The First Pride Celebration Was a Riot - With Trans Women of Color Leading the Charge

picture of the front entrance of the Stonewall Inn, adorned with rainbow pride flags

June 1st marks the beginning of Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Every year we scroll through our feeds and watch as corporations change their plain logos to everything rainbow, but what can we learn about Pride besides what corporation wants a piece of our pride dollars? Why is Pride necessary, and why is it celebrated?

The Origins of Pride Month: A Legacy of Homophobia in the U.S.

It might look like everyone's on board with an entire month dedicated to it, however, the inception of Pride and why we need to continue honoring the LGBTQ+ community because of it is a long story and is one that hasn’t ended.

After World War II, we heard of the Red Scare. The Red Scare was a byproduct of anti-communist sentiment in the U.S. following World War II that led to the prosecution of hundreds of people accused of being communists.

Lesser known but still prominent is the Lavender Scare - a time between the late 1940s and 1960s when potentially or out gay employees were targeted for their sexuality and forced to give up their jobs within the federal government. The Lavender Scare happened in response to the widespread panic inspired by the rise in same-sex relationships across the country, with Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy leading the charge - the same McCarthy that terrorized everyday people with accusations of being communist sympathizers.

McCarthy is quoted as saying, "Homosexuals must not be handling top-secret material. The pervert is easy prey to the blackmailer."

\u200bOn December 15, 1950, the Hoey committee released this report, concluding that homosexuals were unsuitable for employment in the Federal Government and constituted security risks in positions of public trust.

On December 15, 1950, the Hoey committee released this report, concluding that homosexuals were unsuitable for employment in the Federal Government and constituted security risks in positions of public trust. Via: The United States Archives

Via: The United States Archives

By equating homosexuality and communism, McCarthy managed to connect the American fear of communism with bigotry against homosexuality. By justifying the fear through his speeches, McCarthy's hateful agenda to oust members of the gay community from the federal government became a full-blown panic. A full report was released in December 1950 on the "Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government" by the Hoey committee, outlining how anti-gay hiring practices would protect both the federal government and public service.

Given that homosexuality was illegal in almost every state until the early 1980s through anti-sodomy laws, McCarthy's legacy of anti-gay rhetoric led to the mass resignation of gay employees. Their employers often intimidated these employees into leaving their roles or were directly laid off, dubbed "security risks" thanks to their sexual orientation.

States used anti-sodomy laws in different ways - from limiting gay people as parents with rights to their kids, denying them jobs, and not allowing them to exercise free speech. These laws only began to be struck down in state-by-state trials decades after their inception. Thanks to this, the gay community then retreated to living life “in the closet.”

Stonewall Riots: A Turning Point in the Fight for LGBTQ+ Rights

The only known photograph taken during the first night of riots, by freelance photographer Joseph Ambrosini, shows gay youth scuffling with police.

The only known photograph taken during the first night of riots, by freelance photographer Joseph Ambrosini, shows gay youth scuffling with police. Via: Wikimedia Commons

Via: Wikimedia Commons

It was the 1970s when the Stonewall Inn served as a popular establishment for gay, lesbian, and transgender communities. Located in Lower Manhattan's Greenwich Village, the Inn was a haven for the blossoming gay and trans community during a time when being a member of the LGBTQ+ community meant you had to find very specific places to live your truth.

Gay bars were often run by the mafia or explicitly used to lure community members out so their sexuality could be weaponized against them. They were frequently raided to prosecute patrons and generally weren't regulated as legitimate bars due to the illegal nature of the conduct occurring inside. The Stonewall Inn wasn't an exception, as it wasn't regulated under fire code or registered as a bar ("bring your own booze" had a literal meaning here). Still, it did act as a hidden utopia for those in the gay community. With police paid off to tip the operators of Stonewall to let them know ahead of time of an incoming raid, the safe haven operated beneath the view of the city.

On June 28th, 1969, that changed. New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn without warning, and the six days of rioting against the police that followed launched what we now know as the Pride movement. The almost weeklong conflict quickly turned into the famous "Stonewall Riots" or "Stonewall Uprising," which is now recognized as a pivotal point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera marching for LGBTQ+ rights

Photo by Leonard Fink, Courtesy LGBT Community Center National History Archive

Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson are both notable activists that are some of the most prominent faces of the Stonewall Uprising, both trans women of color that went on after the uprisings to continue fighting for Black and Brown liberation, trans representation, and gay rights.

Sylvia Rivera was assigned male at birth, born to Venezuelan and Puerto Rican parents with the name Ray. After Stonewall, Rivera remained a prominent activist for gay rights but often was at odds with leaders since they frequently discouraged the participation and representation of the transgender community in their demonstrations. Though she is incorrectly credited with throwing the first molotov cocktail against police, Rivera set the record straight by saying she actually threw the second one.

Marsha P. Johnson was no different, with her move to New York City after high school allowing her to fully embrace her identity and rise as one of the top organizers for pro-LGBTQ+ rallies, meetings, and sit-ins. Both women have left a highly recognized legacy by the LGBTQ+ community as setting the stage for real advocacy and change.

Fifty years after the initial Stonewall Uprising, we remember the legacy of these brave women, who fought for a cause that gay leaders often excluded them from. Despite this, both Rivera and Johnson went above and beyond to fight for the collective good. Although their participation is celebrated today, at the time, they were not welcome in their fight for trans-representation, but their sheer will significantly contributed to the Pride we know today.

LGBTQ+ Rights Today: The Struggle for Equality Continues

In the early 1970s, the Northwestern University Gay Liberation Froup attended the Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Washington, D.C.

In the early 1970s, the Northwestern University Gay Liberation Froup attended the Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Washington, D.C. Via: Wikimedia Commons

Via: Wikimedia Commons

It's important to recognize that LGBTQ+ rights continue to be attacked today. The federal government has no formal protections against those being discriminated against, fired or refused a job because of their sexual orientation.

A decade ago, the US military repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," their harmful anti-gay policy, but the stigma against LGBTQ+ service members remains. Gay men continue not to be allowed to donate blood unless three months have passed since their last sexual contact with another man. This outdated policy is a result of the gay panic of the 1980s, where millions of LGBTQ+ community members died of HIV AIDS due to government inaction.

During this month, let us use this time to not only reflect on the treatment of everyone in the LGBTQ+ community historically but also engage in authentic advocacy. Without the codification of the Equal Rights Act that will make discrimination in any form illegal, not everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. All communities deserve to be treated with the decency and respect they deserve, year-round - and no amount of rainbows will change that without real action.

Women in Texas at the National Women's March, rallying against deadly abortion restrictions.
Lucy Flores

The landscape of abortion rights in the United States has become more restrictive than ever in recent history, particularly in Arizona and Florida, where recent developments represent a major setback for women’s reproductive rights. On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in a 4-to-2 decision to uphold an 1864 law banning abortion from the moment of conception. The only exception is saving the mother’s life, but there are no exceptions for rape or incest under this law.

Just a few days earlier, on April 1, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled in favor of upholding a 6-week abortion ban, which will take effect on May 1. This further reduced the legal threshold for abortions in Florida, which used to be 24 weeks of pregnancy before Republicans passed a law in 2022 banning abortions after 15 weeks. Both of these rulings have sparked intense debate and outrage about their impact on women’s rights.

Overview of the Near-Total Abortion Ban in Arizona

The Arizona Supreme Court voted to uphold an 1864 law, a law passed even before the state officially was a part of the United States of America, that makes all types of abortion illegal, including medication abortion, from the moment of conception. Though there are exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, the ban makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest and imposes severe penalties, including imprisonment, on medical professionals performing abortions.

Medical professionals have spoken out about how dire the situation will become for women with this near-total abortion ban. Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, told CNN that this ruling will have “absolutely unbelievable consequences for the patients in our community.” She continued by saying, “Providers need to be able to take care of their patients without fear of legal repercussions and criminalization.”

Representatives from Arizona and other states across the country have also spoken up against this near-total abortion ban.

Video by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramVideo by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Image by Rub\u00e9n Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Until this Arizona Supreme Court decision, abortion had been legal in the state up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. The right to abortion via Roe v. Wade prevented the enforcement of the near-total abortion ban, but since a majority vote in the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe, those opposed to abortion rights had been fighting to enforce the 160-year-old 1864 law.

This new abortion ban in Arizona is not effective immediately as the court has paused its ruling for 14 days until additional arguments are heard in a lower court about how constitutional the law is. However, the law will likely come into effect in May, a few weeks from now. Planned Parenthood Arizona, the largest abortion provider in the state, will continue serving the community until the ban is enforced.

An Overview of Florida's Six-Week Abortion Ban

The landscape of abortion in Florida has also undergone a significant change with the enforcement of a 6-week abortion ban, replacing the previous 15-week limit. This ban, similar to Arizona's, severely restricts access to abortion care and poses a significant challenge to reproductive rights in the state. Providers are bracing for a public health crisis due to the increased demand for abortion and limited options for patients.

Practically speaking, a 6-week abortion ban is a near-total abortion ban because pregnant people often don’t even realize they could be pregnant by this early stage. Combined with Florida’s strict abortion requirements, which include mandatory in-person doctor visits with a 24-hour waiting period, it’s nearly impossible for those who may want an abortion to be able to access it before 6 weeks. Not to mention that fulfilling the requirements is particularly challenging for low-income individuals.

Video by theluncheonlawyer on InstagramVideo by theluncheonlawyer on Instagram

Moreover, this Florida law also restricts telemedicine for abortion and requires that medication be provided in person, effectively eliminating mail-order options for abortion pills. While exceptions for rape and incest exist in Florida, the requirements are also strict, asking victims to provide police records or medical records. For victims who don’t always report sexual violence for many different reasons, these exceptions don’t make a difference.

The consequences of Florida’s ban extend to neighboring states with more restrictive abortion laws. For instance, residents of Alabama, facing a total ban on abortion, and Georgia, with its own 6-week abortion ban, have relied on Florida for abortion services. That will no longer be an option, further limiting care alternatives.

The Road Ahead

These recent abortion bans in Arizona and Florida are a major setback for women's rights, particularly impacting Latina women who already face barriers to accessing quality healthcare. These bans not only restrict women’s reproductive freedom but also endanger their lives.

Efforts to challenge these bans through legal means and ballot measures are ongoing, but the road ahead is uncertain. While there’s hope for overturning these abortion bans, the challenges of conservative laws and legal battles are formidable. The November ballot in both states will be crucial in determining the future of abortion rights and access for all.

graphic design highlighting Dolores Huerta 94 birthday, the iconic civil rights activist and labor leader.

Today, Dolores Huerta, one of the most important Latino icons within civil rights, is turning 94 years old. This occasion is the perfect opportunity to celebrate not only her robust life but also her immense contributions as a social justice champion. Huerta is a living legend whose tireless efforts have helped transform the landscape of civil rights, feminism, labor rights, farmworkers’ rights, and even environmental justice.

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