As police attempted to arrest patrons in the bar, a crowd gathered in the street outside, tensions mounted, and a full scale riot broke out on Christopher Street outside the bar.
A confluence of events, from the turbulent atmosphere of civil unrest that pervaded in the late 1960s, to the continued harassment of the most disenfranchised members of the gay community that made up the majority of the club’s patrons, contributed to an anarchic rebellion against outside oppression and exploitation. Several days of sporadic protests, clashes with police, and looting followed, and when the dust cleared, a single question remained: “What now?”
A year later, on June 28, 1970, Christopher Street Liberation Day marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, including the first Gay Pride marches in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Within 2 years, San Francisco, Miami, and Atlanta all had Pride marches on or around the 28th of June to commemorate the uprising, and the nascent gay liberation movement. This movement differed from previous gay rights movements in not wanting to disappear into mainstream straight America, but by demanding that members of the gay community not be marginalized or forced to conform to conservative social norms, but be allowed to be who they are, as they are.
The 1970s saw a gradual cooling of some of the radical liberation aspects of the gay rights movement, in favor of a more measured, inclusion-minded approach. On June 25, 1978, the first rainbow flag flew during the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Designed by Gilbert Baker, the rainbow flag is meant to promote community, harmony, and pride in being a member of the LGBTQ community.
The ’80s saw an uptick in activism and reaction against perceived passiveness in the face of the AIDS crisis and local and federal government failures to fund research and stop a growing epidemic that disproportionately affected the gay community. This was the era of ACT-UP and the refrain “Silence Equals Death,” and effectively marked the birth of mainstream gay political action.
In the 44 years since Stonewall, the LGBTQ movement has metamorphosed into an integral and visible part of the culture at large. Through adversity, community, action, and dialogue, we’ve come from a place where you could be arrested and brutalized for congregating with like-minded people at a bar operating expressly for that purpose, to having your rights affirmed by the highest court in the land. Over the month of June, we ask ourselves, what does pride mean, and although everyone has a unique and different answer, in the end it comes down to being able to point to yourself and honestly say, “This is me. This is who I am,” and to be comfortable with showing that face to whomever you choose to.