June is celebrated as Pride Month every year, but do you know why this particular month was chosen among the remaining 11 options? Here’s a short history of the joyous, rainbow-filled month. By Bayar Jain from Travels+Leisure.
Come June, and ordinary streets all over the world are painted in rainbow hues, happy festivals, and numerous pride marches replete with inspiring slogans, colorful outfits, and a whole lot of love. Tagged as Pride Month, these 30 days find supporters of LGBTQIA+ rights thronging to the streets reasserting the importance of sexual inclusivity.
Initially restricted to the United States of America, the organised pursuit of queer rights dates back to 1924. Then, human rights activist Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights, the first gay rights organisation in the country. Having returned to the USA from Germany, he realised his home base was more conservative with respect to homosexual rights and unaware of the gay sub-culture. This organisation was aimed at bringing this rather taboo and marginalised section in common conversation, a move facilitated by the earliest-documented homosexual periodical, Friendship and Freedom. However, despite his repeated attempts of shedding light on the community, his works were dampened by repeated arrests.
The Stonewall Riots
However, one of the more sustained results of the LGBTQIA+ movement was on June 28, 1969, when police raided the Stonewall Inn – a gay bar of the time in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The officials claimed that the bar was selling liquor without a license, in turn clearing the bar completely and forcing its patrons into police vans. On seeing this, people outside the bar became agitated and furious. The crowd’s anger resulted in the police barricading themselves for protection, waiting for backup to arrive. Although the 400 protestors who gathered at the time eventually dispersed due to the police reinforcement, the agitation – which later came to be known as The Stonewall Riots – continued for at least a week.
While the gay rights movements had been underway since the 1920s, the media coverage of the Stonewall Riots helped bring the cause to a more public domain. A year after the riots, on June 28, 1970, demonstrations were held in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco in support of the gay community. At first, New York City celebrated the day as Christopher Street Liberation Day (named after the epicentre of the Big Apple’s gay community and the street where the march started); Los Angeles termed it Gay Freedom Marches; San Fransisco – Gay Freedom Day; and Chicago – Gay Pride Week. Despite these many names, however, the celebrations were a mix of politics and pride in each city. While they provided visibility to the queer community, it even helped amplify the echoes of LGBTQIA+ rights in the political domain – like marriage equality, AIDS awareness, harassment protection, etc.
The Pride Flag
The pride marches carried on since the Stonewall Riots, but the ubiquitous pride flag only came into being eight years after the first parade. Drawing inspiration from the USA flag, artist Gilbert Baker – an openly gay man and drag queen – was commissioned by San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, the country’s first elected openly gay official, to create a symbol of pride. The rainbow strips, to him, not only represented the various sexualities under the gay community circle but also denoted symbolic meanings. (hot pink: sex; red: life; orange: healing; yellow: sunlight; green: nature; turquoise: art; indigo: harmony; and violet: spirit)
While most of the world has acknowledged LGBTQIA+ rights and has largely stopped police brutality against the community, gay rights are still not universal. As per a report by Business Insider, only 40 per cent of the countries that are a part of the United Nations have legalised gay sex. In fact, 10 countries still carry death penalties for same-sex activities. Those who have accepted the LGBTQIA+ community, however, have done so to varying degrees. While some only recognise (and now allow) same-sex marriages, others still continue to have discriminatory laws based on sexual preferences.
Pride in India
While Indian culture has long had depictions of homosexuality in its art, temples, and architecture, the modern-day pride movement in India dates to July 2, 1999. That day, Kolkata held the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk, where approximately 15 members – all women – joined the walk. The historical connection of Kolkata with several human rights movements of the past stirred the people of the city to bring gay rights under their ambit as well. Today, almost 21 Indian cities hold annual pride marches where thousands of people participate.
The biggest achievement, so far, for the gay community in India came on September 6, 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Section 377 was unconstitutional. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, formed under British rule in India, considered same-sex sexual intercourse unnatural and a criminal offence. The historic 2018 verdict overhauled this, making the ‘criminalisation of sexual conduct between adults of the same-sex’ unconstitutional.
What may seem like a win for the queer community, however, is merely a small achievement in the larger gay battle of the country. The battle for equal rights to the LGBTQIA+ community in India continues, this time with bigger, brighter, and bolder spirits.
Editor’s Note: Keeping the current situation of the pandemic in mind, T+L India recommends every reader to stay safe and take all government-regulated precautions in case travel at this time is absolutely necessary. Please follow our stories on COVID-19 for all the latest travel guidelines.