Why is LGBT Pride so important?


June is traditionally the month of the Pride, the season of demonstrations promoted by movements defending the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, queer and intersex people. As every year for several years, many people are beginning to wonder if it (still) makes sense to organize parades like the Pride, especially in countries where theoretically equal rights have been recognized to all people regardless of their sexual orientation and it is also likely to hear phrases like “it’s just a joke”, “it’s you who ghettoize yourselves”, “then let’s do the straight Pride too”.

In the last few years, many people have expressed their disappointment for the way the Pride has evolved into shows, even with important commercial sponsorships. These criticisms come very often from people who do not understand what this whole Pride thing is, starting with the meaning of the word. In fact, it would be more correct to simply say “Pride” and not “Gay Pride”, although the second name is widely used: in fact, it is not only a manifestation organized for gay people’s rights, but also for lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and any subjectivity with a sexual orientation considered non-compliant (all summarized in the non-exhaustive LGBTQI name).

The first and most banal answer on the opportunity to organize the Pride today has to do with the simple fact that a right is never conquered forever and that with the law you can only get to a certain point. The Pride, therefore, still counts because a lot of work remains to be done; in fact, it is not only about legislative rights and freedoms, but also social and cultural freedoms that often do not go hand in hand with the law.

While in many parts of the world the Pride is a joyful and full of fun occasion, in others there is nothing to celebrate. In many countries of the world, LGBTQI people are punished, tortured, and removed from their communities because being homosexual is a crime. The Pride can, therefore, function as a lever for visibility and influence where there are no equal rights, and for social recognition where rights are provided. An annual celebration does not solve things, but it is for many people an opportunity for inspiration and motivation.

The Pride is also a reminder of all the people who have marched in the recent past and a symbol of the path that has been taken in the world to achieve certain goals. The first Pride march was held in June 1970, and since then every year on the anniversary of June 28, 1969: the day of the Stonewall clashes. At that time there was no LGBTQI movement in the United States. Homosexual associations were only found in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and New York; the few declared homosexuals who were part of them only asked to be allowed to live without being discriminated against at work or threatened. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the U.S. Psychiatry Association defined homosexuality as a mental illness; in addition to the laws against homosexual love, which survived for a very long time in some states, there were regulations that in fact prevented, even in New York, the functioning of associations, clubs, activities: the authorities often turned a blind eye, except to put a heavy stick in their wheels every time it happened. The evening of 27 June 1969 was a Friday and there were many people at the Stonewall Inn. The club on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village was one of the best-known gay clubs in Manhattan and it was frequented by a few flashy transvestites and many anonymous customers, especially young people. That Friday around midnight six NYPD police officers, four men and two women, arrived at the Stonewall with a warrant to check that no alcohol was being sold, so the managers had never obtained a license (until two years earlier no club could serve alcohol to homosexuals, by law). The warrant was pretentious, the crime tolerated in a thousand other cases, but that became an opportunity: the policemen threatened those present and began to break objects with truncheons, then they took customers out one by one. That night someone reacted: for the first time people resisted intimidation all together, men and women, gay and heterosexuals. There flew glasses and stools, the cops were soon in trouble and stuck inside, while outside a crowd of hundreds of people, partly expelled from the club, partly rushed from the neighbourhood, resisted the arrival of reinforcements, lit bonfires and participated in the riots from which the U.S. homosexual movement was born. The clashes lasted a couple of hours (during the night, and the symbolic date is June 28th), with some wounded and a dozen arrested. New York newspapers (and even the progressive Village Voice) reported the incident with vulgar irony based on “dripping mascara”, writing about “queen bees stinging”, reinforcing the pride of the people who had risen. In the following evenings, the demonstrations in front of the Stonewall resumed and clashed again with the police who wanted to disperse them. The Stonewall is still in Christopher Street today: it was taken over and reopened in 2007 after a year of closure and was declared a national monument.

The purpose of the Pride – which have a lot of popularity and are also very popular with heterosexual people – is to unite people in the fight for rights, to involve allies and direct allies, to build new relationships with them, according to the organizers. The Pride should therefore also function as a device for networking between the different movements, which is not always taken for granted: some feminist movements, for example, are only recently building new alliances with the LGBTQI movements.

In short, the Pride is an inclusive manifestation. For heterosexual people who participate in it is often the only real public exposure to LGBTQI culture: many heterosexual people fully support the right to equality. Having a very broad and cross-cutting public support is therefore fundamental: one does not have to be a lesbian to want same-sex marriage, just as one does not have to be a woman to want a law against violence against women.

Straight people are the most visible in the world, because their relationships and their sexuality are considered “normal”, normative and therefore replicated everywhere: they hold hands as they walk down the street without fear of being insulted, mocked, threatened or beaten, which is an almost daily experience for everyone else. They watch shows, films, listen to music, read books and see advertisements that mostly focus on their relationships and their gender expression. When you accuse homosexual people of “showing off” during Pride you should take into account that heterosexual people show off their heterosexuality all day, every day, all over the world, and never feel threatened for their identity. Heterosexuality is the norm against which the rest is measured: that there is no Heterosexual Pride, therefore, is not only a given but also a fortune.

Heterosexuals perplexed about the Pride can stop and think about how it feels to march through a city freely expressing who you are, who you love and what you want without any fear, when it is not possible to do so in the same way in other days. One can stop and think about what a child or adolescent can feel when they know that they are not heterosexual and perhaps have not yet told anyone, and in the meantime are conditioned by family, oratory, companions or statements by a minister. Watching those who celebrate the Pride – which is often the beginning of the process of healing from trauma and which is a positive position against discrimination, stigma and violence – can make them understand that they are not alone, that things can get better, that it is possible to be free to be who you are.

Have you and your language exchange friends ever participated in a Gay Pride demonstration? Do you support this celebration? Let us know your opinions in the comments!

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer

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