The Evolution of LGBTQ+ Pride
Some attendees only provided their first names to Scriberr News to keep their anonymity.
As Pride month comes to a close, members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community celebrate a movement nearly 50 years in the making at San Francisco’s Pride weekend.
The historical arc of Pride is as colorful as its symbol, the rainbow. From the 1969 Stonewall riots to today’s blockbuster parades, the LGBTQ+ movement has come a long way. Scriberr News spoke to several community members, activists and organizers about the evolution of Pride throughout the years.
Where it all began
It was the summer of ’69, and Fred Sargeant was walking down Greenwich Village with his then-partner, Craig Rodwell, well past midnight.
“We were coming back from dinner at a friend’s house, and we passed by the Stonewall Inn, which was an underground hub for the queer community,” Sargeant told Scriberr News. “It was very well known that The Stonewall…paid protection to the local precinct, but this was a raid that came from outside of the local precinct and they had authority to do so, so it caught the precinct by surprise. There had been a raid about two weeks earlier, so everybody was on edge. We heard people yelling, throwing coins at the police officers and saying, ‘here’s your payoff.’”
Things escalated from there, Sargeant said.
“Someone got lighter fluid from a tobacco shop nearby. Another person ripped up a parking meter out of the ground and tried to batter down the door,” Sargeant said. “We learned years later that the police were on the inside with their guns drawn, and an inspector was going around to everyone individually and telling them, “don’t hold your fire, you’ll be brought up on disciplinary charges.”
The Stonewall riots became a catalyst for the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the U.S. Sargeant and Rodwell decided to take action, to “bring a larger purpose to the night’s events.” They went home that night and began working on leaflets, which they spread to their community through Rodwell’s bookshop, the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop.
Sargeant wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times that, “for Craig and for me, it was the moment the gay-rights movement shifted from what we thought of as a ‘letterhead’ movement of press releases to one of action…For us, the end was the beginning. We had witnessed the crowd at work; we had been a part of it. It was not necessarily a crystalline moment and a conscious act of collective gay liberation, but gay liberation was at its heart. The word was out.”
Sargeant and Rodwell continued their activism through the Homophile Youth Movement and Gay Liberation Front. On the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Sargeant and other members of the Gay Liberation Front organized the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march—known today as the very first NYC Pride March.
Sargeant said that Stonewall represents the moment that the LGBTQ+ community took a stand against oppression and discrimination after spending years in the shadows. Now, he’s proud to see how open and celebrated Pride is.
As the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and the 49th anniversary of the first Pride march, the theme of this year’s Pride is “generations of resistance.” San Francisco Pride board member, author and podcast host, Carolyn Wysinger, explained the meaning behind this year’s theme.
“The theme ‘generations of resistance’ is a theme that stretches over three years of pride. A couple of years ago before I got to the board, the members decided to do a three-prong theme that would lead into San Francisco Pride’s 50th anniversary,” Wysinger said. “2018’s theme was ‘generations of strength,’ this year is ‘generations of resistance,’ and next year is ‘generations of hope’ so we wanted the previous years to provide a foundation to lead up to our 50th. This year is about what we’re going through or still seeing from Stonewall 50 years ago.”
In addition, Wysinger said that every year a huge pink triangle is installed at San Francisco’s Twin Peaks hill to commemorate the LGBTQ+ people in Germany who were forced to wear pink triangles to denote their sexuality during the Holocaust.
“As a board, we wanted to be intentional and make sure that queer and/or transgender people of color (QTPOC) people were visible,” she said. “In at the performers on our stage—in main stages and in the homo hip hop and Latino stages….all of the different intersectionalities represented under the rainbow [at Pride].”
Wysinger expressed her passion for intersectionality and inclusion for QTPOC people at Pride.
“Unfortunately that’s something that we see a lot, that QTPOC voices are erased …There’s still so many people in the neighborhood who feel like they’ve been pushed out of Pride. My hope [for the future of Pride] is that we can help [those people] reclaim Pride,” she said. “There’s still so many different parts, and as an organizer—taking care of the moving parts, making sure everybody’s safe and respected. As a board, there’s only 12 or 13 of us, and we’re trying to listen to the millions of voices and help their concerns. My hope for the future of San Francisco Pride is even if we don’t always have the same opinions or views on things, we can at least make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.”
As one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world, San Francisco Pride consists of many moving parts. Including the festival itself with its many performance stages, vendor booths and displays, there are also outside events like the dyke march, organized parades, several events that outside organizations put in celebration of Pride.
Pride attendees Brian Hopley and Norman Francis have been together for 40 years, sharing a home in San Francisco.
“I’ve been here in San Francisco for 50 years now, so I’ve been to the very first Pride parade, and my first landlord, Bill Jones, was the first gay man in the country to adopt a child, we marched with Dianne Feinstein when [Dan White committed the Moscone-Milk murders], and it’s just been a wonderful rollercoaster,” Hopley said.
However, Hopley said in his opinion, Pride has become much more corporate throughout the years.
“At first it was all mainly flatbed trucks with bands and people from all the bars and clubs, so it was more personal back then,” Francis added. “I enjoy the corporateness and all the people, and…it’s still festive. It’s changed over the years in the way where in the first parades the community was almost all a part of it, and now a good part of the community just observes the parade happen. That’s the difference [between then and now].”
Criticisms of Pride: Has it become overly sexualized?
Critics of San Francisco’s Pride Parade believe it has become overly sexualized in recent years. While many paraders see it as “liberation” to express their sexuality and bodies openly, others believe Pride should at least have 18+ zones where children are prohibited. Groups of nude men were present at Pride, despite being labeled a family event.
“I think it has [become overly sexualized]. People shouldn’t be naked, like there’s still kids,” one attendee of Pride, Jose Padilla, said. “Kids still need that closure until they’re old enough to understand. They don’t care if someone walks in naked and some little kid walks in right behind them.”
One of the nude men at Pride, Jerry, told Scriberr News it is a way nude activists express themselves and “not be ashamed of their bodies.” He also expressed that “people don’t care” and that it is inevitable to see a few naked people at Pride.
“The children are absolutely understanding about this,” he said. “Children are fine with it, they should get used to who they are and what a naked body looks like. I think the parents have really bad reactions sometimes and they try to shield the kids. The children should be okay with it. It’s not a sexual thing.”
Longtime Pride attendees Francis and Hopley believe Pride has become a lot less sexualized since the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
“I think Pride has become a lot less sexualized since the AIDS epidemic,” Hopley said. “It downplayed a lot of things and really hurt a lot of people, and that was tough going through, but we survived, and look at us now.”
Francis said that this may be due to the fact that the community has changed over the years because it has been “reabsorbed by the families,” and no longer only a group of “marginalized adult individuals.”
“The change in our society seems to be that the hugging and touching that used to exist has disappeared and the feeling of our recognition has been wonderful, but we’ve been reabsorbed by the families, and no longer the community that we were or [carry] the political power we seemed to have as a group,” Francis said.
Looking to the future: has the LGBTQ+ community “made it?”
The LGBTQ+ community has made many strides in recent years. The U.S. legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, and President Donald Trump was the first U.S. president to enter the White House supporting same-sex marriage. The Trump administration also launched a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality this year. Additionally, Trump appointed Richard Grenell, who is openly gay and the longest United Nations spokesperson, to U.S. ambassador of Germany.
However, despite the disconnect between LGBTQ+ conservatives and liberal LGBTQ+ members at Pride, many agreed that equality in the community includes all political viewpoints.
“I definitely think the conservative voices still need to be heard, however their voice is not as big as the non-conservative ones, but it’s still equality,” one attendee, Ladine said.
Conservative YouTuber, Margaret “Fogcitymidge,” attended Pride with a MAGA hat and a sign that read “LGTB’s for Trump” which garnished mixed reactions from attendees. One attendee threw a corndog at her, while other LGBTQ+ members came up to her and thanked her for her bravery in bridging the gap between contrasting opinions.
“Regardless of their views, they’re still part of the LGBTQ community,” Pride attendee Gabriella Gonzalez said.
This year, African countries Angola and Botswana have decriminalized same-sex relations. Austria, Ecuador and Taiwan have also removed legal barriers to same-sex marriage. Hong Kong’ has also removed several discriminatory penal code provisions and recently granted same-sex spousal benefits, saying “the absence of a majority consensus as a reason for rejecting a minority’s claim is inimical in principle to fundamental rights.”
However, members of the LGBTQ+ community are not pleased with the current administration’s decision to bar transgender individuals from serving in the military, due to the Pentagon spending $8 million to treat more than 1,500 transgender troops since 2016, which includes 161 surgical procedures. Trump also reversed the Obama administration’s policies encouraging public schools to provide transgender restrooms.
Though the community has come a long way, there are plenty more trails to blaze, according to Wysinger.
“…When same sex marriage became legal many people thought we’d made it and that it was the last bastion in liberation—but they are not acknowledging people of color (POC) or trans-POC who were not liberated by same-sex marriage passing,” she said.
Wysinger also said she thought that Pride may have lost some of the spirit of resistance that characterized the start of the movement.
“So many people think that Pride is a party. And it is a party, but there are folks who think it’s only a party. Some people don’t hold onto and honor the actual resistance and don’t recognize that there are still people dying, fighting, who can’t come to pride or come out at all. I think that that part is a little bit gone…” Wysinger said. “So we haven’t achieved complete liberation—we are still fighting just like our fathers and mothers at Stonewall—but [need to realize we must continue the fight]. We are not free until all are free—every trans, black, POC person is liberated and not facing death, then we will have all won—but we are still a long way off.”