The History of Pride in America

Written by: Kara Kundert

One of the joys of Bluegrass Pride comes from the fact that it is joining together two communities that haven’t really been connected before. We are so proud of the work we have done over the past year introducing folks in the LGBT community to bluegrass music and culture. Today, we thought it high time to introduce folks in the bluegrass community to the history of the LGBT community in America.

The first Pride celebrations took place in New York City in 1970, following the Stonewall Riots in the the previous year. At the time, homosexuality was criminalized – meaning men could be arrested and booked for “sodomy” for dressing in drag, women for wearing less than three pieces of feminine clothing, and anyone could be arrested for kissing or showing other physical affection to someone of the same sex. On June 28, 1969, the police arrived at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. After years of police harassment, the patrons inside had had enough. They didn’t sit and wait to be arrested for the crime of who they were and who they loved. Instead, led by trans women of color Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, they resisted.

These riots, which spanned over three days, were a watershed moment for gay communities across the country. In the following year, a committee was formed to commemorate the riots and organize for the civil rights of LGBT people. It was then that the name “Gay Pride” first came into being, as recommended by committee member L. Craig Schoonmaker.

Eight years after the first Pride celebrations, the first rainbow flag became a symbol of the LGBT community. Before the creation of the flag, the pink triangle had been the main symbol associated with the LGBT community. But since its use throughout the Holocaust to mark “sexual deviants”, the triangle no longer felt hopeful or appropriate for Pride celebrations. It wasn’t until 1978, when Bay Area artists Gilbert Baker, Lynn Segerblom, Paul Langlotz, and James McNamara made the first rainbow flag for a San Francisco march organized by Harvey Milk, that the community had a visual icon around which to unify.

Over time, states individually began decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations, starting with Illinois in 1962. However, it wasn’t until 2003 that the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional and completely decriminalized homosexuality throughout the United States. However, decriminalization is not the same thing as equality. In 1996, Congress passed a policy famously known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which stated that homosexual people were allowed to serve in the military, so long as they did not disclose their sexual orientation. The same year, the Defense of Marriage Act also barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples in any legal manner.

These policies remained on the books for the first decade of the 21st century, when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 was signed into law and later when the Supreme Court ruled on the case Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, 2015. This landmark civil rights case ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples, and required the federal government and all fifty states to perform and recognize the marriage of same-sex couples as equal in the eyes of the law to opposite-sex couples.

In June 2016, President Obama dedicated the new Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village, the first U.S. National Monument to honor the LGBT civil rights movement.

Pride has grown in popularity, now commemorated with a full month of celebrations across the country and around the world. In 2009, President Barack Obama became the first president to declare the month of June to be LGBT Pride Month. In 2019, World Pride will be held in New York City, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the brave individuals who united to create this community to which we now add our own tiny piece of history.

To learn more about the history of Pride and LGBT civil rights in America, check out the following links:

How Activists Plotted the First Gay Pride Parades

50 Gay Rights Movement Pioneers You Need to Know

Older Post Newer Post