June is Pride Month and Regina’s Pride week starts today, going until June 18. It seems that the reason for Pride has been lost in the overshadowing of corporate sponsorship and partying it up. So I want to bring it back. I want to delve into the history of Pride and why it is still needed today. This history is important in a world that seems keen to repeat the mistakes of the past. There is a chump in the white house who isn’t even acknowledging that June is Pride Month. There are battles around the world for our freedom and our lives. Educating people is extremely important as we continue to push forward.
It is probably safe to say that most people know what happened in the Holocaust. However, there is a group that is often forgotten when discussing the atrocious actions of the Nazi government: gay people. Since homosexuality was not readily accepted by any countries at this time, it was easy for them to slip through the cracks.
Heinrich Himmler, the SS leader, said: ‘Those who practice homosexuality deprive Germany of the children they owe her.’
It was believed that those who practiced homosexuality were failing their duty to Germany to produce little German babies. While gay men were considered ‘lost for reproduction,’ lesbians were not. They could still bear children and be forced to do so if necessary. Their homosexuality was seen a curable condition, akin to the idea behind ‘corrective rape.’
Like Jews, gay men and lesbians were rounded up. While they may not all have been sent to concentration camps, those who weren’t were sent to prison, where they were still subjected to inhuman treatment. Also like Jews, they were forced to wear a badge. Instead of the yellow Star of David, gay men wore upside down pink triangles. Lesbians and ‘anti-social’ women had upside down black triangles pinned to their clothing.
Unlike the other groups persecuted, the liberation did not free them. If they were in a concentration camp, they were transferred to prison as they were still considered deviants for their sexual orientation. They were branded as sexual offenders or not welcomed back to their homes as they had ‘shamed’ their families. In the war crime trials that followed the end of WWII, no mention of these crimes against homosexuals were mentioned. They were allowed to be forgotten because no one want to acknowledge their ‘perversion’.
It took 45 years for an actual apology to be issued. In December 2000, the German government apologized for the prosecution of homosexuals in Germany after 1949. It was only then that they agreed to recognize gay people as victims of the Third Reich. 45 years.
And now history is trying to repeat itself. Chechnya has opened concentration camp-style prisons for gay men. These people are being persecuted for loving differently than expected. Yet, the world remains silent. The media deathly quiet in the face of these tragedies beginning again. We cannot afford to be silent. We cannot wait for the re-emergence of the pink triangle to fight back. The time is now.
The Stonewall Riots were the catalyst for the beginning of Pride. It is because of this invisible piece of history that I decided to write this blog post. These riots are the major reason that we have Pride Marches. So here is the history:
Before the riots, things were different for those in the Gender and Sexuality Diverse communities in the United States. If you were suspected of being gay, you could be dishonourably discharged from the army, fired from your job as a government employee or teacher with no legal recourse. Your name would end up on a list held by the FBI because you were prone to ‘overt acts of perversion.’ Homosexuality was classified as a sociopath personality disturbance by the American Psychiatric Association and you were considered mentally infirm. You could be arrested for holding hands with your parent in public. Gay bars could be expected to be raided by police at least once a month.
Stonewall Inn was run by a crime family and had none of the standard things you would find in a club now (running water, working toilets). It also was one of the only places that had a light that would turn on when police showed up to let customers know that they should stop dancing and touching.
On June 28, 1969, the police performed a typical raid. But the patrons of Stonewall Inn had had enough. Those inside refused to show their ID or identify their gender. If they weren’t arrested, they headed outside and stuck around as witnesses. The crowd grew until it finally erupted when the police were violent to several people under arrest.
The riot broke out with people throwing items at the police and people flooding into the streets to fight back as well. Word spread around the city and the police and tactical forces were not able to quell the rioting until almost 4AM. By then, the Stonewall Inn was completely trashed.
However, the riots did not simply end. The next night, people poured back into the streets to continue. These demonstrations did not stop for days. On the 1 year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first gay pride parades took place in large centers in the US.
Canada had its own incident happen eleven years later on February 5, 1981. The Toronto Police raided four gay bathhouses in the city. More than 300 men were arrested. This was a turning point as there were mass protests and rallies held to call attention to the incident. This evolved into Toronto’s current Pride Week. Most of the charges connected to this incident were discharged or dropped, but it still left its mark on the community.
The last bit of history that I want to touch on is that of the Rainbow Pride Flag. This flag was created by Gilbert Baker in 1978. He was an artist, a designer, a Vietnam War veteran and a drag performer. He was commissioned to create a flag for San Francisco’s annual pride parade by Harvey Milk.
At this time, the symbol commonly associated with the gay rights movement was the pink triangle, the badge forced on gay men by the Nazis. Considering the dark past of the symbol. Baker wanted to move away from that and opted to use the rainbow as inspiration.
Now, it is not just about the rainbow. The different colours within the flag were meant to represent togetherness and it originally contained 8 colours. Each colour had its own meaning associated with it.
At the parade, participants proudly waved their new symbol in solidarity. A version was eventually sold without hot pink and turquoise (replaced with blue). After Harvey Milk’s assassination on November 27, 1978, the demand for the flag only increased. It has continued to be used as a symbol by the communities, joined by other flags for the various communities that make up Gender and Sexuality Diversity.
On March 31, 2017, Gilbert Baker passed away. He was 65 years old. His legacy remains in the flag that we continue to wave at our parades. The parades that we are able to walk in because people fought back against police oppression. It is this history and these symbols that recognize the lives, the genders and the love of GSD people around the world. So keep marching. Keep flying those flags proudly. We will continue to fight, pressing for our equal rights in a world that still wants to beat us down. We cannot give up. We are strong. We are proud.
Until Next Time.