| Celebrating our History, Community and Pride
By Mark Leno, State Senator Jun 13, 2009
June is Pride month! For nearly 40 years, the San Francisco Bay Area has been home to one of the largest Pride celebrations in the world, which includes a month-long series of events and programs and culminates with the annual Pride parade. We have many reasons to celebrate our pride this year as many states across the nation continue to recognize the importance of marriage equality for same-sex couples. At the same time, the passage of Proposition 8 in California shows us that we must redouble our outreach and educational efforts as we work to achieve full equality in the Golden State.
The celebration of Pride gives us an opportunity to highlight our community’s diversity and support civil liberties for all people. It is also a good time to appreciate the hard work of the pioneering advocates who came before us and courageously fought for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s a fight we continue today.
The origins of Pride date back to the last weekend of June, 1969. The Civil Rights movement had been in full swing for at least a decade. The Second Wave of the Women’s Rights Movement was taking root. Protests against the Vietnam War were growing, and Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated a year prior. Within this social and political context, another movement was about to emerge.
On June 27, 1969, police raided a popular gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Law enforcement officers claimed the raids were used to enforce liquor laws, but these laws were being selectively used against establishments that catered to LGBT people.
Before the Stonewall Inn incident, most patrons did not protest police raids for fear of being publicly exposed as gay or lesbian. The names of people who were arrested in raids would often be printed in the newspaper the next day as part of a social campaign to intimidate, threaten, and shame LGBT people. This fear only gave the police greater power to physically abuse, arrest, and scare people without resistance.
But on this June night in 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back. Street riots ensued on three subsequent nights, giving birth to a movement which prompted thousands of LGBT people to “come out of the closet” and proudly proclaim their identity.
In June of 1970, San Francisco held its first Pride parade in commemoration of the Stonewall riots, and that tradition continues today.
While many Pride parades in past 39 years have held special significance, 1977’s parade was particularly historic. That year, San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk rode down Market Street – a memory that many LGBT people still cherish. Harvey was the first openly gay person elected to public office in California. He served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors until he was tragically assassinated in 1978.
During his short political career, Harvey fought for social change and championed many issues, including access to education, affordable public transportation, low-income housing and civil rights. His fundamental belief that all people should be treated equally paved the way for the populist movement he pioneered for LGBT rights and his legacy continues to inspire the community to this day. In honor of Harvey, I have proudly authored Senate Bill 572, which creates Harvey Milk Day in California.
To learn more about the contributions of LGBT people and the community’s rich and vibrant history, I encourage you to visit the GLBT Historical Society at 657 Mission Street or view their special exhibit on Harvey Milk at 499 Castro Street. The Society’s galleries, archival materials and programs illustrate the LGBT experience. Visit their website at www.glbthistory.org or call (415) 777-5455. To find out more about this year’s Pride events, contact San Francisco Pride at (415) 864-0831 or visit www.sfpride.org.
If you are interested in marching with my contingent at this year’s Pride parade on Sunday, June 28, please contact my San Francisco District Office at (415) 557-1300 or San Rafael District Office at 415-479-6612. You can also reach us at www.sen.ca.gov/Leno, or email me directly at Senator.Leno@sen.ca.gov.
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