Every year in June, LGBTQ+ people around the world celebrate pride month, either publicly or privately. What also happens this time of year is that debates start to arise as to how pride events should be run and how inclusive they should be. To thoughtfully discuss the involvement of uniformed police and heterosexual participation we must first revisit the history of Pride.
Organised Pride events have been around in various forms since the 1950s. Their aim was not so much about celebration but education, with the Annual Reminders organised in Philadelphia alerting people to the fact that LGBT people did not have protection from human rights offences. These simple picketing events are far from the glitter and rainbow parades that are now associated with Pride.
Pride as we know it was established on the 1st anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. These riots were a turning point in Queer history, with LGBTQ+ people rising up against the police targeting gay bars in Manhattan, of which included the Stonewall Inn. Despite being seen as an iconic moment for gay rights, the Stonewall riots were led by Trans women of colour such as Marsha P Johnson and a lot of the police actions were directed at devaluing trans identities by stripping them of feminine clothing before arrest. Riots started when patrons of the Stonewall Inn refused to comply and pay off the police, which was usual procedure. Instead they resisted, and violence between police and the LGBT people of Manhattan continued for three days. These riots gave birth to the Gay Liberation Front and the LGBT pride movement as a whole.
It is because of the Stonewall riots that June is designated as Pride month with the Stonewall Anniversary being June 25th.
The first pride parade was organised by Craig Rodwell, Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, and Linda Rhodes and took place on the 28th of June 1970. The first pride followed 2 years later on July 1st 1972.
Since then pride marches have spread around the world and have become a celebration of everything queer, a massive party and a political movement.
There are two main discussions surrounding pride in the 21st Century. The first concerns the clothing of police officers at the event. Despite hostility to police in general, they are essential in organising Pride events; pride is a safe space and needs to maintain safety and police are essential to that process. However, the visual presences of police officers in uniform is a big issue for many queer people attending these events. These very uniforms were a symbol of fear a mere 50 years ago. For some, this fear is best described as hostility, but for many this isn’t the case. The hostility and fear is aimed at the uniform; the symbol of an institution that historically has been on the wrong side of LGBTQ+ rights. Police themselves are seen by many as just people, many of whom are LGBTQ+ themselves, and the majority of pride goers have nothing against the individuals and the protection they provide. It is for this reason that many LGBTQ+ activist groups call for police presence at pride to be out of uniform.
Police presence is the simplest of issues which says a lot with the level of extensive debate that surrounds it. Probably the largest debate about pride is whether straight people can go. In a dream world everyone should be accepted at Pride, it should be used more as a celebration rather than a protest. However, this isn’t the case. Most Pride movements, even in the West, are still important protest movements and safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people. With the life expectancy of Trans women of colour being around 31, there is still a need for safety and celebration of queer people which, for many, justifies a minimal straight presence at pride. Whilst this is understandable, the rejection of straight people at pride is very flawed, mainly for practical reasons. Firstly, pride contains a lot of bisexual and pansexual people who go to pride, these people should feel more than welcome to bring their partners. If a blanket ban on straight people is implemented at pride where some people want it to many bi and pan people in relationships with member of the opposite sex will feel oppressed and minimised in a safe space specifically for them and other queer people. On a less practical level, if pride is a space for progress and fighting for LGBTQ+ acceptance then the case can be made that straight people taking part in pride is essential in the normalisation of non-straight and cis identities. Whether straight people should be at pride is a very complex question and one that this article does not have the time to fully investigate but it must be made clear that pride is not just another festival. It is not just another excuse for glitter and half nakedness.
Pride is amazing for these reasons but its also amazing for its political history and the progress it has helped create, and if straight people treat it as a mere party, then it loses it’s power.