How Black Lives Matter has changed Pride Month

A look at the recent history of LGBTQ rights

By: - June 28, 2020 9:52 am

Yana Paskova/Getty Images

On June 28, 1970, New York City hosted the first Pride march, commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.

Fifty years later, the COVID-19 global pandemic has shifted the tradition of LGBTQ Pride month in June off the streets — but the tradition of advocating for the rights of oppressed people lives on, echoing historical Pride protests.  

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month brought the issue of police brutality to the forefront of American politics. It also shifted the focus of Pride from rainbows and parade floats, created space for the Black Lives Matter movement’s call to dismantle systematic racism. 

Equality Michigan Transgender Victims Advocate Jeynce Poindexter, who is Black, says racism, profiling and police brutality were defining issues of the Stonewall Rebellion, mirroring the issues igniting the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Jeynce Poindexter of Equality Michigan | Ken Coleman

“These problems have always happened, Poindexter said. “Black people have been murdered without justice or recourse. The All Black Lives Matter movement mirrors the LGBTQ movement in the sense that we are also fighting for equity.”

Poindexter also thinks 2020 has increased the visibility of discrimination based on race, sex, and gender. 

Maine Township High School orchestra director and LGBTQ activist Matthew Nix has witnessed more discussions surrounding intersectionality during this year’s Pride month. 

“People are starting to talk more about intersectionality. We can’t really talk about racial issues or sexuality until we learn to address how identities intersect with one another, not in isolated strands.” 

As a gay Black man, professional performer Tony Sharpè recognizes the parallels between race and sexuality in his own life and in society.

“The intersectionality of being queer and Black has always been a tough one,” Sharpè said. “It can be very disheartening and damaging to hear Black people be for Black Lives Matter but exclude the queer, especially trans Black lives lost to the system.”

Today’s activists are reminded of Pride’s roots in protests and riots. The history of protests for human rights and social justice within the LGBTQ community proves today’s protests are not a new occurrence. 

May 1959 

Coffee cups and donuts became objects of outrage during the Cooper’s Donuts riot in Los Angeles. A group of drag queens, sex workers and gay men rioted against the Los Angeles Police Department, a well-known opposition of homosexuality. The LAPD frequently arrested queer people who legally congregated at Cooper’s Donuts and often exploited the illegality of cross dressing to justify arresting drag queens and transgender individuals. 

September and December 1964 

LGBTQ rights activist Randy Wicker organized the first public gay rights protest outside the U.S. Army Building in New York City. Wicker, alongside a gay, lesbian and straight allies, spoke out against the military’s discriminatory policies and treatment against LGBTQ people. The U.S. military frequently rejected, discharged and violated private records of gay service people. Before World War II, acts of sodomy were court-martialed and soldiers were sent to military prison. The military also pre-screened perspective soldiers to detect effeminate looks, behavior, or vocabulary and determine homosexuality. 

A few months later, Wicker’s second gay rights demonstration took place outside the Great Hall at Cooper Union to challenge psychiatric teachings of the homosexuality disease model. Participants requested time to provide a rebuttal argument and educate against the claims of “Homosexuality, A Disease” lecture.

April 1965 

Gay rights, or homophile, activists picketed in Washington, D.C., and New York City, after learning Cuba’s government forced homosexuals into labor camps. As there was no Cuban Embassy, influential gay rights leader Frank Kameny organized the Mattachine Society of Washington outside the White House on April 17, 1965. This served as the U.S. capital’s first demonstration by a homophile organization.

On April 18, protesters gathered across the street from the United Nations, including Randy Wicker and openly gay poet Allen Ginsburg. 

February 11, 1967 

Stonewall Inn, 1969 | Wikimedia Commons

In response to an undercover police raid on New Year’s Eve at the Black Cat, a popular Sunset Strip gay bar, the local LGBTQ community planned to make their outrage known. Without social media, organization occurred through meetings, phone calls, flyers, lawyers, and more phone calls. On February 11, over 3,000 students, hippies, and gay rights activists marched down the Sunset Strip, peacefully protesting police violence. 

An additional 500 protesters gathered outside the Black Cat, alongside religious leaders, and gay activists, calling for equality and to defend their dignity.  

June 1969

Referenced as both a riot and an uprising, the acts of protest displayed at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969 catalyzed the gay rights movement in the U.S. and around the world. When New York City police raided the popular gay club, patrons and community members fought back with force, followed by six days of tumultuous protests. 

Drag queens and transgender rights activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, both women of color, fought back on the front lines of the Stonewall Rebellion. 

March 1987

The first significant AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) demonstration, No More Business as Usual took place on Wall Street, shutting down the world’s financial center. ACT UP’s dual strategy of aggressive protests got a foot in the door and the chance to meet with the FDA to offer their proposals.

Dean of Rutgers School of Public Health and queer history author Perry N. Halkitis identifies the civil disobedience of Stonewall as a catalyst to the activism of the AIDS era.

“Before then, gay people kept silent and were invisible to their doctors, who were unaware they were gay or did not understand the mental health and drug issues they were facing,” Halkitis said.  

October 2009

Motivated by the increasing social acceptance gap and legal discrimination of LGBTQ people, young activists utilized the internet and social media to mobilize the movement. On Oct. 11, 2009, the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., drew 250,000 people to the first national demonstration for LGBTQ rights in over 15 years. This protest renewed the hope of drive of activists and gave the gay rights movement momentum towards marriage equality.

Proceeding this protest, seven states legalized gay marriage between 2008 and 2012. Before becoming Michigan’s first openly gay attorney general, Dana Nessel served on the legal team for DeBoer v. Snyder challenging Michigan’s ban on same-sex adoption. This case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, playing a significant role in challenging the legality of same-sex marriages in the United States. 

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

The Obama White House after the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage | Official photo by Pete Souza

November 2010

In March and November 2010, led by Former Army Lt. Dan Choi, LGBTQ rights activists handcuffed themselves to the White House fence calling for President Obama to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and allow LGBTQ people to serve openly in the U.S. military.

Signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, DADT allowed service men and women who identified as homosexual to remain in the military if they did not disclose their sexuality. 

In conjunction with signing the bill to repeal DADT, President Barack Obama stated, “It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.” The repeal took effect on Sept. 22, 2011. 

October 2018 

Protests mobilized outside the White House following the President Trump administration’s attempt to officially define gender based on an individual’s genitalia at birth. Within hours, #WontBeErased was trending on social media, in addition to rallies for transgender rights in New York City. 

In a memo released to the New York Times, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated, “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” 

This proposed definition went against the World Health Organization’s definition of genderthe socially constructed characteristics of people, such as existing norms, roles and relationships. 

David McNew/Getty Images

June 2020

LGBTQ rights activists honored Pride Month protesting alongside the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The Black LGBTQIA Advisory Board Council organized the All Black Lives Matter solidarity march on June 14 in Los Angeles, protesting all forms of oppression. On their website, they described both social justice and human rights movements came together to unite against police brutality, systematic racism, transphobia, and other disparities disproportionately impacting the Black community.

Similar protests and marches were organized nationwide in support of transgender and queer black people. According to CNN, a New York City march and rally led by black transgender women provided the space to mourn lives lost and demand justice and genuine systemic change.  

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Reclaim Pride Coalition organizer Francesca Barjon stated, “It’s so apparent that we need systemic change. We need to listen to black people, black trans people, and black LGBTQ people who have been speaking up for decades and haven’t been listened to.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark

Alexis Stark is a freelance writer in Grand Rapids. She previously wrote for the Ann Arbor News. Before graduating from the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University, Alexis covered features and campus news for the State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism.