1. Riot, rebellion, uprising: 28 June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn

At 51–53 Christopher Street in New York, on 28 June 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn were joined by undercover police. Records vary of the evening, but the following is broadly agreed: The Stonewall Inn was designated as a members’ club, though the door staff admitted people who paid the entry fee (one dollar on a weekday, three dollars at the weekend), and who they believed to be LGBT+. Five members of law enforcement entered the bar just after midnight, gathering evidence related to a search warrant for illegal alcohol sales; the Stonewall Inn was technically a ‘bottle club’ where people would bring their own drinks and pay for service. However, since the early 1960s there had been numerous raids on New York’s LGBT+ bars and clubs, so this was part of a pattern of being the target of police focus. The Library of Congress notes that the Stonewall Inn was raided on average once a month leading up to the raid on 28 June 1969.

Two of the police officers left the bar around an hour later to fetch further colleagues from the New York Police Department’s ‘public morals division’. Around 1.20am, law enforcement reentered the bar, turning on the lights and demanding to see everyone’s ID. They then attempted to arrest the patrons and staff who did not have IDs. The rest of the patrons were told to leave, many of whom formed a crowd outside.

Many records cite Stormé DeLarverie, a female performer who dressed in traditionally masculine clothes, as the first person to physically resist the police. She has since said, “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising. It wasn’t no damn riot”. Patrons shouted, threw coins and fought with the police. Some arrestees managed to escape the police van they had been put in. This meant that some police left with the van, and others were forced back by the crowd into the Inn. Items including coins and bottles were thrown at the walls and a parking meter was uprooted from the pavement and used as a battering ram on the door. Thousands of people joined the protests that evening, followed by thousands more over the next few days.

In 2019, on the 50th anniversary of events at the Stonewall Inn, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill apologised: “The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologise”.

2. Pride in the US

Before Pride marches, there were Reminder Day Pickets. These were held each 4 July between 1965 and 1969 by the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO), an association of activist groups from the east coast of the USA. Activists picketed Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Independence Day to ‘remind’ people of the civil rights still denied to LGBT+ people.

Following the events at the Stonewall Inn, the following resolution was adopted at the 1969 ERCHO conference:

We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called Christopher Street Liberation Day.

ERCHO also pledged to contact organisations around the country to generate “a nationwide show of support”.

On 28 June 1970 the first Pride marches were held in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, attended by thousands of people.

3. Pride in the UK

Branches of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) were formed, inspired by the events of Stonewall, across the USA and internationally. Two British activists, Aubrey Walter and Bob Mellor, travelled to the US and attended the Black Panther’s Revolutionary Peoples’ Convention, which invited delegations from the movements for women’s and LGBT+ rights for the first time. Black Panther cofounder Huey P Newton said, “We must gain security in ourselves and therefore have respect and feelings for all oppressed people […] When we have revolutionary conferences, rallies, and demonstrations, there should be full participation of the gay liberation movement and the women’s liberation movement”. Aubrey Walter and Bob Mellor returned home to found the London branch of the GLF at the London School of Economics.

In the UK, homosexuality had been partially decriminalised by the Sexual Offences Act 1967 a few years earlier. This meant it was no longer illegal for two men over 21 to have sex in private in England and Wales. However, thousands of men were convicted in the following years for indecency, soliciting, or importuning, offences which were used to criminalise interactions that would not have been illegal for a man and woman. A relationship between two men in the military could also end in a custodial sentence. There were also no legal protections against discrimination based on sexuality.

The first meeting of the London Gay Liberation Front took place in October 1970. On 27 November 1970 in Highbury Fields, the group held its first demonstration at the spot where liberal activist Louis Eakes had been arrested by police. Eakes was arrested for ‘importuning’, used to mean seeking a sexual partner in public. This was used in some cases to criminalise behaviour that the police interpreted as flirtatious, for example smiling or winking. Eakes stated he was entrapped by the police. The GLF described their action as a ‘gay-in’ where “about 150 [people] turned up with balloons, streamers, flares and fireworks, protesting about the treatment of gay people in Britain”. In August 1971, in what is sometimes called ‘the Pride before Pride’, the GLF Youth Group demonstrated in Trafalgar Square about the age of consent for gay men being 21.

On 1 July 1972, the UK’s first Pride march was held in London. The date was chosen as the closest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots of 28 June 1969. The British Library cites the GLF and Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) as key organisers. An estimated 2,000 people attended. Peter Tatchell, one of the organisers, said:

Our aim was to show that we were proud, not ashamed. Determined to come out of the shadows and stand up for our rights, we wanted to make ourselves visible and demand LGBT liberation.

Pride marches were held across the UK in the following years. Pride was not owned or trademarked by a single organisation, as it grew from an ethos of collective action. This meant that Pride was not consistently held during the 1970s and 1980s: it varied as to how, and indeed whether, Pride was held each year. For many years, London was the UK’s main Pride event, with people travelling from around the UK to attend. The London events were organised by what Stuart Feather, an early GLF member, describes as a “loose succession of boards and committees, always a bit remote from the rest of the community. How one became a member of the board seemed to be just a bizarre, arcane process of knowing someone who knew someone. It felt almost Masonic”. There were also ‘lesbian strength’ events held during the early 1980s the week before Pride, which were women-only marches.

In 1988, section 28 of the Local Government Act of that year stated that ‘A local authority shall not […] intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’. The British Newspaper Archive describes the effect on Pride celebrations, with some local councils withdrawing support, for example refusing to put up banners. Other councils challenged the law by openly pledging funds and support for LGBT+ events. Lord Cashman (Labour) spoke to the Guardian in 2018 about attending section 28 protests, stating that the founding of the UK charity Stonewall might not have happened, but “we had to make sure another section 28 didn’t happen again”. Section 28 was repealed in 2003.

3.1 Pride around the UK

Whilst London was the first UK city to hold a Pride event, this timeline shows a selection of milestone pride events in the UK.

3.2 Pride today

Since 2010, large cities across the UK have regularly held Pride events, which have become an established part of the calendar. Additionally, more regional events have been founded, including Eastbourne’s first ever Pride event in 2017, at which Lord Collins of Highbury (Labour) led the march. Many Pride events have been cancelled in recent years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but 2022’s events are scheduled to go ahead. More than 50 years after its inception, London’s march remains the largest in the UK.

 However, Pride in London, the community interest company which manages the event, has faced criticism. Stonewall, the UK LGBT+ charity named after the Stonewall Inn, withdrew its support for Pride in London in 2018, citing lack of diversity. It instead partnered with Black Pride. Then Chief Executive Ruth Hunt, now Baroness Hunt of Bethnal Green (Crossbench), and Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, executive director of UK Black Pride, released a joint statement:

We have agreed on a joint programme of work that will transform how our organisations are able to reach and empower Britain’s diverse black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT communities. The work will focus on building strong relationships and supporting the development of local and national campaigning. It will also support the organisation and running of UK Black Pride.

On 17 June 2019, community members gathered at Trafalgar Square to listen to early GLF members talk about Pride. Some speakers who helped to organise the first Pride objected to Pride in London and regional Prides’ corporate sponsors. For example some cited arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which sponsored several regional Prides in 2019 but also sells to regimes with anti-LGBT+ laws such as Saudi Arabia.

The Pride events in London have changed since the first event in 1972; participants must now apply to march in the parade, and many businesses and organisations pay to take part. While some describe the necessity of corporate sponsorship for running a safe event, with adequate facilities and security, others counter that protests do not have the same charges, and Pride’s commercial status is indicative of its change of focus from protest to parade. Pride in London 2022 describes its aims for this year’s event as follows:

The campaign for 2022 will commemorate the past 50 years and our evolution as a movement; acknowledging those torch bearers who have come before us and their achievements. […] On 2 July, we want to make a powerful statement […] calling on the UK government to ban conversion therapy for all LGBT+ people; reform the Gender Recognition [Act 2004]; provide equal protection for LGBT+ communities against hate crime, by making homophobic, biphobic or transphobic hate crime an aggravated crime in line with racial and religious hate crimes; end its hostile environment toward minority migrants; establish a national Aids memorial that truly honours and remembers those who we have lost and the impact of HIV and Aids; and to take a leading role in tackling the violence and discrimination against LGBT+ people around the globe.

4. Read more

Cover image by Sara Rampazzo on Unsplash