The origins and importance of Pride around the world

June is recognised globally as Pride month. A celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and a yearly observation of its modern rights movement.

In this blog, we take a look at the history and legacy of Pride, how it is celebrated around the world and the meaning it holds.

How Pride celebrations started

The modern day celebration of Pride, with its colourful parades and festive atmosphere, has come a long way since its early conception as a political demonstration. The very first Pride marches were held on 28th June 1970 to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Stonewall is considered a watershed moment in LGBTQ+ history as the community responded to hostile and discriminatory police behaviour with violence and outrage. These three nights of unrest – which involved gay men, lesbians, transgender women and other groups that had been marginalised by authorities – were based around The Stonewall Bar in New York and pivotal in the formation of Pride.

Many counter-culture and civil rights groups were gaining momentum in America in the late 1960s, and the gay, lesbian and trans movement was very much part of this change, as they formed their own activist and rights groups in direct response to Stonewall.

Anniversary marches were held in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco to recognise the stand taken by those at Stonewall. In the second year the number grew to include further cities in the US and Europe, such as Paris, Berlin and Stockholm. Today, marches are held all around the world and regularly attract millions of people wanting to celebrate their identity and sexuality.

The symbols of LGBTQ+ Pride

The first gathering held to mark the anniversary of Stonewall was called The Christopher Street Liberation Day March, the address of The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich village. Protestors chanted ‘Say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud’. An early example of the adoption of the word ‘Pride’ to describe LGBTQ+ activism and a clear indication of how the community feels about its sexuality and identity.

The now widely recognised rainbow flag – designed by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978 who described it as ‘perfect, because it really fits our diversity… it’s a natural flag, it’s from the sky’ – has now become a symbol globally not just for Pride but for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.

The original 8 stripe flag – the colours of which are all meant to represent ideas such as ‘spirit’, ‘healing’ and ‘life’ – is so versatile it has been widened out to include other colours as the LGBTQ+ community expanded. There are now versions that specifically represent those who identify as lesbian, bisexual, asexual and transgender, and redesigned flags to include black members of the LGBTQ+ community and those lost to AIDS.

The rainbow flag is now hung by supporters and businesses to show solidarity with Pride and the whole LGBTQ+ community.

Colours are a big part of Pride marches with those taking part usually wearing flamboyant and colourful outfits and make-up they may not normally wear in everyday life. You can dress however you choose and still feel safe and supported.

One of the points of Pride is to be seen, to be visible. But whilst participants may be keen to stand out, the message is very much one of inclusivity with LGBTQ+ people and their supporters encouraged to come together regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, body type, class, background or political views.

Pride celebrations around the world

The most famous marches are usually well organised affairs with councils and governments fully on-board to ensure things run smoothly. Floats and events can be sponsored by companies and local groups can walk to promote themselves; but there has been some debate as to whether some marches have become too commercial or frivolous. Or even as an inclusivity ‘box-tick’ for corporate or political groups.

But despite the gains in equality (the recent number of countries that now recognise same-sex marriages for example) and tolerance won by the LGBTQ+ community – whilst inequality and intolerance exists – then the activism within Pride remains.

How big or small a Pride event is, or how political or celebratory it is, will usually be determined by the local laws or attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community; with many events being organised in response to bills or government actions which affect them. Uganda’s first march in 2012 was to protest against the suggested harsher sodomy laws and the country’s attitude towards homosexuality.

The biggest marches are held in Sao Paulo, New York, Madrid, Cologne, San Francisco and London, all of which attract millions of participants. Events often extend beyond the more traditional marches and many host huge concerts, parties, screenings or exclusive sub-group activities, sometimes making Pride into a week or month long affair.

But of course, Pride can be celebrated anywhere and there are villages in Ireland and America which hold events for fewer than 100 people, which can be focused on local acceptance and integration. Antarctica will celebrate its first Pride this year with the 10 people who identify as LGBTQ+ at the continent’s main research station.

One of the most famous Pride events is actually held in February or March rather than June to make the most of the Australian summer. The Sydney Lesbian & Gay Mardi Gras has a carnival atmosphere and become one of the country’s biggest tourism draws.

Berlin keeps a political aspect to their annual celebration by calling it Christopher Street Day and host a demonstration and rallies to address current issues rather than a parade.

There are plenty of fun or different Pride traditions and activities around the world: from the women-only Jelly Wrestling in Washington and Tokyo’s 300m waterslide (which siphons revellers through the city in less than 60 seconds) to Shanghai’s Rainbow Bike Ride and Amsterdam’s Drag Queen Olympics.

The opposition to Pride

Some countries and communities haven’t been willing to accept the visibility of LGBTQ+ groups which has caused tension and trouble for Pride throughout history, and whilst there have been changes in laws and attitudes there can still be opposition. There are over 70 countries which still criminalise homosexuality, in eight countries it can still result in death penalty and many governments deny trans people the right to change their names.

Tel-Aviv hosts a parade which includes more than 100,000 participants. There has been resistance from political and religious bodies in the past but it gets bigger each year. And Jamaica is holding its fourth Pride event this year in a country where sex between men is still illegal and homophobic and transphobic violence is common.

Some countries, however, are unable to even attempt to recognise Pride and their LGBTQ+ community, as the death penalty could be enforced for doing so. These countries state that homosexuality or sex outside of a Muslim marriage violates Sharia law.

Pride however, can thrive underground – and in Iran for example, a couple of  groups have been created secretly and supported by LGBTQ+ exiles now living abroad. Unable to celebrate safely in their own country those exiled will be accepted into other Pride events; and Iranians have visibly joined marches in the United Kingdom, San Francisco and Amsterdam to protest against Iranian laws and election results.

The legacy of Pride

The concept of celebrating yourself and your sexuality is a positive one to offer young or vulnerable LGBTQ+ people. Even if not a criminal offence differing from sexual or gender stereotypes can be seen as a moral one and a safe space such as Pride is important and encouraging.

The continuing existence of Pride – and its increasing popularity – shows that there is a supportive community with a rich history that is both diverse and inclusive and has become a symbol of the fight and determination of the LGBTQ+ community to assert its rights and equality globally.

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