There is a rich history behind the month-long celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.
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June 1 kicks off the 30 days of Pride Month, a celebratory time often associated with balloon arches, thumping techno, and bar crawls. While Pride may seem like it's all colorful parades and parties, there is a significant history behind the yearly celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. The meaning behind it and the way it is observed goes much deeper than a shot glass.

For over fifty years, Pride Month has taken on immense meaning around the world. Which events are celebrated, when they're celebrated, the language used to describe them, and just about every aspect is ever-evolving. To understand how we got to the modern parade of rainbow floats, we have to go back to the beginning.

Read on to learn more about the beginnings of Pride in the United States including why it's observed in June, how the pandemic has impacted the celebration, and how you can support it this year.

American gay rights activist Frank Kameny (1925 – 2011), second in line, protesting with others outside the White House on Armed Forces Day, Washington DC, US, 15th May 1965.
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

Beginning of the U.S. Movement

In pre-colonial America, people who today would be labeled under the LGBTQ+ umbrella were often accepted and even revered in their communities. When Europeans arrived, they brought anti-LGBTQ+ laws and beliefs with them, beginning the need for a liberation movement.

A German immigrant founded the first queer rights group in the U.S. in 1924. Other larger, more active groups began in the 1950s, like the Mattachine Society in 1951 and the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955. These and other groups started carrying out public actions for gay and lesbian rights in the 1960s, like marching in picket lines with pro-gay hand-lettered signs.

The First Riots

These early gay rights groups were often segregated by race, sex, gender, and sexual orientation. The picket lines and other protests aimed to portray gay people as respectable and professional, "just like everybody else." Meanwhile, those who didn't fit this image clashed with police whenever their spaces were raided. Some of the first riots for transgender rights happened in 1959 Los Angeles and 1966 San Francisco when trans women and drag queens fought back against attempted arrests.

A National Park Service ranger places rainbow flags on the fence at the Stonewall National Monument in the West Village neighborhood of Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan, New York City on June 19, 2019.
Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The Stonewall Rebellion

The undisputed watershed moment in the U.S. movement for LGBTQ+ rights was the Stonewall Rebellion that started on June 28, 1969. The Stonewall Inn was a queer bar in New York City that was routinely raided by police since queer bars (and queer existence) were illegal. On this night, patrons of the bar resisted arrest. This uprising was a turning point, though gay activists with an assimilationist approach disapproved. 

The Stonewall Inn is still a queer bar operating in its original location today. In 2016, the Stonewall National Monument became the first-ever U.S. National Monument dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community's history.

American gay rights activists Foster Gunnison (1925 - 1994) & Craig Rodwell (1940 - 1993) (both center) lead the first Stonewall anniversary march, then known as Gay Liberation Day (and later Gay Pride Day), New York, New York, June 28, 1970. (
Credit: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

The First Liberation March

The first Pride parade as we know it today was a celebration of the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1970. It was called the "Christopher Street Liberation Day March," named for the street the Stonewall Inn is on. It drew thousands of marchers (many more than organizers expected) to Greenwich Village. There were no floats, no rainbow apparel (the rainbow flag wouldn't be invented until 1978), just a sea of queer people with homemade signs. Other cities like Los Angeles and Boston held their own marches at the end of June 1970.

Members of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), including co-foundering gay liberation activist Sylvia Rivera (1951 - 2002) (holding banner, left) and Marsha P Johnson (1945 - 1992) (holding banner, right), demonstrate outside the New York Women's House of Detention (at 10 Greenwich Avenue), New York, New York, December 21, 1970.
Credit: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

Evolution in the 1970s

The word "pride" began to be associated with some of the annual liberation marches to counter the shaming of queer people, though march titles varied from year to year and city to city throughout the 1970s. 

The marches grew each year, but fighting within the LGBTQ+ community complicated who these marches "belonged" to. At the 1973 New York City rally, Sylvia Rivera, a prominent trans activist who was a Stonewall rioter, was physically kept from the stage and booed when she spoke about trans rights. White gay men had much of the power in the movement's organizations and marches, despite trans women of color being some of the important leaders of the Stonewall Rebellion.

In 1978, the first rainbow flag was unveiled at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Rainbow flags became a common sight at the events each year after that, as liberation marches evolved into Pride parades.

Modern Clashes

The first corporate sponsors of early Pride parades were alcohol and tobacco companies. Today many corporations sponsor Pride Month parties in exchange for branding opportunities like having floats in a parade. The corporatization of Pride is a point of debate within the LGBTQ+ community since the sponsored parties are so removed from the liberation marches of 50 years ago. 

The involvement of police at Pride is another point of contention. Given that the Stonewall Rebellion was an uprising against police harassment, the large and visible police presence at Pride is controversial. This year, New York City's Pride has decided to ban uniformed police from marching in their parade.

Demonstrators march in the streets during a Pride rally on June 28, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Credit: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Pride During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected Pride celebrations like any large gatherings. In 2020, many Pride parades were officially canceled but thousands still took to the streets in marches for Black lives to replace what had been planned. Many Pride events will still be virtual or pared down in 2021, hoping to come back at full scale in 2022. Whether the trend towards returning to activist roots will fundamentally change how Pride is celebrated going forward is yet to be seen. For now, some cities like New York City have two separate gatherings; one official Pride parade with floats and one activist liberation march. Many cities have annual Black Prides, Trans Prides, and other Pride celebrations for specific communities.

Related: 14 Quotes from LGBTQ+ Activists to Know During Pride Month—and Always

How You Can Participate in Pride

Everyone is generally welcome at Pride celebrations, but people not from the LGBTQ+ community should be mindful of the space they're coming into. For many LGBTQ+ people, Pride is the one day of the year they come out into the streets en masse to be openly themselves within their community.

A positive way for allies to honor Pride is to show support for the community through a donation to an LGBTQ+ cause, such as:

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