The first Pride parade took place in New York in 1970 on the last weekend of June. Activists called it Christopher Street Liberation Day, a commemoration of the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – when the gay community in Greenwich Village protested violent police raids at the Stonewall Inn and fought for their right to associate freely without fear of intimidation. Pride celebrations were also held across the country in cities including San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, establishing the events surrounding Stonewall as a national landmark to increase visibility around the organization and the community. LGBTQ+ rights solidarity.
More than half a century since the first Pride celebrations were coordinated – hesitantly, in some cases, as in San Francisco, where a ‘gay-in’ picnic with just a few dozen attendees was broken up by mounted police – Pride turned into a month-long affair, attended by the city‘s mayors, sponsored by corporate brands and crowned by parades that outlast the long working days.
On Stonewall’s 50th anniversary in 2019, a record five million people showed up for Pride in New York. The integration of Pride is both a reflection of the visionary success of gay rights activists in manifesting a world where their identities can be celebrated in the public space and, for some who want the movement to center more radical demands, a source of disappointment. The seemingly endless popularity of the “that’s why this Pride month I’m partnering with” tweets that have been circulating this year is evidence that many are increasingly adopting a tongue-in-cheek tone in their participation in Pride. Accompanying the celebration of the real progress that has been made in queer freedoms is a justified suspicion as to the direction the movement might take.
Although the historical circumstances of the 1970s were very different from those that threaten LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms today, the linear progression of strengthening civil liberties has become a troubled narrative, as states pass increasing numbers of anti-terrorism laws. -LGBTQ+ and as members of the Supreme Court. Court indicate the possibility of re-examining landmark cases such as Oberfell v. Hodges.
Hyperallergic asked several artists who have focused on themes of queer identity and expression to provide their personal thoughts on Pride. We also asked the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society (GLBT) of San Francisco – a museum and archive of LGBTQ+ history and arts founded in 1985 and run during its formative years at the turn of the millennium by Susan Stryker – to weigh in on the meaning of Pride and how it has evolved over the decades.
Pop artist Deborah Kass, whose work often uses appropriation to challenge gender and sexuality norms, highlighted the coordinated legislative assault on LGBTQ+ rights nationwide. “With over 300 proposed bills across our country targeting LGBTQ citizens, families and children, we need more than Pride,” she wrote. “We need organization, fundraising and above all voting.”
“EVERYONE knows someone who is LQBTQ, a [person of color], a child or a woman. And yet these vast majorities are under physical, literal, political and legislative attack from the white male minority, whose grip on power and supremacy continues to ruin lives,” she continued. “Power, greed and control are the goals. Their suicidal and murderous mission is relentless and deadly.
“Organize organize organize!” Kass signed.
Sculptor Robert Gober, whose work has addressed themes of the AIDS epidemic and mortality and who has been involved with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), echoed Kass’s sentiment, writing simply to About Pride: “They’re coming for us.”
Clifford Prince King, whose photographs feature black gay men in intimate, everyday settings, noted that “as with any other national holiday, there’s a lot of capitalism” in Pride.
“Some queer folx see Pride Month as a time to (rightly) cash in and a time to connect with their community with celebrations and commemorations,” King told Hyperallergic. “My hope is that the community support will not simply be cut off after the month is celebrated. It is important for people to learn more about the black and brown people who fought tirelessly to have our voices heard and valued.
Duane Michals’ photographs often include a strong sense of storytelling and sometimes suggest gay lust. He said “American culture is gay pride without American culture knowing it.”
When asked what he thought was often forgotten in Pride’s history, he replied that “what gets forgotten is what young gay men don’t remember”. He said he would celebrate architect Fred Gorrée, his longtime partner who died in the summer of 2017, this Pride.
A few years ago, the GLBT Historical Society held an online exhibit titled Labor of Love: The Birth of San Francisco Pride, 1970-1980 — which remains visible on its website. Curators sifted through the “extensive archive” of the GLBT Historical Society to present a selection of photographs, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, video footage, memos and planning documents. These documents tell the story of the tremendous work that went into mobilizing the protests and parades in San Francisco, and the divisiveness that arose among organizers who disagreed on what Pride should do. look like and what its goals should be.
Early flyers touted the importance of visibility and diversity. “The more visible we are, the stronger we become,” it reads. Another listed the differences united under the banner of gay solidarity: “We gays are of both sexes, all races and all ethnic backgrounds. We come from different economic situations and with different political convictions to claim our rights. Yet, from the beginning, the conflict within homosexual political organizations was present. When he resigned in 1974, Steve Ginsburg, president of Gay Freedom Week, felt that San Francisco’s gay community was “royally and alcoholically fucked.” In 1976, a coalition of groups decided that the Gay Freedom Day Parade was no longer true to the spirit of the Stonewall Riots. In the late 1970s, controversy erupted over an attempt to ban nudity at Pride, and disputes reigned over calls for attendees to dress more respectably at Pride.
Cumulatively, the exhibition shows that many of the controversies around Pride that seem contemporary have always troubled organizers and attendees.
“Perhaps one of Pride’s most important legacies is that it’s an event that makes us reflect on the complexity of these issues,” said GLBT staffer Mark Sawchuk. Historical Society, at Hyperallergic, referring to the many debates raging about the right way to celebrate Pride. “It’s an event that’s constantly being defined and redefined, and given the threats facing LGBTQ people in 2022, we need it more than ever.”
This article, part of a series focusing on LGBTQ+ artists and art movements, is supported by Swann Auction Galleries.
Swann’s Next Sale »LGBTQ+ art, material culture and historyfeaturing art and material from Tom of Finland, Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe, Oscar Wilde, Andy Warhol and more will take place on August 18, 2022.