Oh man, oh gosh, oh boy. This is a contentious debate and yet again, I find myself having feelings that are so complicated for an issue that is so simple. Let’s begin.
The internet is up in arms today over #HeterosexualPrideDay with fighters on both sides. Many are saying that we should be “all inclusive” and “of course straight people should have pride”. But many others, myself included, find this downright…uncomfortable. Some find it straight up offensive, but at the very least, I think it might be inappropriate. If this opinion bothers you, I apologize. But if you’re willing to hear me out on this one, read on, dear reader, read on.
The problem of Straight Pride vs. Gay Pride is a complicatedly cut-and-dry issue. Sound frustrating? It definitely is. But in order to understand why straight pride is unnecessary -and for many people- upsetting, we need to understand why LGBT Pride is a thing in the first place. And that takes us back to the Stonewall Inn, 1969.
In the wee morning hours of 1:20 AM, June 28th, 1969, four policemen in suits, two officers in uniform, a detective, and a deputy inspector entered the Stonewall Inn of Greenwich Village, Manhattan and shouted, “Police! We’re taking the place!”
This was not an unusual scene for the liberal neighborhood of Greenwich Village, or even the Stonewall itself. Raids on gay bars were very common, usually happening about once a month. However, what occurred this night was not as common, as many of us now know.
The standard procedure in the area was was to bribe the police, and then receive warning of a raid hours and sometimes days beforehand. However, the Stonewall was not expecting this raid, as A) they had been raided the Tuesday prior, and B) raids typically happened earlier in the evening between 9 – 11 PM. As such, when police entered, they were confronted by approximately 250 patrons, mostly gay men, who were caught off guard and confused.
As police entered the establishment, the Public Morals Squad – who had been on standby outside – received the signal to move in and join the officers inside. Very quickly, standard procedure took over and the male patrons were told to line up in orderly lines and present valid identification, while those presenting female were taken into the restroom by a female officer to inspect their genitals. Anyone who was described as a “man in women’s clothes” was arrested and detained outside to await a patrol wagon. Alcohol that was unlabeled and unstamped was seized as assumed bootlegged.
Outside, as patrons were being released and escorted out of the building, a crowd was gathering. While the crowd mostly consisted of those being released, neighbors and passersby were gathering as well. Within minutes the crowd had grown to within 100 to 150 people.
Inside, the situation began to deteriorate. Transgender women being arrested were refusing to go with police and those in line were refusing to present identification. A sense of discomfort and fear spread very quickly as police grew increasingly hostile, including some officers who proceeded to grope and violate the lesbian patrons as they were frisked.
After waiting about fifteen minutes, the patrol wagons began appearing to take the confiscated alcohol and arrested, employees and patrons alike. As police began escorting those arrested from the building to the wagons, the crowd began to turn restless. Police lines had formed to keep the crowd in line, but the crowd was pushing back. As officers led a lesbian woman, described as a “typical New York butch”, to the patrol wagons, she began to plead with the crowd. She had been beaten over the head with a night stick for “complaining that the handcuffs were too tight” and was being violently shoved toward the wagon. “Why don’t you guys do something!?”
And do something they did. As police began to restrain the crowd, the crowd began jeering and pushing back. Within the crowd someone shouted, “It’s because they weren’t paid off!” To which a response was shouted back, “Let’s pay them off then!” And the crowd began throwing coins at the officers. Coins turned to beer bottles. Beer bottles turned to bricks from a nearby construction site. And the violence raged until near 4:00 AM.
And yet, this wasn’t a coordinated or organized effort. It was a spontaneous rebellion; an uprising. The LGBT community had finally had enough. After years of being labeled un-American and perverts. After years of being documented and spied on by the FBI and even the USPS. Finally, it had all come to a head this one night, in this one place.
In the aftermath of Stonewall, the Gay Liberation Movement was born. LGBT groups had exploded from a few hundred across the country to more than twenty-five hundred by 1971. On June 28th, 1970, the first pride parades were held in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. By June 28th, 1972, Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, Stockholm, Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington D.C., Miami, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, as well as San Francisco had joined in the annual commemoration event. The LGBT movement was mobilizing.
Since then, the LGBT Civil Rights Movement has made great strides. Most recently, in 2016, President Barack Obama named June as national LGBT Pride Month and commemorated a memorial at the site of the Stonewall riots.
This is why LGBT Pride is important, and the notion that straight people deserve a pride parade as well is…troubling. Because, that very much means that they have missed the point entirely. See, Pride is not a festival. It’s not Mardi Gras for queers. Pride is an event to memorialize those we have lost for the cause. To remind us that the fight is not over. To reflect on where we came from and how far we’ve come. To look ahead at how far we have yet to go and to mobilize towards that goal.
This past week, I was blessed with the opportunity of witnessing Pride weekend in Seattle. And while it was beautiful and freeing to see so many people celebrate love, integrity, individuality, and self-expression, it was also sad to see how many “tourists” turned out to ogle those in facepaint and rainbow suspenders. Or those who turned out for the purpose of buying merchandise and street food. Too many people showed up with the expectation that pride was just a spectacle, a festival, devoid of deep meaning and simply a summertime celebration.
And that is false. You’d like a straight pride? Why? Sell me on the idea. Convince me that you need one. Because that’s what we had to do. We had to fight and bleed for ours. We had to cry and, indeed, die for ours. We have suffered police brutality, and murder. We have suffered homelessness and mass shootings. We have to hear praise for our suffering and legislation that dehumanizes us.
When heterosexuals are afraid to walk the streets holding hands with their loved ones, or when straight people have to live in fear of being beaten or killed for being themselves, then you can – and should – have a pride celebration. But as it stands, you are not being shamed or denied basic rights on a daily basis. You are not oppressed. You already have a pride. You have every day to be accepted and proud.
And I am not saying that straight people shouldn’t be proud. Everyone should be proud of who they are. It’s important. But Straight Pride as an event doesn’t need to exist. Gay Pride exists to remember our struggles and celebrate our victories, because of and over those that oppress us respectively. A Straight Pride event just serves to diminish that fact and once again push us back into the shadows. And I for one am unwilling to give up the light of day.
“Gay Pride was not formed out of a need to celebrate being gay but instead our right to exist without prosecution… So instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight pride month or movement, straight people should just be thankful they don’t need one.” -LZ Ganderson