This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, largely seen around the world as the galvanizing moment for the LGBT rights movement. The Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969, were a highly political move, a bold response to police raids of gay bars—including, famously, one at Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn—and the arrests of gay people. At the time, identifying oneself as gay or lesbian was an arrestable offense. The riots sparked marches in cities across the country, which continue today in the form of Pride Parades, a tribute to those riots.
The Twin Cities will host its 37th remembrance of the events at Stonewall with a parade and festival expected to draw more than 400,000 people. After four decades, has Pride lost its political impact and become just a big party focused more on consumerism than civil rights? Or has it evolved into a new tool for the LGBT movement? The Minnesota Independent asked LGBT community leaders: Does Pride still embody political statement that began at the Stonewall riots?
Jeffry Lusiak, artistic director of Outward Spiral Theatre and curator of Queertopia: A Cabaret Celebration of Queer Love:
I think PRIDE had moved away from its radical roots. In the beginning we were marching in the face of a society that refused to recognize us.. in spite of them. Today, we tend to march more for ourselves, in a glossy-safe-happy way. Which way is better? I don’t know. The world is safer for us thanks to our ancestors, but are we making it safer for our children? Are we just ungratefully spinning our wheels, selfishly living in the space cleared for us, or are we living the dream of our predecessors? Time will tell.
What I do know is that there are still fights to be fought and if we have the world’s attention for a weekend we better have something to say.
Monica Meyer, public policy director for OutFront Minnesota, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization:
Forty years ago, Stonewall helped ignite activism throughout the country. While the social context and meaning of Pride has changed since Stonewall, it still plays an important role in the movement for GLBT equality. In OutFront Minnesota’s work with people across the state, we are always reminded of the value of bringing people together who are GLBT and supporters of GLBT equality. As an organizer and an activist, I get excited about the thought of being able to reach out to thousands of GLBT equality supporters to talk politics. I know that is not what everyone is looking for at Pride, but we usually get more than 5000 people to write to their state legislators. For OutFront Minnesota, Pride is an opportunity to engage with people and talk about how we build the movement for equality.
Leigh Combs, LGBT youth advocate and host for KFAI’s Fresh Fruit:
I think it is different for every person. If someone who has not been out and it is their first time at any kind of Pride event—it can feel like a big deal and political.
The biggest change is that Pride events are more about money—it’s a business-the GLBTQ community being seen as a group to be marketed to. Whenever a movement becomes a business there are all kinds of added issues. We may not have all the rights, but many people in the GLBTQ community have a lot of privilege and we often forget about those that may not. I would say we get comfortable and complacent and forget to fight for ourselves and others. For many Pride is one big party. In my opinion The Lesbian Avengers and the people that bring the Trans March are the closest to a political statement as we get.
Doug Benson, founder of Marry Me Minnesota, an organization working through the legal process for marriage equality:
Pride is still important. When enough people to populate a medium sized city come to a park to join people they share a human characteristic with, it’s inherently political and powerful. It’s also yummy, sexy, and smelly.
Laura Smidzik, executive director of Project 515:
Personally, I think Pride is much different, but in a very positive way. I can only assume that when it began, the discussions and actions surrounding Pride were more heated and controversial and Pride was considered as something that was a spectacle; something only GLBT people would participate in.
But Pride has evolved and has changed with societal context. It is much more family oriented because a lot of GLBT people are free to be more open about having and raising children. Advocacy is a visible part of Pride and is more focused on equal rights and improving quality of life vs. simply being recognized as “normal.” Businesses, both corporate and smaller businesses, see the advantage of reaching out to the GLBT community for increased customer and employment loyalty.
I think Pride is a very visual representation of real life for our community and throughout the years has provided a historical lens through which one could view GLBT status in the world. We’re much more accepted and so Pride is more accepted. The rainbow flags which adorn Hennepin Avenue prior to Pride is an example of greater recognition. Families are participating. Straight people are celebrating along with their GLBT friends and family members.
Jerry W of the Revolting Queers, a radical queer collective “bent on changing the current political social landscape of the Twin Cities”:
Stonewall was a riot, an eruption of the most marginalized elements of the gay community, now it’s just a watered down festival. These riots were followed by a series of marches which morphed into what is now know as Pride. Christopher Street Liberation Day and there first march was exactly that, a march, not a parade. It was political and it was intense. Now there is nearly nothing political in the current pride parade. There are giant burritos selling Chipotle, or a giant needle advertising botox, and scores of politicians that will sell queers down the river whenever they get the chance.