In the mid-1960s, the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street was a rare safe space for LGBTQ folks—including many young transgender and gender non-conforming people of colour.
Many teens and young folks escaped the mistreatment and abuse they experienced at home to search for acceptance and community in places like New York.
Even there, laws made it almost impossible for LGBTQ people to socialize—get to know each other, hold hands, dance or kiss—in public. Gay bars provided refuge but were frequent targets of police surveillance and raids.
Pride Month history is part of human rights history
In the 20th century, being “out,” “loud” or “proud” had life-altering consequences for people within the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ adults could either pretend to live heterosexually within the law or live as their authentic selves illegally. In the U.S., further consequences included things like:
- prison time
- media attention and ridicule
- job loss
- inhumane medical practices
Pride Month is a time to remember the human rights concerns that prompted the very first LGBTQ demonstration and march.
Law enforcement was cracking down on gay bars in Greenwich Village, and in the early hours of June 28, 1969, eight officers entered the Stonewall Inn. They checked ID cards, arrested employees and searched patrons who didn’t conform to a statute requiring at least three pieces of “gender appropriate” attire.
Those released from the Stonewall didn’t head right home. People began to congregate outside, shouting at police who were waiting for patrol vans to transport the 13 people they arrested. When one officer handcuffed and struck a lesbian, she shouted to the crowd—and they responded by throwing coins, bottles and stones.
Over the next few nights, thousands of supporters gathered in front of the Stonewall and spread down Christopher Street. Media coverage was peppered with slurs and derogatory language. Police beat and tear-gassed protestors. Protestors threw garbage, set fires, chanted, sang and performed kick-lines.
The Stonewall uprising brought LGBTQ activists together. Groups like the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (E.R.C.H.O.) helped coordinate smaller organizations and chapters.
Find a complete timeline of the Stonewall Uprising at History.com.
LGBTQ acronym embraces change
This article uses “LGBTQ” throughout. It began as “GL”—for gay/lesbian—in the 1960s and ’70s and has evolved over time to be more inclusive and capture a broader spectrum of LGBTQ identity. Today you may come across any number of variations of this acronym. While these identities remain deeply personal for each individual, here are some general definitions:
- Lesbian: Women who are attracted to women.
- Gay: People who are attracted to people of the same gender.
- Bisexual: People who are attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity.
- Transgender: People whose gender identity and/or expression is different from what they were thought to be at birth.
- Queer or Questioning: The usage of “queer,” once used as pejorative, is a painful reminder for some—still, others may prefer “queer” because of its ambiguous nature. Q can also represent people who are “questioning” or still exploring their gender identity and sexuality.
- Intersex: People whose bodies fall outside of the binary of “male” or “female.”
- Asexual or Ally: Asexual people experience little or no sexual attraction to others. Allies are straight or cisgender people who actively support LGBTQ folks, or those within the LGBTQ community who support each other.
- Pansexual: People whose attraction is not based on gender, biological sex or gender identity.
- Two-Spirit: Some acronyms include 2S for two-spirit, a pan-Indian term unique to Indigenous communities used to represent a distinct gender status beyond “man” or “woman.”
For more definitions and details, visit the non-profit organization Human Rights Campaign glossary.