The Stonewall Inn in New York, where the Stonewall riots of 1969 catalysed the gay liberation movement in the US. Photo: Francois Lubbe for HSB&M

The Stonewall Inn in New York, site of the Stonewall riots of 1969 that catalysed the gay liberation movement in the US. Photo: Francois Lubbe for HSB&M

By Francois Lubbe and Shiraaz Chaim Sidat for HotSaltBeef&Mustard

When the first Gay Pride March was held in New York, on 28 June 1970, it was not so much a fun celebration, but rather a protest against what happened a year earlier at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, when the LGBT community spontaneously rioted against reoccurring police raids at the Stonewall Inn.

A few months after the riots, at a meeting for the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO), Craig Rodwell, his partner Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, and Linda Rhodes (in all earnest, the Founders of Gay Pride) proposed the first Gay Pride Parade to be held in New York City.

In Atlanta and New York City the marches were called Gay Liberation Marches, and the day of celebration was called Gay Liberation Day. It was the birth of the Gay Pride movement, which, at the time, served to inspire the growing LGBT activist movement and gradually more and more annual marches started up in cities across the US and throughout the world.

In an article in 2012, UK human rights campaigner, Gay Rights activist and the organiser of the first London Pride, Peter Tatchell said: “My most memorable Pride was Britain’s first one, in July 1972. I helped organise it and we had no idea what to expect. We were surprised to have 700 people turn up, but not surprised to be subject to heavy-handed policing.

“The reactions of the public were an eye-opener: about a third was overtly hostile — we got pelted with beer cans and coins, but the majority of onlookers seemed just confused and bewildered to see so many openly gay people declaring their sexuality and marching for freedom.”

It’s 44 years since the first Gay Pride marches took place in the streets of New York and Atlanta and we now celebrate Pride Month in June every year across the globe. In 2011, US President Barak Obama said: “I call upon all Americans to observe this month by fighting prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists.”

Times certainly have changed and in particular for the younger LGBT generation in countries like the UK, US, Israel, The Netherlands and France (to mention but a few where Gay Pride is celebrated freely), where experiencing heavy-handed hostility and being pelted with beer cans during the celebrations will be unthinkable.

However, many people will be forgiven for feeling that Gay Pride is no longer a march, but that it has turned into a parade of sexual hedonism taken over by wig-swinging Drag Queens, roller-skating nuns and men with their backsides hanging out.

This begs the question: why do we still celebrate Pride?

A marcher at London Pride

A marcher at London Pride

HotSaltBeef&Mustard asked members of London’s Jewish LGBT community what their sentiments are over the Pride celebrations, and found that in the majority of cases, Pride is still an embedded part of our unbreakable LGBT spirit.

Evidence of this fact is the nearly 500 Gay Pride events that took place globally in 2012. Nine out of ten were held in Europe or North America. São Paulo’s, the world’s largest Gay Pride, attracts more than 3million participants and around $75million in tourist revenues annually.

Perhaps more inspiring, is the 500+ LGBT people who marched in Taiwan’s first Gay Pride in 2003, many wearing masks. Nine years later 65,000 joined the same event, which was as festive and shirtless as those in New York or San Francisco.

In 2012 activists rode through Minsk, Belarus, in a tram festooned with Gay Pride rainbow flags and Albanians took to their bikes for the Tirana Gay (P)Ride. Rallies are banned in China, so Shanghai’s event features a Pride Run instead and in Europe, Cyprus celebrated its first ever Gay Pride on 31 May 2014.

Yet, much as we show ourselves and as much as attitudes are changing, the so-called ‘liberal sentiments’ of countries like the UK and US are not shared everyone. Despite the pulling-power of São Paulo’s Gay Pride, Brazilian advocacy group Grupo Gay da Bahia, reports that 338 people were murdered in homophobic hate crimes in Brazil in 2012.

Last October the first Pride parade in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, had almost 2,000 police protecting 150 LGBT marchers from ten times as many protesters. Ukraine’s first Pride, in May 2013, also featured a heavy police presence.

When Birgitta Ohlsson — Sweden’s Minister for European Union Affairs — spoke at the 2013 Lithuania’s Gay Pride, she was pelted with eggs. In Serbia, 2013 was the third consecutive year that authorities refused to allow a Pride march, fearing a repeat of the violence that marred Belgrade’s first, in 2010.

The fact remains that in many places Gay Pride marches are almost unthinkable. In 2012 only seven marches took place in the 87 countries that are the most hostile towards LGBT people. A case in point is the LGBT Ugandans, who publicly marched together for the first time in 2012 while their parliament mulled over imposing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”.

By contrast the main threat for revellers in the Washington Gay Pride — nearly 40 years old and one of the city’s biggest attractions — is the summer heat.

For those of us who can freely celebrate, the tone and reason for joining the fray and fanfare might have changed since 44 years ago.

However we need to be mindful of the fact that Pride will always be so much more than just another street party.

For the sake of those who are still silenced and pushed back into the closet, our solidarity is part of their liberation.

Being visible on the streets is pivotal in exposing, challenging and defeating those people who would, if they had half a chance, keep us down for ever and a day.

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