Summer is here, and so is LGBT Pride Month! As we gear up for the raucous celebration to commemorate the Stonewall riots, I can already hear the complaints of well-meaning individuals—there's too many leather-clad men, why don't people wear more clothes, oh the debauchery! If LGBT people want to be accepted, why do they work so hard to be different?
It's LGBT Pride Month. That's why.
LGBT people have tried to go unnoticed for centuries. We got married, had children, followed the rules, and stayed silent. The earliest groups advocating for gay men (almost exclusively) tried to educate people about "homophilia" during the 1950s and 1960s, trying to prove that gay men could be productive members of society "the right way," as some might say. By the 1960s, these efforts had been met with misinformation campaigns such as this one:
Bars were the only places where LGBT people could congregate, and the Gay Rights movement was going nowhere fast. Most bars were not gay-owned or gay-themed at the time. Some places, like the Stonewall Inn, catered to a wide clientele—the poor and marginalized: transgender people, effeminate young men, butch women, etc.
Shortly after one in the morning on June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn. There were undercover officers inside taking visual information in order to blackmail the more wealthy patrons of the bar. The Stonewall Inn was owned by the Mafia at the time, and the Mafia and the police had an arrangement to make some extra money. All the Mafia asked for was a little heads-up. They didn't get it this time.
Some of the people who were at the bar that night had never been through a police raid. They didn't know what to expect. The Public Morals Squad (their real name) came in, and police began searching patrons—being especially touchy with the lesbians. When one particularly butch woman was dragged into a police car, she called out for the gathering crowd to do something. They did.
Two days of riots were followed by picketing and protests, leading to the formation of the Gay Liberation Front, the first LGBT group with the word "gay" in its title. Although the GLF disbanded shortly thereafter, its strategies remained. The LGBT movement began to borrow tactics from the African American civil rights movement, and so began our rapid progression from there to now.
We celebrate LGBT Pride in June to honor these early misfits who showed us what it means to be brave. This means that we party like they partied—completely and utterly without shame. If you're LGBT in the United States today, you owe a great deal to those men and women who participated in those riots. At the very least, you owe them your sympathy.
If you're one of the complainants I mentioned before, what exactly are you afraid of? That people won't understand us? That people won't accept us if we're different? Who exactly do you want to impress so badly that you want the rest of us to shut up?
When I was younger and more easily frightened, I wanted very badly for gay people to calm down. I wanted them to be public about how normal they were. I realize now why—I wanted coming out as bisexual to be easy. I wanted others to do the work for me so that I didn't have to. I wanted to have a normal life where I didn't have to worry about things like coming out at all. But LGBT people are not responsible for these feelings. They don't owe me anything. I owe them for the road they paved for me.
Now that I'm older, I recognize that the most important and valuable thing that I could do was to support the people who went to Pride parades. I realized that I could come out myself, and I could educate people about bisexuality without having to wait for someone else to do it. I found my strength, which allowed me to accept others' choices while advocating for my own.
I've never once worn leather to a Pride parade. I've never taken my shirt off at one, nor have I danced at one. But I've been to many, and I love the companionship and camaraderie that LGBT people share in these moments when we can forget those who judge us and be completely and unapologetically ourselves. That's LGBT Pride, and that's why we celebrate it. Let's remember all this as we gear up for a month full of wild, boisterous fun.