Pride flags at a parade

Stonewall’s Legacy: The Birth of the Pride Parade

This article is excerpted from our DEI eModule Trans 101: Allyship Through Education, developed in Partnership with TransNewYork, in recognition of Pride Season.

The 1960s and preceding decades were largely not welcoming for LGBTQ2S+ folks in North America. For example, same-sex relations were criminalized through anti-sodomy laws at the time in New York City. Trans people, drag queens, and cross dressers could be arrested for simply wearing clothes of another gender.

Gay bars became a place of refuge for many LGBTQ2S+ individuals. These were places where they could freely express themselves without worry and socialize with like-minded individuals. The Stonewall Inn – a gay club located in New York City’s Greenwich Village – became one of these places of refuge.

The Stonewall Inn quickly became a critical institution for New York City’s LGBTQ2S+ community. It welcomed drag queens who were not welcome at other bars and clubs. It served as a nightly home for many homeless gay youths and runaways, and was one of the only gay bars that allowed dancing – an important part of LGBTQ2S+ culture at the time. As well, the inn was also not allowed to openly sell alcohol; they had to hide it.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn. They entered without a warrant in efforts to locate the illegal selling of alcohol at the establishment. While police raids at the time weren’t out of the ordinary, this raid was particularly violent. Both patrons and employees of the bar were aggressively handled and the crowd outside began to react. The raid sparked a riot among not only police, patrons, and employees, but also with neighbourhood residents of the surrounding area. Hundreds of people were involved in the 6-day protest that ended on July 3, 1969.

Lesbian novelist and playwrite Sarah Schulman writes in a 1985 novel: “Stonewall is often thought of as an uprising of gay men. In reality, it was drag queens, Black drag queens, who fought the police at the famous Stonewall Inn rebellion in 1969.” The Stonewall incident became one of the first times that lesbian people, gay people, and transgender people saw the value in uniting behind a common cause.

While the Stonewall uprising was not the first event of its kind, it served as a catalyst for furthering the rights of the LGBTQ2S+ community, as well as raised visibility of issues faced by the community in both the US and around the world. The riots led to the creation of numerous LGBTQ2S+ rights organizations in every major American city, as well as in Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. Within months, several newspapers were established to promote the rights of LGBTQ2S+ individuals.

Furthermore, one of the greatest legacies of the Stonewall Uprising is probably the establishment of the pride parade. On the one-year anniversary, thousands of people marched from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park in what was deemed America’s first pride parade.

From that day on, every year, the Stonewall Uprising has been internationally marked by this ritual – an annual pride parade hosted in various cities all over the world. In 2016, then-President Barack Obama designated the site of the riots as a national monument in recognition of the area’s contribution to LGBTQ2S+ rights.