What is LGBTQ Pride Month?

By Mercedes Lucero and Trish Berrong on June 8th, 2021
What is LGBTQ Pride Month mc

Today’s Gay Pride parades, marches and LGBTQ Pride Month were set in motion by events in the summer of 1969 at The Stonewall Inn, a small gay bar in Greenwich, New York. Patrons rose up and spoke out for their right to live without being harassed and persecuted for who they were.

Now Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month is commemorated annually in June—and, for the first time in 1999, officially declared by Presidential proclamation. Nationwide marches and events celebrate LGBTQ people and their identities, advance the movement to end discrimination and victimization and honour those who fought for gay rights before and since Stonewall.

What is LGBTQ Pride Month mc

The Stonewall Uprising

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:

  • eviction
  • prison time
  • sterilization
  • 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.


The first Pride marches

In November of 1969, 13 organizations within E.R.C.H.O. voted to organize a Gay Pride Week and a demonstration. Called the “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day,” the demonstration would take place on the one-year anniversary of the previous summer’s uprisings.

Prominent New York City transgender activists of colour like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera spread flyers calling on people everywhere to “…commemorate the Christopher Street Uprisings of last summer” and to “demonstrate against centuries of abuse.” This inaugural Pride demonstration attracted thousands.

In the months, decades and years following the Stonewall Uprising, activists and LGBTQ rights advocates got to work. They used the Civil Rights Movement as their blueprint for enacting change. There were pamphlets to publish, money to raise and LGBTQ people to help.

Now attendees in NYC and around the world, including LGBTQ folks and their straight allies, number in the millions. Their number grows with the popularity of virtual programming.


Celebrating LGBTQ people of colour

Organizing Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day was the necessary first step in an ongoing quest for LGBTQ liberation around the world. At the heart of these movements, queer people of colour were leading the way.

Following Stonewall, artists and activists including Essex Hemphill, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Kiyoshi Kuromiya used their work to continue the fight for LGBTQ rights. They organized local chapters within their communities and responded to issues like the AIDS crisis to help save lives.

From the early ’90s onward, others began organizing Black Pride marches in various cities to address the lack of Black LGBTQ visibility at major Pride events—and to honour the transgender and gender non-conforming people of color who made the movement possible. Today, Latinx, Asian and Black Pride events take place around the world.

LGBTQ Identity will always be diverse

The LGBTQ community is not a monolith—it’s an umbrella that covers a wide range of intersectional identities. Intersectionality describes how race, gender, sexuality and other social identities shape people’s lives according to privilege and oppression.


Today’s gay pride marches and celebrations

Events vary widely and include everything from rallies and marches to festivals and workshops. Many honour LGBTQ history by holding marches on the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.

And it’s no surprise that so many of these marches have transformed into vibrant, festive parades showcasing the magic and persistence of LGBTQ pride. No matter how you participate this June, celebrating LGBTQ identity remains central to the goals of LGBTQ Pride Month.


Ideas for celebrating LGBTQ Pride

For the LGBTQ community, Pride isn’t something you can just fit neatly into a single month. It’s showing up and showing out all year-round. Here are some ideas:

  • Listen to LGBTQ voices and learn more about the issues that matter to them. Start by exploring a range of topics and resources through foundations like the Human Rights Campaign.
  • Seek out diverse stories of empowerment and encouragement. Watch inspiring messages to LGBTQ youth through organizations like the It Gets Better Project.
  • Spark more conversations with your friends and family about topics relevant to the LGBTQ community. Include little ones by reading LGBTQ children’s books centred around love, identity and family.
  • Expand your perspective by learning more about the spectrum of LGBTQ identity. Use GLAAD’s “An Ally’s Guide to Terminology” as a resource for further understanding.
  • Explore LGBTQ history and get to know the folks who led the way. Listen to the podcast Making Gay History to hear from LGBTQ heroes and trailblazers who were there.
  • Show up for others by asking friends and family within the LGBTQ community how best you can support them.

Whether you celebrate Pride month as LGBTQ or ally, you’re helping carry the torch forward so current and future generations of LGTBQ folks can show up proudly (and loudly!) in the world and thrive.

LGBTQ Pride Month is the perfect time to remind LGBTQ folks in your life how much they mean to you. Don’t know where to start? Here are some ideas.