From Stonewall to Global, Celebrating Pride

From Stonewall to Global, Celebrating Pride!

June is a month when we start planning vacations and getting out more. But it's more than the beginning of sunshine and outdoor games. For the LGBTQIA+ community, it's their time to shine.

Memorable occasions often derive from tragic situations. Pride month, as well as the annual March, is no exception. The celebration of Pride honors the lives of those who have been overlooked and often abused throughout history—because of their LGBTQIA+ identity. 

Have you ever wondered how pride month came to be? Perhaps you already know but appreciate the story being retold. It all started in a small but tight-knit neighborhood known as Greenwich Village. Located in Lower, Manhattan it was considered the gay mecca by many as early as the 1950s. But on one fateful night, it was anything but. 

The Infamous Night that Started a Revolution 

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village of Manhattan was raided. “The Stonewall” was a locale for the LGBTQIA+ community to gather in shared experiences—a safe place. It welcomed homosexual men, lesbian women, transexuals and others that identified as queer. At the time the only state without laws preventing homosexual activity was Illinois. Crossdressing was also illegal and could result in a jail sentence.  

What happened at the Inn wasn’t at all unusual across the country. Regular raids on gay clubs were common during this era. It was later revealed that the local police force had every intention of permanently closing down the Stonewall Inn. But something far greater arose that became a movement. 

The Stonewall Inn had experienced police interference before. On this particular night, as people were being arrested and abused, the patrons of the Inn decided to fight back. Nobody knows who threw the first bottle. Some present recall that it was in response to a lesbian being beaten after complaining that her handcuffs were too tight. Regardless, reactions escalated, and more violence ensued. Fortunately, nobody was killed. However, it launched days of protests and riots from the Greenwich Village community. 

Stonewall Becomes Home Base for LGBTQIA+ Activists 

Over the following six days and nights, gay activists continued to gather near the Stonewall Inn. A plan began to percolate. Local Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore owner, Craig Rodwell, had the idea for a march. Rodwell discussed it with Ellen Broidy, who was the first president of the gay student group at NYU, as well as a member of the New York Gay Liberation Front. The latter group was formed as a result of the Stonewall Riots. 

Broidy then presented the idea to the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) meeting in Philadelphia. From there, the Gay Liberation Front organized both the first Pride march and the week-long activities surrounding the first commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising.* Hence, Pride was born. Decades later, we have this celebration held in cities across the country.  

*Personal testimonial by Perry Brass in the comments of the LOC article titled, “Pride at 50: From Stonewall to Today.” 

A Global Celebration was Born

On that fateful day in 1970, as several hundred people began marching up 6th Avenue toward Central Park, supporters from the crowd joined them. The procession eventually stretched some 15 city blocks and included thousands of people. The public had come together to facilitate positive change and equal rights on behalf of the LGBTQIA+ community. And it launched a global movement. 

Inspired by New York’s example, activists in other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, organized gay pride celebrations that same year. The activism that erupted from a hostile environment at Stonewall would eventually fuel gay rights movements in Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. Today it has found traction in other countries as well.  

Silent Films Impact on LGBTQIA+ Visibility 

The media and entertainment industry consists of film, television, radio and print. Whereas books have existed for millennia, films are considered a twentieth-century format. Silent films only had a few decades of popularity, from 1894-1929.  

Queer stereotypes were somewhat common in earlier films. Unfortunately, those depictions were often used to provoke laughter and to make fun of individuals who were considered “diverse.” 

In the early twentieth century, "Different from the Others" a silent picture from 1919 was considered the first feature film about gay love. “  This German movie written by the gay sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld and the Austrian director Richard Oswald, tells the story of one who “suffers not from his condition, but rather from the false judgment of it,” the intertitle reads.  

The 1924 film, Michael was based on Herman Bang’s 1902 novel, adapted in 1916 under the title The Wings. The film portrays a painter who falls in love with one of his male models, the titular Michael. It explores the bittersweet feeling of unrequited love in a tender, rather melancholic manner.  

The first Best Picture Oscar winner, Wings, produced in 1927, is full of queer undertones. There are lesbians in a famous tracking shot. In addition, this film depicted Jack (Charles Rogers) and Richard (David Armstrong) in a passionate embrace—with a kiss, as one dies in battle.  

While portrayals of queer life may have been more common in foreign films, they also existed here in the States. Once silent films became “talkies” subject matter shifted somewhat. Films became as much about the script as the storyline or plot. Humor was conveyed through a quick quip versus a visual alone. Comedies with cross-dressers still existed but supportive depictions would come much later. 

TV's Positive Portrayals 

The 1990s saw an emergence of queer positive portrayals and wildly successful TV shows in America. Ellen DeGeneres came out on her ABS-sitcom, Ellen. Will and Grace, as well as Modern Family evolved into teenage shows such as Glee and Teen Wolf. This has afforded the community, particularly queer youth who battle depression and suicidal tendencies, to feel seen and less alone.  

In a recent study titled, “How Media has Helped Change Public Views About Lesbian and Gay People” the effect of media representation was explored. The takeaway according to the researchers was that “as the liberalization of attitudes towards gays and lesbians has occurred in many countries across the globe since the 1980s, change has been encouraged in part by communications climates – within and across nations – that allow for the free transmission of minority viewpoints.” Ultimately, their findings concluded free media is essential for advancing gay rights.  

Public Media's Role in Healing the Divide 

Known for educational content as well as documentaries, NPR and PBS have long held a reputation for telling the truth. In an effort to continue that calling and support the LGBTQIA+ community, PBS has recently selected numerous documentaries to help convey the struggles of the queer community. 

PBS recently acquired U.S. broadcast rights to Pier Kidsthrough its documentary series Point Of View. Pier Kids follows a small community of Black, unhoused queer and trans youth who live in and around New York City’s Christopher Street Pier. This documentary follows three teens throughout their personal journeys. The film conveys topics like homelessness, homophobia, transphobia, racial inequality, the economic gap, and more.  

Another documentary available via PBS is Marsha’s House: Life as a LGBTQ Homeless Youth. In this program, we are introduced to Romaine Leslie as he journeys through the shelter system. Marsha’s House was named for trans-activist Marsha P. Johnson whose legacy includes providing emergency housing to homeless LGBTQIA+ displaced youth.  

In addition, PBS Learning Media has made available Focus on LGBT Youth Homelessness: Film Module. This is a short film adapted from “The Homestretch” that was broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens. It explores youth homelessness with a focus on queer youth. 

These stories are both heartbreaking and extraordinary. The sheer willpower it takes to survive this level of subjugation is unfathomable to many of us. When compounded with the strength required to embrace your authentic self despite what the world around you is screaming… is incredible. 

Ultimately, these stories are of both inspiration and truth. Our fundamental needs of clothing, shelter, food and love are all part of our basic instincts. We need each of them to survive, otherwise we cannot thrive.  

Media’s role in ensuring that this community is understood, respected, and appreciated for their struggles as well as perseverance makes all the difference in their trajectory. If the media portrays not just their challenges, but also their successes then our culture is more apt to accept and even edify these individuals. As a result, we are more likely to have a prolific society. 


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