50 years ago in the UK, being gay ran the risk of arrest and prison. If you were lucky, you would be sent to a psychiatric unit. Today, we can openly express ourselves and celebrate our sexuality, with the month of June being dedicated to the liberation of love.
Like any social justice movement, the catalyst for change came with an uprising. This year’s Pride marks 51 years from the Stonewall riots, which sparked the first Pride march through New York City. Years later Pride has grown and evolved, spreading across the globe.
That uprising began at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York. Because of the criminal treatment of homosexual and transexuals at this time, the bar was run by the Italian Mafia as a private club, paying off the local police to turn a blind eye. This often led to the Mafia blackmailing wealthier patrons for their silence. Despite this, there were neverending raids on gay clubs, leading to strip searches, gender check and arrests for homosexuality and cross dressing.
Until the 28th of June 1969, patrons across New York had grown tired of this treatment. As the raid began at the Stonewall Inn, those who were not arrested congregated in the street. Patrons outnumbered police, and as a woman was violently assaulted while being detained, unrest grew into a riot. The LGBTQ+ community of New York began throwing bottles and pennies at the police, forcing them to retreat while awaiting backup.
As backup came, the crowd were only angered further. They stood firm for their rights, chanting at the police and fighting back. While several protesters were injured, and several arrested, the police withdrew for the night. They had won the first battle of many and inspired others to do the same.
The next day, unflattering news coverage brought the city’s LGBTQ+ community and allies to join in solidarity outside the Stonewall Inn. Thousands of people blocked the streets, for days of protests and police brutality. As news spread, protests began across the globe.
In the UK, it took another three years until 1972 to celebrate our first Pride in the streets, the inspiration from these protests led to a revolution. 49 years later, being gay and transgender is widely accepted. Gay marriage was legalised in 2013. Gender reassignment is supported by the government and it is now an offence to commit hate crimes on those in the LGBTQ+ community.
In 49 countries it is still a criminal act to be homosexual or transgender, and in 11 countries it is punished with the death penalty. Change often happens slowly, with each protest and each Pride. It has been an uphill battle since Stonewall, but without the LGBTQ+ community of New York, Pride may not be possible for us today.