Pride & Politics: Learning From History

Tue. June 19, 2012 12:00 AM
by Waymon Hudson

It's that time of year again. Pride is in the air around the world for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and ally community now that June has arrived. Parades, festivals, music, parties, shirtless boys, dykes on bikes, and more rainbows than you can shake your high heels at will abound in cities all over the country.

As always, it is a time for celebration, community, and visibility. Yet now, more than ever, LGBT Pride celebrations need be something more. We need to put the politics back in Pride. We need to be asking people to not only celebrate our community, but also educate and agitate as well.

Most Pride parades fall in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots, a pivotal and defining moment in the modern LGBT rights movement. The spirit of Stonewall, where a tired and oppressed community finally had enough and took to the streets, inspired the early Pride demonstrations. In fact, the early marches were about "Gay Liberation" and "Gay Freedom."

Our hometown of Chicago has a long history of taking to the streets for both protest and pride, with one of the earliest protests marches being organized here in the city by Chicago Gay Liberation on June 27, 1970. That early Liberation March in Chicago was from Washington Square Park ("Bughouse Square") to the Water Tower at the intersection of Michigan and Chicago avenues. Marches then continued to the Civic Center (now Richard J. Daley) Plaza so their message could reach the maximum number of Michigan Avenue shoppers and tourists. The message of these early marches were clear-- visibility and organization can bring attention to the inequality faced daily by the LGBT community.

Over the years, Pride celebrations have shifted from their earlier protest march forms to more celebratory parties as LGBT people have felt safer, come out of the closet, and been more visible in society and pop culture. Yet even as our parties grew larger, our legal rights and battles for equality have too often stalled, with major hurdles still facing the community every day. A level of cultural acceptance brought a sense of political apathy to the events, even though in most states even the most basic rights (like employment discrimination protection or housing and public accommodation rights) are denied to LGBT people.

We have seen rapid movement on issues like marriage equality in the recent year, with public opinion polls shifting drastically and real movement in both the courts and state legislatures. Momentum has built quickly, with LGBT issues and rights being talked about on a daily basis in the media and political circles. That's why, now more than ever, it is the perfect time to take Pride back to its roots and put the politics and protest back in alongside the fun.

We need to be asking people to not only celebrate, but to do something as simple as carrying a sign with the LGBT rights issue that means the most to you. Want ENDA passed so we can help end employment discrimination? Help educate the community by starting conversations with Pride goers by carrying a sign. Want the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act repealed? Make a shirt and talk about about it at Pride with your friends and the people around you. Volunteer with your favorite political organization at its booth and inform others.

The visibility that Pride provides is a powerful tool. With more open-minded straight allies showing up to share in the festivities, Pride is a perfect time to educate them more fully on issues that don't get as much attention outside our community. Every year news stations turn up to film the wild gays throwing their big party. This year, let's show them we can not only celebrate how fabulous our community is, but how important our issues are.

I'm all for a big party-- and we have a lot to celebrate. But we also have many pressing issues that need to be addressed and could use the momentum that a big push at Pride could provide. Imagine thousands of LGBT rights marches across the country pushing our issues as we celebrate the diversity of our community.

Those early Gay Liberation marches energized our movement and brought sharp focus to the issues facing our community. They were the beginning push in the momentum we now feel as we move towards full equality under the law. That's what Pride was and what it could be again. So join the fight and make a difference as you celebrate-- we can have Pride and still learn from our own history as we continue to fight for Liberation and Freedom.

Images: 1979 photo from Gay Life and used with permission from Sukie de la Croix. 2011 photo by Jay Shaff for

Editor's Note: "Critical Thinking with Waymon Hudson" premieres on Gay Chicago TV Thursday, June 28, 2012. Waymon's first guest is Illinois Rep. Greg Harris. Watch on