Written by Olivia (Y12), Equality Prefect
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the historic Stonewall riots in New York, and it was a big year for Pride celebrations around the world as a result.
Close to our hearts, 2019 saw the largest turn out for Oxford Pride in its history. The upward trend would likely have continued into this year’s Pride parade but of course, due to current circumstances, Oxford Pride, like many others worldwide, has been forced to take on a virtual format. Determined not to be silenced by Covid-19, the team of organisers, headed up by Zayna Ratty, the first woman of colour to chair Oxford Pride who has also spoken at OHS in the past, has promised to deliver on a date in late autumn for the 2020 parade. Meanwhile, Oxford Pride’s online festival week from the 22nd-29th May saw great success. With events ranging from Drag Zumba to an online dog show, the organisation provided great support for many in the community in this difficult time – and all through the power of Zoom!
Although many celebrations are going ahead for Pride Month 2020 despite coronavirus, many LGBTQ+ community members want to redirect their energy this year in order to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. Many are taking this time as an opportunity to reflect on the beginnings of Pride and draw similarities between the situation of LGBTQ+ people then, and the fight of the black community today. The first Pride parade was held on the 28th of June 1970, the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, across three cities in the US: New York, LA, and San Francisco, It was organised as a collaboration between the Gay Liberation Front, itself founded immediately after Stonewall in New York in 1969, and a group led by Craig Rodwell who first proposed the idea in November of the same year. It was to be called Christopher Street Liberation Day in honour of the Stonewall Inn located at 43 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.
For years LGBTQ+ people had been terrorised by the NYPD. Their frustration and anger came to a head one night in June 1969 when the Police raided the Stonewall Inn, a run-down gay bar owned by New York mafia. The raid didn’t go as planned. Standard procedure for these police practices was to line up the patrons, check their identification, and have female police officers take those dressed as women to the bathroom to verify their sex, where ‘cross-dressers’ were to be arrested. When customers at the Stonewall Inn refused to go with officers, the police tried to empty the bar, keeping the ‘cross-dressers’ separated in a back room. However, those who were released chose to stay outside of the bar and take a stand. Soon more than 100 people were gathered outside as others began to join them in protest. As patrol wagons began to arrive, the crowd became more restless and eventually, scuffles began to break out. Protesters began first to throw pennies and beer bottles at the wagons, as the crowd came to believe that those still inside the bar were being beaten. Violence intensified between patrons and police and continued into a second night of rioting as the police proceeded to place the Stonewall Inn under siege.
There were gay rights groups active in other cities before the Stonewall riots, notably the Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society, who coordinated some of the earliest demonstrations for LGBTQ+ rights and formed communities for LGBTQ+ people. However, it is clear that the Stonewall riots themselves were a crucial turning point for the movement and had a lasting impact on the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, bringing about Pride as we know it today. Therefore, amidst recent Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ+ people everywhere are reflecting on their history and rallying in support of the movement. Stonewall was the result of police brutality against the queer community in New York, so naturally, seeing people of colour suffering in the same way for centuries has struck a chord with many.
There is debate about who threw the ‘first brick’ at Stonewall. The two main suspects are Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans women of colour who were good friends, established activists, and self-identified ‘street queens’. Although it is unlikely that either of them really was the first instigator, (both later testified that they arrived late to the scene at around 2 am), their legacy remains. Their role in the ‘first brick’ tale of Stonewall likely developed due to their actions on the second night of the riots when they climbed up lamp posts and dropped bricks on police vehicles. But ultimately, who threw the first brick is not what we should take away from Stonewall. The important thing to remember today is that Stonewall shows that riots against police brutality can affect change, especially if you can meet the passion of Marsha and Sylvia, the powerful trans women of colour who have become symbols of strength for the LGBTQ+ community today.