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September 16, 2019

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Riot for Love: Remembering the 50th anniversary of Stonewall

Stonewall Inn

Demetrius Freeman/The New York Times

The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar and national monument, in New York, June 18, 2019. A violent police raid there in 1969 is widely regarded as a seminal event in the gay rights movement.

June signals the beginning of many things—road trips, romantic flings and sweet summer afternoons. It also commemorates the beginning of a revolution. Fifty years ago, a series of riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City propelled the gay liberation movement and the beginning of equality for LGBTQ+ individuals across the United States. What is often a monthlong celebration of parades and parties today started in violence. Here’s a quick look at how and why Pride month began.

Stonewall uprising

Today’s Pride events are mostly celebrations of love, freedom and acceptance. The event that started it all, however, was a revolutionary spark, a bold declaration of the right to exist. Decades ago, homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Sodomy laws rendered everything from cross-dressing to same-sex public displays of affection illegal in the U.S., punishable by fines and jail time. Burgeoning gay rights groups were repeatedly shut down. LGBT individuals were barred from serving in the military, federal government and many professions, such as law and medicine. Police repeatedly raided bathhouses, bars, businesses and homes.

One of those raids happened in the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Undercover and uniformed officers removed nearly 200 patrons from the gay bar, driving them out into the street. There, the crowd reached its tipping point. Accounts vary, but violence broke out and 13 people were arrested on the night of the riots. Protests continued throughout the city in the days following and triggered an explosion of LGBT activist groups and organizations.

Where did the term “pride” come from?

The adoption of the word “pride” was born out of committee, the theory being that even if someone is stripped of or limited in their power, their pride can never be diminished. Activists Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stephen Donaldson (aka “Donny the Punk”), L. Craig Schoonmaker and countless others supported and worked to popularize the term.

The Pride Flag

In 1977, San Francisco City Supervisor and gay rights activist Harvey Milk challenged his friend Gilbert Baker to come up with a symbol to represent pride in the LBGT community. Baker, an Army veteran who taught himself to sew, drew inspiration from several sources in creating the iconic banner. It flew for the first time during the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978.

Record flag

In 1994, Gilbert Baker designed a mile-long rainbow flag to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Stonewall. At the time, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized it as the world’s largest flag. He followed that feat in 2003, with a 1.25-mile-long rainbow banner featuring the original eight colors, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the symbol’s debut.

The original flag had eight colors, each representing a different part of the human experience: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, indigo for serenity, and violet for spirit.

After Milk’s assassination November 27, 1978, demand for the flag increased, but the availability of hot pink fabric did not. The color was dropped, followed shortly by turquoise in favor of making a flag with an even number of stripes. The six-color version, with royal blue in place of indigo, has been flying proud since 1979.

Philadelphia’s people of color inclusive flag: The city of Philadelphia added two colors—black and brown—in 2017 in an effort to include queer people of color. The design has gained momentum elsewhere.

A few of the many turning points in LGBTQ+ history

• June 28, 1969: Police raid the Stonewall Inn, sparking protests and demonstrations. In the aftermath, activists form the Gay Liberation Front to help change the public face of the LGBT community.

• 1970: Activist Brenda Howard, now known as the “Mother of Pride,” organizes the first NYC Pride parade (also called Christopher Street Liberation Day). The demonstration draws more than 2,000 people across 15 city blocks.

• December 15, 1973: The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

• 1979: The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights occurs in 1979, marking Stonewall’s 10-year anniversary.

• 1996: President Bill Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriage. (In 1999, he recognizes June as Pride month for the first time).

• October 12, 1998: Student Matthew Shepard, 21, dies six days after being tortured and strapped to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. Many believe the attack occurred because of his sexuality, and the event garners international attention and helps propel the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law in 2009. The act expands existing hate crime legislation to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. After her son's death, Judy Shepard becomes an outspoken and widely known activist for LGBT rights.

• May 17, 2004: Massachusetts becomes the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

• 2009-2014: Nevada recognizes domestic partnerships on October 1, 2009, and same-sex marriage on October 9, 2014.

• 2015: More than 30 years of civil rights campaigning come to fruition when the Supreme Court rules that marriage is a fundamental right, legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

• June 30, 2016: The Pentagon lifts the ban on transgender individuals serving openly in the military.

• January 22, 2019: After a series of back-and-forth policy changes during President Donald Trump's tenure, the Supreme Court allows a transgender military ban to go into effect.

Las Vegas Pride

While the Valley’s primary Pride parade is October 11, there’s plenty of celebrating to be done all year long. Check out lasvegaspride.org for a calendar of events that include:

• Pride Family Bingo, first Wednesday of every month: Hamburger Mary's, 1700 E. Flamingo Road

• Pride OUTside, monthly: Days and locations change. Email [email protected] for the latest info.

• Friday, October 11, 6:30 p.m.: Preshow at the grandstand at Fourth Street and Bridger Avenue, free, 8 p.m. Parade route begins at Gass Avenue and heads north along Fourth Street, then west on Bridger Avenue, free.

• Pride afterparty: Friday, October 11 (immediately following the parade), Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, ticket prices start at $15.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.