol to encompass the diversity Pride wanted to include. “We needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things,” said Baker in an interview with the Museum of Modern Art. “Plus, it’s a natural flag—it’s from the sky! And even though the rainbow has been used in other ways in vexilography, this use has now far eclipsed any other use that it had.”

Pride Today

Since then, Pride has had many successes. On June 11, 1999, President Bill Clinton issued the first-ever proclamation declaring June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. On June 24, 2016, President Barack Obama also established a 7.7-acre area around the re-opened Stonewall Inn as the Stonewall National Movement, turning the site that sparked a worldwide movement into the first LGBT national park site in the United States.

However, despite its success, LGBTQ+ liberation is still not universal, even in the U.S. In 29 states, no explicit prohibitions for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state law. Recently, the Office of Housing and Urban Development issued a rule that would allow Shelters and Housing Services to use sex and gender as discriminants to refuse their services. Just two years ago, 49 people were shot at a gay club in Orlando, now known as the Pulse Nightclub Shootings. While the U.S. and world have made tremendous progress regarding LGBTQ+ rights and protections, along with cultural acceptance, progress simply is not enough. Because LGBTQ+ communities are still at risk of danger due simply to their identity, Pride serves as a reminder each year that all people deserve respect, safety, and the right to live a loving, fulfilling life. It is a time to celebrate identities, and an opportunity to continue to demand equal rights and protection under the law, as well as cultural acceptance. We still need Pride, because not all people feel proud to live in their own skin.

To continue the tradition of celebrating this month with Pride, please see our Community Events page for all the ways you can join in the festivities, serve as an ally, or learn more about this important month.


YWCA Spokane Serves All, Proudly.

YWCA Spokane will never turn a person away based on gender identity, sexual identity, sexuality, race, or ethnicity. While our Shelter serves all who identify as a woman based on grant restrictions, we are proud to assist any person who identifies as a man find safe refuge. Additionally, our Women’s Opportunity Center is open to all people who identify as a woman. Our Mental Health Therapy and Advocacy services are open to all survivors of Intimate Partner and Domestic Violence regardless of gender or sexual identity. If you are in need of our services, please call 509-326-CALL (2255) or email help@ywcaspokane.org.

By: Olivia Moorer

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