For many decades, members of the LGBTQ community were hidden from history. The gay rights movement in America and around the world has been a slow and steady push for personhood and equal rights in the home, workplace, and society at large. We have many LGBTQ heroes to thank for the great progress made over time.
Every June, we come together to celebrate the names of those who made remarkable sacrifices and fought diligently in order for love to prevail. We work to tell the stories often forgotten and to honor individuals and organizations whose work bears so much importance today.
This Pride Month, we’re joining our community in honoring the legacies of LGBTQ heroes and working to widen our understanding of history by celebrating their remarkable lives. Through memorials and stories, we can commemorate the work of those that have come before in the fight for gay rights, and find healing and understanding along the journey.
What Is Pride Month?
Today, LGBTQ Pride Month is a festive celebration that takes place in the month of June each year. Pride events are a time to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and to remember the history of the fight for equal rights.
Pride Month is now celebrated by politicians, schools, companies, and individuals everywhere from San Francisco to Washington D.C., but it wasn’t always that way. Pride Month is a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, a pivotal turning point in the history of the gay rights movement and a period marked by strife and oppression.
The History of Pride
In 1969, it was against the law to participate in what was referred to as “homosexual behavior.” It was common for the police to raid spaces known to be safe havens for members of the LGBTQ community, including the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. One evening, a riot followed a police raid at Stonewall and inspired greater protests to follow in pursuit of fair treatment and equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
The first Pride Day was held in June the following year, as a commemoration of the efforts made by gay and lesbian organizations to push for equal rights in political and social spheres. The organizers of the New York City march pushed for pride marches and pride parades across the country, and Chicago and Los Angeles held them that first year, as well.
By 1971, gay pride marches were being held across the United States, as well as in London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. The marches spread even further the following year, and organizations supporting the rights of LGBTQ community members came to number in the thousands.
It was a period of great change for LGBTQ Americans and members of the LGBTQ community around the world. Before the Stonewall Riots, many gay rights activists had worked to argue that they were equal to heterosexual individuals and should be allowed to work in government positions and enjoy basic human rights.
Many believe the Stonewall Uprising was the first time this many LGBTQ individuals stood up and fought against their oppression, rioting against mistreatment and persecution. PRIDE was originally an organization and term coined in 1966, but following Stonewall, it became a mantra and ethos: “I am proud to be myself and to love who I love.”
Fallen Heroes We Remember During Pride Month
Many of the most important founders and organizers that fought for LGBTQ rights went decades without recognition. Today, we move to honor their names and remember the lasting impact they had on the lives of so many. Here are some of the heroes of the LGBTQ rights movement.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was a transgender activist who might be best known as the woman who allegedly threw the first brick during the Stonewall Riots. Johnson continued her work through marches, protests, and sit-ins. In a time when the gay rights movement was largely trans-exclusionary, she showed up to fight for the rights of both trans members of the community and LGBTQ People of Color.
Marsha P. Johnson’s activism and social justice work went well beyond the night of the Stonewall Riots. She established a shelter for homeless youth in the trans and gay community and created a welcoming drag community for LGBTQ teens and performers of color. She advocated and cared for those living with HIV and AIDS, and she protested the violence and treatment of community members in New York City at the height of the AIDS crisis.
In 1992, Marsha P. Johnson passed away, leaving behind a legacy of activism, community building, and radical justice that fundamentally shaped the future of civil rights for People of Color and members of the LGBTQ community. Her fight lives on in the minds and hearts of her community and in the steps she took towards justice that helped push the movement forward and secure home and hope for so many.
Sylvia Rivera was a trans activist and justice leader. She was born to immigrant parents from Puerto Rico and Venezuela in New York City and ran away from a difficult and absent family life when she was just eleven years old. Rivera soon connected with the formidable Marsha P. Johnson, who became like a mother figure to her.
Only 17 years old during the Stonewall Riots, Rivera fought for several nights straight, pushing back against the police raid. She had previously been involved in the Black Liberation movement and peace movements, and soon joined up in the fight for gay rights.
Like Johnson, Rivera faced discrimination within the gay rights movement as a transwoman, and she frequently advocated for the inclusion and support of trans members of the community. Along with Johnson, she formed a home for transgender and LGBTQ youth without housing.
Rivera lived until 2002, but her legacy will continue for far longer. She helped to create and forge a community for all, regardless of sexual orientation: for trans members of the gay community, for LGBTQ People of Color, and for those without a home to call their own. While Rivera looked up to Johnson as a mother figure, many did the same to her. Her activism and community love continue to live on in the hearts of many.
Brenda Howard is often referred to as “The Mother of Pride” and worked hard to create a space within the LGBTQ community for bisexual people. She was a strong advocate for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, and she was often at the front lines of anti-war and feminist protests and marches.
A month after the events of the Stonewall Riots, Howard organized a rally in to commemorate and to maintain the momentum of the protest. The following year, Howard worked with a group of other LGBTQ activists to organize and arrange the first Pride Month through word of mouth, zines, and community activism.
Throughout her work — which included marches on Washington, multiple arrests, and the reading aloud of steamy novels to get herself and others released from holding — Howard advocated strongly for bisexual rights. She was the force behind the “B” in LGBT and fundamentally changed the conversation around inclusion within the community.
Howard passed in 2005 during the week of Pride, but the justice and activism work she did throughout her life will continue to stand for decades to come. She made an indelible mark on the history of the LGBTQ community and continues to be honored, both in awards bearing her name and in the way bisexual members of the community are supported and welcomed today.
Why Is Pride Month Important?
Today, Pride month is a celebration of acceptance and a chance to come together as a community. But for many years, Pride celebrations were a symbol of rebellion, revolution, and protest in support of LGBTQ rights.
When we celebrate the lives of LGBTQ heroes and activists, we must look at the many challenges of the time, and how they still affect members of the community today. Below are just a few reasons why the fight for LGBTQ rights was and is so impactful.
The HIV/AIDS Crisis
The AIDS crisis was a period of history in which the AIDS virus spread through LGBTQ communities. While the virus is believed to have entered the United States as early as the 1960s, the crisis was first recognized in 1981 when clusters of LGBTQ communities across the country began recognizing common symptoms and trends.
Several factors contributed to the spread of AIDS and the devastating effect it had on members of the LGBTQ community. Up to that point, gay men rarely used protection during sex, believing they couldn’t impregnate their partners. AIDS could also be spread through the sharing of intravenous needles. As many members of the LGBTQ community were without safe or stable homes, it was common for addiction to affect these populations, as well. Black, Latino, and other communities of Color were hit particularly hard throughout the crisis.
Part of this had to do with the response from the government. AIDS was associated with LGBTQ individuals and communities of Color, and it was stigmatized by society and the country’s leaders. Doctors refused to treat patients with AIDS, few governmental resources were allocated, and many wrongly believed that the crisis was a sign of punishment for sinful behavior. It perpetuated dangerous stereotypes and led to the avoidable losses of hundreds of thousands of friends and family members over several decades.
In response, movements formed to protect and support members of the community. The AIDS quilt was created as a memorial, and individuals stepped up to support loved ones and strangers. It is only in recent years, however, that the stigma surrounding the crisis has begun to ebb and proper medical support is being offered.
This step toward progress is largely due to the heroes of the 80s, and those who stepped up when no one else would.
Trans and LGBTQ People Are Still at Risk
It is also important to note that trans and LGBTQ people are still at risk, and many people still harbor outdated and hateful views toward the LGBTQ community. Trans and LGBTQ youth are significantly more likely to commit suicide, and this rate increases for community members of Color.
Despite the great strides made in the years since the Stonewall riots, many regions across the country remain dangerous for members of the LGBTQ community thanks to ignorance, hate crimes, and oppression. Many members of the community are relegated to life on the streets or taken in by addiction, and suicide feels like the only way out.
To combat this heartbreaking trend, parents and community members can work toward inclusivity in language, access, and education. They can surround themselves with progressive thinkers in work, worship, and school, and they show that they are allies in the long fight for justice and equality.
We can remember the impact and legacy of the loved ones we’ve lost through our activism and through scholarships, celebrations of life, and portable memorials, like Eterneva diamonds.
Here at Eterneva, we believe in healing through celebration, openness, and connection, and we honor our loved ones by telling their stories in a way that keeps their memory close. We take inspiration from nature and work to create symbols that honor our loved ones’ lives so that we can keep them close with each new day.
These ways to remember our remarkable loved ones who have passed on and the heroes that came before them can show other members of the LGBTQ community in our lives that they are accepted and loved.
How to Honor the Legacy of LGBTQ Loved Ones
The fight for LGBT rights continues even today, but it is on the backs of giants that we stand. It is a history fraught with pain and loss, but replete with community, love, and support, and filled with heroes like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Gilbert Baker, and Brenda Howard.
As members of the LGBT community or supportive allies, we can say their names, learn their stories, fly the rainbow flag, and continue their fight, through education, activism, and politics. This LGBT Pride month, join Eterneva in honoring those we’ve lost and in creating a future of acceptance for all.