A Root Takes Hold
On June 18th, 1969, a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s City’s Greenwich Village rocked the gay community and left a ripple that continues to this day. At the time, Stonewall was a haven for locals and street kids who came to dance, mingle and party hard at the only gay bar in the city. The bar operated out the back door and under the table. It was a target for underage drinking and drug dealing. But, this was the refuge for a community alienated simply for being born a certain way. As a result of that violent night, something sparked, marking one of the first well-known spontaneous rebellions to come out of the LBGTQ community against the police and governmental oppression of sexual minorities.
Michael Fader, who was in the club the night of the raid, explained,
“Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us. It was something that just happened. All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break it free. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.” *1 –Michael Fader, riot participant
“The Mattachine Society newsletter a month later offered its explanation of why the riots occurred: “It catered largely to a group of people who are not welcome in, or cannot afford, other places of homosexual social gathering…. The Stonewall became home to these kids. When it was raided, they fought for it. That, and the fact that they had nothing to lose other than the most tolerant and broadminded gay place in town, explains why.” *1
A year later, the first Gay-In and Gay Pride March was held in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Overnight groups across the country organized and paired their messages with new alternative media outlets. Commemorating the 1 year anniversary of Stonewall didn’t come without arrests in The Bay though, and since then global movements to normalize, legalize and legitimize the LBGTQ world with the rest have had their extreme ups and downs. PRIDE, now a tradition over 40 years old, continues to be an annual fixture of the Bay Area and a display of how far we have come but also how painfully far we still have yet to go.
The San Francisco Gay Pride Parade is the second largest LBGTQ gathering in the world, second only to Sydney, Australia. The event features over 250 parade contingents, 300 exhibits and 20 different stages & venues. Over one million people frpm around the world are expected to attend, dressed to impress for 2 days of theatrical, political, musical and visual expression. This downtown pop-up arena costs $4million to produce and relies on the help from various donors and sponsors. A minimum $5 donation gets you in, which helps support and sustain the parade every year. Since 1997 Pride has given out over 2.1 million in grants to causes such as breast cancer research, HIV/AIDS organizations and non-profits that serve the local LBGTQ community. Pride also gets a lot of help from their sponsors, which include heavy-hitters like Bank Of America, Wells Fargo, Nike, Bud Light and ClearChannel, just to name a few. What started as a movement to raise awareness and end sexual discrimination for good has become a corporate-sponsored festival, intertwined with activism, consumerism and a few conflicting interests.
This year’s Pride Parade is anticipated to be a significant one, as the event’s timing coincides with dramatic news coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision on both DOMA and Proposition 8. It has been long overdue victory, and Californian couples celebrated the legalization with weddings all across the state. But even as I write this, pro-DOMA groups are already filing motions to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision. It has been an endless tug of war over the issue of marriage, the definition of and debate over stretching far back into our history. This is also a political move, as throwing a bone to the civil rights community in one respect distracts from the other crucial rights being taken away. For Instance, there’s that pesky abortion debate, the outcome of which threatens to send us back to the stone age. Again. Texas Senator Wendy Davis performed a marathon fillibuster to stop legislation that would close nearly every abortion clinic in Texas. Then there’s the slew of whistleblowers being demonized for sharing the truth with the public, despite public demonstrating and petitioning for his release. Bullying and violence still plague our schools. Cop violence plagues them on the streets. And all the while the Hollywood/Media juggernaut spends most of it’s time coming up with clever ways to perpetuate toxic stereotypes of social interaction. I think it’s fair to say we have a full plate. As members of oppressed, marginalized or discriminated communities, we have to be open to seeing the bigger picture. The fight for acceptance, choice or validation extends beyond sex and race, because what we also fighting for is equal access to the information, education and global allies that will help shape a new perspective, one in which we and the next generation actually view one another as human beings first and foremost. To get there we need to have freedom of assembly, and perhaps more parades. There is still a severe lack of safe public forums where all sexualities and races can experience what it means to coexist. Attempts to create or liberate that forum have been constantly under attack by the state, so while we can celebrate the headway we have made in achieving some equal protection under certain laws, the law is simply not working in our favor and we might want to consider getting out from under it altogether.
There has also been some tension this year between the SF Pride Board of Directors and local community members about the choice for Grand Marshall. Bradley Manning (who happens to be openly gay) was nominated but the Board has since denounced the idea. The story of Manning has been getting more attention as of late, partly because of the trial proceedings and the indirect ties to what has become the Snowden spectacle, co-starring Julian Assange. Broadcasting Manning’s story is important, and for many honoring his courage is more than fitting at Pride. While it may not be in the Board’s best interest to openly support a so-called ‘traitor’, it is if Pride is about advancing our society forward to be more accepting of each other and less accepting of oppressive forces. (like our homophobic congress) Manning is not a criminal; the people involved in the last decade of war crimes are. Bradley Manning was a soldier that endured bullying from his peers for being gay and feminine. Despite feeling alienated and depressed, Manning chose to do the right thing for all of us. Our government persecutes whistleblowers out of embarrassment, not because Manning actually “aided the enemy”, and millions know it. (Unless that enemy is the American People). So what we have is discrimination on political grounds, out of fear of negative association perhaps, for what Manning has been accused of and is projected to be, rather than acknowledging the human being they are. Because we now live under fascist-like surveillance, (which can no longer be denied) federal secrecy and CIA fabrications to instill fear, Manning’s question to all of us seems even more provocative:
“What would you do if you had evidence of war crimes? What would you do if ‘following orders’ meant participating in grave abuses that you opposed? Would you have the courage to risk everything – even your life – to do the right thing?”*2
Despite the close-mindedness of the Board, supporters of Bradley Manning have committed to making their voices heard this year. The Bradley Manning San Francisco Pride 2013 Contingent includes a huge array of activist groups; ACT UP, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Occupy AIDS, Queer Strike, Gays Without Borders and Occupy SF will be in attendance. (Just to name a few) On the Bradley Manning Support website they ” will be marching in solidarity and in mass.”*3 The message is clear and simple: Bradley Manning is a Gay Hero, and he deserves to be honored as such. All voices need to be heard. May this year’s Pride Parade be a reflection of these voices.
In Solidarity Forever,
We’ll be on the ground live from the 43rd Annual Gay Pride Parade in historic Downtown San Francisco. The Bradley manning Contingent will be featuring music by the Brass Liberation Orchestra, Laimera and Daniel Ellsberg (it’s noted in a convertible)
Meet Up at 10 A.M. on Howard and Beale Streets.
San Francisco, California