Why Pride Month Is in June

5 minute read

Ellen Broidy, the architect behind the first-ever pride event in New York City, still remembers feeling terrified moments before the Christopher Street Liberation Day March was set to begin on June 28, 1970.

“We had no idea whether the people who were on their fire escapes, at their windows, or lining the sidewalks were there to cheer us on, or there to harm us,” Broidy, 78, recalls about the march that would later become known as the first pride event. “[But it was] completely celebratory once we stepped out onto the street and gained courage from each other. It felt like a huge statement about liberation. I've never spoken to anybody who regretted, for an instant, being there.”

The march was held one year after the Stonewall Riots—protests between patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street, and police, who had come in to raid the establishment. "The reason it's in June is absolutely connected to what happened on June 28, 1969, on Christopher Street," Broidy says of Pride Month.

While Stonewall is a turning point in LGBTQ+ history, it garnered little national media attention at the time, with TIME briefly referencing the Stonewall Riots months later in an October 1969 magazine edition titled, “The Homosexual: Newly Visible, Newly Understood.” In that issue, the event was relegated to a single sentence: “Hurling rocks and bottles and wielding a parking meter that had been wrenched out of the sidewalk, homosexuals rioted last summer in New York's Greenwich Village after police closed one of the city's 50 all gay bars and clubs on an alleged liquor law violation.”

Read More: How TIME Covered the Stonewall Riots

While national outlets did not pay much attention—though other news publications like the Village Voice did—the resistance at Stonewall was a major moment for the queer community, inspiring outrage and passion in New York City and across the country. “You had hundreds of young people gathered outside the Stonewall Inn protesting, taking on authority, and so it was very visible, and really caught the imagination of many young queer and trans people,” says Genny Beemyn, director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Stonewall Center. There had been other recorded instances of resistance from patrons at gay bars in previous years, according to Marc Stein, author of The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History, but none had the magnitude or impact of Stonewall.

Young activists including Broidy, Craig Rodwell, Linda Rhodes, and Fred Sargeant were looking to capitalize on the watershed moment. The idea for Pride Month began with thinking about a one-year commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising, which the four activists started discussing over dinner, just before the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations was set to take place in November 1969 in Philadelphia, according to Broidy.

“What we were attempting to do was change what, in those days, was called either the homophile movement or the gay movement, from reform to revolution: to really change the whole nature of the narrative around lesbian and gay rights,” says Broidy. Rodwell did most of the writing for the Christopher Street Liberation Day March proposal, while Broidy successfully pitched the idea, she says. After the 13 voting organizations at the conference approved the measure, the Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella Committee was formed, and adopted a resolution to hold the march at the end of a Gay Pride Week (June 22-28), according to the Library of Congress.

The first pride parade held in New York in June then took on a life of its own, with Los Angeles and Chicago holding their own demonstrations in 1970. Other cities both in the U.S. and abroad—including London and Oslo—began their own traditions in the years that followed.

Read More: Colorado Springs Prepares For Its First Pride Parade Since the Club Q Shooting

It was not until 1999 that President Bill Clinton declared June to be “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” in the U.S., following the tradition that began with honoring the anniversary of Stonewall. “We cannot achieve true tolerance merely through legislation; we must change hearts and minds as well,” Clinton said in June 1999. “Our greatest hope for a just society is to teach our children to respect one another, to appreciate our differences, and to recognize the fundamental values that we hold in common.”

Pride has grown globally—at least 105 countries celebrated pride or other similar LGBTQ+ visibility events in 2022, according to Outright International. In some countries, such as the 64 countries that criminalize homosexuality, the act is more revolutionary than others. Broidy notes that spirit is the origin of what pride used to be. “At the beginning it was this militant, revolutionary act," she says. "We weren't asking for reform. We were demanding rights."

The energy surrounding pride has changed since it first began. “Now that people were able to secure some rights, it became more of a celebration and over time, became something that is a community event,” says Beemyn.

An estimated 5 million people attended the New York City march in 2019, the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Still, "Nothing quite matches that first one," says Broidy. "Nothing could. We were coming into our own and at a time where there were no protections, we were in the street... Looking back at it from my vantage point of being a really old person, it was a wonderful feeling.”

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