Subscribe to The Bullet to get our deep dives into trending news topics straight to your inbox.
If June were a contestant on The Bachelor, it would be getting our final rose. After all, this midyear month boasts the end of the school year, the official start of summer and a little tribute known as National Martini Day. (Cheers to that. 🍸)
But what really makes June special is that it’s Pride month — a yearly festival packed with cultural and community events to celebrate the LGBTQ community. It’s an opportunity for residents and tourists to rejoice in diversity, remember history and promote equality around the world.
With Canada’s biggest Pride parade just a few hours away, the timing is perfect to learn the basics of this global movement and the background that started it all.
The North American LGBTQ movement can trace its roots to the Windy City in 1924 and the founding of the Society for Human Rights by German immigrant and activist Henry Gerber. Considered the first documented gay rights organization, the Chicago-based Society for Human Rights was forced to disband after only a few months when Gerber and his fellow members were arrested.
While his case was eventually dismissed, Gerber was crushed by legal bills and ultimately fired from his job. Thankfully, he lived long enough to see Illinois become the first state to decriminalize homosexuality in 1961. (Hallelujah!)
For a city that now earns top scores for LGBTQ inclusivity, New York City was once a pretty inhospitable place for the gay community. Cops would routinely raid gay-friendly establishments and arrest patrons for breaking laws ranging from solicitation to cross-dressing.
That history changed for good on June 28, 1969, when NYC police stormed the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the heart of Greenwich Village, and were met with angry resistance that lasted five days. The so-called “Stonewall Riots” galvanized the LGBTQ community like never before and sparked the worldwide movement we have come to know as — you guessed it — Pride.
In what has become the most recognizable emblem of the Pride movement, the rainbow flag dates back to 1978 when legendary activist Harvey Milk commissioned San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker to create an iconic symbol for the gay community. Its purpose was to replace the pink triangle which had long represented the LGBTQ movement but was corrupted by the Nazis as a way of marking homosexuals for persecution in World War II.
The original gay Pride flag featured eight colours, each with their own significance, but evolved over time into the six-striped version we know today. According to his obituary in the New York Times, Baker refused to trademark the rainbow flag design because he considered it his gift to the world. (Cue Cyndi.)
Pride month would not be complete without its signature and climactic event: the Pride parade.
Started by legendary activist Brenda Howard to commemorate the first anniversary of Stonewall (scroll up for the backstory), Pride marches have evolved into epic street parties (we’re looking at you, Sao Paulo) and mark the culmination of Pride celebrations around the world. Montreal and Vancouver were the first Canadian cities to host an official Pride march in 1979.
But there’s a lot more to Pride parades than glittering floats and over-the-top outfits (which we love, btw). More often than not, time is set aside to honour LGBTQ activism and to remember victims of HIV/AIDS and anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Look no further than Toronto’s Pride parade which will conclude this afternoon with an “Until We’re Safe March” to spotlight the violence and tragedy that has befallen Toronto’s LGBTQ community in recent years.
Pride has also not been without its share of controversy. In addition to the yearly will-they-or-won’t-they debate about whether [insert politician] will participate in their city’s march, it has also become a flashpoint for tensions between law enforcement and LGBTQ activists in various Canadian cities.
Speaking of Canada, Pride has its own storied history in the Great White North.
Montreal and Vancouver were the first Canadian cities to host official Pride marches in the late ’70s, but the movement’s watershed moment happened in the Big Smoke on February 5, 1981. It was on that day, Toronto Police stormed four bathhouses and arrested hundreds of gay men during “Operation Soap.” The mass raids became known as “Canada’s Stonewall” and gave rise to demonstrations and the city’s inaugural Pride celebration.
Fast forward 35 years to 2016 when Toronto’s police chief formally apologized for the raids —while standing in front of a rainbow flag no less.
Today, Toronto is considered one of the best places in the world to celebrate Pride.