Pride: A commemoration, celebration and a protest.
It was the small hours of June 28th 1969 that would mark the catalyst of today’s LGBT movement, referenced historically as the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall inn, a gay bar located on Christopher Street in the Greenwich village in Manhattan, New York was turned over in a police raid. Police raids were a regular occurrence for most gay establishments during that time, often happening once every few weeks. Those present at the time and who have shared their experience of the raid have spoke of their fear, embarrassment and humiliation having lined up the length of the bar for an identification check. Lesbians claimed they were inappropriately handled by male officers and others were escorted by female officers to the lady’s room so as to verify their sex. Those found to have been male dressed as a female were arrested. Panic descended and some men in the identification line up refused to produce their I.D, as a result they too were arrested. After years of political and societal prejudice, harassment, assault, segregation and criminalisation this particular raid was in effect ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. During the raid a woman was handcuffed and taken out to a police van parked outside the establishment, where punters who had been released and those who had caught wind of the raid had gathered. It is said this lady yelled to the crowd not to stand idol, which subsequently sparked a violent reaction. Thankfully no one died as a result but many were left injured and traumatised after two nights of rioting. It was exactly one year later on the 28th of June 1970 that the LGBT community would unite and come together in a public demonstration commemorating the Stonewall riots an act that is referenced as the birth of Pride. Of course prior to this date there are many activists and public demonstrations recorded but nothing on the scale of Pride that has since reached countries and cities worldwide. It reached the UK two years later in 1972, when the first Pride Carnival took place through London on the 1st of July. It took much longer before it reached Northern Ireland, approximately eighteen years longer, when in 1990 Belfast hosted its first ever Pride Parade. Whilst telling it is not entirely surprising, considering the decriminalisation of homosexuality was implemented in England and Wales in 1967, Scotland would follow suit thirteen years later and Northern Ireland fifteen years in 1982 with thanks to Jeffery Dudgeon. Whilst born out of the Stonewall riots, Pride is an act of remembrance and commemoration for several activists, Harvey Milk and Barbara Gittings to name only two from an incredibly long list. Slightly off topic but I like to boast that Harvey Milk was born on the 22nd of May, the same day the polls closed in 2014 in the local government elections for Belfast and would return, for the first time, three openly gay councillors.
Harvey had a wealth of followers and friends but quite specifically related to this piece it would be unforgivable not to mention Gilbert Baker, a gay artist who designed the rainbow flag (1978) that we see draped from buildings across the city around this time of year and proudly on parade throughout the world. Whether it was Bakers original intent, I find the rainbow flag appropriately placed with any campaign for equality and in the context of Northern Ireland it houses each citizen regardless of their colour, creed, sexual orientation or national identity. Pride is also a celebration and there are many things to celebrate: decriminalisation, reversing political inaction and discriminate labeling of the HIV & AIDS pandemic, lifting the ban on lesbian and gay men serving in the armed forces and employment equality (sexual orientation) regulations to mention a few from a long list of achievements. But most importantly pride is a worldwide movement, calling for an end to the persecution, prosecution, murder and segregation of LGBT people across the world seeking recognition for common humanity. This time of year is always bittersweet for me, I am usually overwhelmed with the knowledge that someone somewhere in the world is feeling the heavy rain of intolerant fists. Another somewhere else is buried waist deep in soil whilst their village prepares to stone them to death in an act of barbaric supremacy. In stark contrast, illustrating the sweet sentiment of my statement and also my closing remarks; somewhere in the world, a child is born today, who will be more enlightened than we and vindicate this generation of its struggles.
By Cllr Julie-Anne Corr Johnston