Fifty-two years ago this June, a riot in New York City changed the world. The so-called Stonewall Riots, or Stonewall Uprising, happened at the Stonewall Inn on June 28th, 1969, when a gay club in Greenwich Village was raided by police. What followed would set the stage to begin battling the unjust anti-gay laws across the country and would later become a month-long celebration known as Pride Month. This year, as the rainbow and various Pride flags unfurl across the country and people celebrate the idea of living authentically and loving without fear, the shadow of a divided nation looms near but can’t drown out the jubilation and joy of Pride 2021. Here’s what’s happening across the country for Pride 2021 and the celebrities who are celebrating.
The History of Pride
In order to talk about Pride 2021, you have to know how the country got here. In the 1960s and in years before, the country and world were not an accepting place for any member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Many lived quietly, in fear of their lives as they could be arrested, beaten, or killed for just being gay. Gay clubs and bars began popping up across the United States in the ’60’s as a way for gay people to gather and live authentically without the fear of death. Quiet affairs, these locations were safe places to love, live, and learn from one another.
But on June 28th, 1969, police raided a place called Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. The Inn had become a gathering place because a crime family known as the Genovese considered it a lucrative business to cater to the shunned and shadow-seeking gay community. It was what could have been a symbiotic relationship between those looking to avoid attention, and those happy to provide them with anonymity. But it wasn’t out of the kindness of their hearts; in order to have their place of sanctuary, the gay community members using Stonewall Inn were often blackmailed by the Genovese to keep their sexuality a secret, and the conditions in the bar were shady and dangerous, with no clear fire exit. The Genovese were bribing police to look the other way, and police usually tipped them off before staging low-impact raids. But on June 28th, 1969, the Genovese were not tipped off and the police showed up for a raid.
History shares, “Armed with a warrant, police officers entered the club, roughed up patrons, and, finding bootlegged alcohol, arrested 13 people, including employees and people violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute (female officers would take suspected cross-dressing patrons into the bathroom to check their sex).
Fed up with constant police harassment and social discrimination, angry patrons and neighborhood residents hung around outside of the bar rather than disperse, becoming increasingly agitated as the events unfolded and people were aggressively manhandled. At one point, an officer hit a lesbian over the head as he forced her into the police van— she shouted to onlookers to act, inciting the crowd to begin throw pennies, bottles, cobble stones and other objects at the police.”
A mythology has arisen around who was the first to throw a brick at police, and historical accounts are mostly relegated to recollection because no one was documenting at the time. It’s likely that the woman being handcuffed – Stormé DeLarverie – was the first person to throw a punch. However, most of the people credited with that first volley have demurred responsibility and point instead to a collective effort. The original riot involved a few hundred people and was relatively quickly dispersed, but thousands more rose up in protest over the following five days. While the gay rights movement didn’t arise solely from the effects of the Stonewall Riots, it was a pivotal moment and a spark that helped ignite the fire. Pride is celebrated every June to remember a time when the LGBTQIA+ community said, “enough.”
Pride 2021 in Cities Across the United States
Now, 52 years later, Pride Month has grown into a massive, month-long celebration of all the diversity of life and the right to live and love freely, without fear. TikTok this year is awash with accounts bearing rainbow, trans, bi, pan, nonbinary and many other Pride flags as people share their stories and triumphantly wish one another a happy Pride Month. But TikTok isn’t the only place these celebrations are erupting; major cities across the US are moving forward with celebrations that were shuttered in 2020 and the relief is palpable as people once again reconnect with their community and feel seen and heard.
In New York City, Pride kicked off May 26th with a culinary event, and a month-long list of celebrations that include virtual meetings, street fairs, rallies, and family-centered nights brings the rainbow back to the Big Apple. The annual Pride parade will be virtual this year due to COVID.
In Chicago, Atlanta and Miami, Pride events have been pushed back to the Fall due to COVID, and to give people more time to be fully vaccinated. Chicago kicks off October 3rd and Miami is celebrating September 18th-19th. Atlanta will kick off October 8th-10th.
But the West Coast is getting creative to stay on target for the June celebrations. Los Angeles Pride is happening mostly virtually for the second year in a row, with the Pride Parade happening online. Other events include a Pride night at Dodger’s Stadium and more.
And in Las Vegas, Pride events will be happening across the city in the month of June, including the Pride Fest at Henderson Equality Center, June 6th. The Pride Parade is expected to return, in person, in October.
Celebrities Out and Celebrating in 2021
2020 and 2021 were big years for celebrities to reveal their sexualities and gender identities. Elliot Page came out as trans and nonbinary in 2020, Tiger King‘s Carole Baskin came out as bisexual, and Demi Lovato came out as nonbinary just last week.
Other celebrities to come out in 2021 include Star Trek: Discovery‘s Mary Wiseman who is, “queer and proud,” kid influencer superstar JoJo Siwa opened up in January about being queer, pro-BMX rider and Vans spokesperson Corey Walsh came out as gay earlier this year, and former Bachelor Nation star Colton Underwood came out as gay, among others.
And in Los Angeles this year, acting icons like Lily Tomlin, Kathryn Hahn, Betty Buckley and Judith Light all participated in the creation of the LA Pride Parade’s virtual content. Hollywood has a long love affair with homosexuality, but it hasn’t always been pretty. While acting was one career where you might find yourself surrounded with those accepting of your sexuality historically, gay actors have fought uphill battles for representation and it’s only in the past 2 or 3 years that on-screen representation has begun to occur in any meaningful way. As more celebrities come out and more on-screen people look like real Americans do with a variety of sexualities and identities, Hollywood is helping bear the flag forward to the next leg of the equality race.
Brands Showing Support
And along those lines, several brands have changed their usual logos to reflect support for Pride and the LGBTQIA+ community. Brands with updated June logos include (but are not limited to):
- American Airlines
- Bravo TV
- Spirit Airlines
- Paramount +
- The NFL.
And these brands are among those which have created for the first time or expanded Pride merchandise in their stores:
- Disney: Disney offers a line of Pride apparel and merchandise. They are donating a portion of proceeds to support LGBTQ organizations.
- Olay: The skincare company is releasing a Pride line of its beloved Regenerist cream and will be donating a portion of the proceeds to the Trevor Project.
- Teletubbies: the beloved kid’s TV show is releasing a streetwear collection of Pride inspired clothing, and donating some proceeds to GLAAD.
- Target: although Pride offerings are not new from Target fashion, this year sees a broader range than ever with merchandise now including more flag options to represent more members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Target partners with and donates money to GLSEN.
And on the internet, Instagram has taken the step of adding pronoun options to bios. People can now choose from a variety of pronouns, making Instagram a more affirming and inclusive place than it was before. One Arkansas politician blasted the movie as “Liberal virtue signaling,” and refused to share his pronouns because he thought they should be obvious. He then proceeded to share his pronouns.
The Politics of Pride
This year, more LGBTQIA+ politicians are serving than ever before, and more ally politicians are making statements in support of Pride. But the most surprising gesture is coming from the very top. President Joe Biden helms the most inclusive administration of all time, with nearly 14% of his so-far 1,500 government appointments being held by LGBTQIA+ community members. Today, Biden is visiting the Greenwood Community Center in Tulsa, OK, to commemorate the horrifying Tulsa Race Massacre which occurred 100 years ago today. White supremacists rubber-stamped by the city fire-bombed a quiet Black neighborhood in Tulsa, killing 300 Black Americans and making over 10,000 homeless. But the President is mindful of the start of Pride and released a statement on the issue of LGBTQIA+ support and Pride today.
The statement, which can be read in full here, includes in part, “During LGBTQ+ Pride Month, we recognize the resilience and determination of the many individuals who are fighting to live freely and authentically. In doing so, they are opening hearts and minds, and laying the foundation for a more just and equitable America. This Pride Month, we affirm our obligation to uphold the dignity of all people, and dedicate ourselves to protecting the most vulnerable among us.”
The statement acknowledges June as Pride month, and adds, “LGBTQ+ rights are human rights, which is why my Administration has reaffirmed America’s commitment to supporting those on the front lines of the equality and democracy movements around the world, often at great risk. We see you, we support you, and we are inspired by your courage to accept nothing less than full equality.
While I am proud of the progress my Administration has made in advancing protections for the LGBTQ+ community, I will not rest until full equality for LGBTQ+ Americans is finally achieved and codified into law.”
It’s a near-total reversal after four years of an administration that followed Conservative principals and sought to limit protections for LGBTQIA+ community members. Former President Donald Trump did acknowledge Pride celebrations by Tweet in 2019, however. The former administration belongs to the same political party currently banning transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis chose today, the first day of Pride, to sign the transgender athlete ban, forever setting himself in stark opposition to LGBTQIA+ rights.
Relief After a Year of Shadows, the Rainbows Return
Although some communities will have to wait until Fall to return to the streets in celebration, it’s clear that Pride this year has an ill-concealed element of relief. Last year’s Pride occurred nearly solely virtually, and most events were canceled. It was also set against the backdrop of the murder of George Floyd and the summer of protests that arose in the wake of his death. So this year’s rainbow-after-a-storm seems extra sweet.
More people are coming out than ever before, and with brands and companies taking bold stances in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, 2021 seems to be marking a turning point in the quest for equality. Biden reversed a Trump-era ban on flying Pride flags at US embassies, so even on foreign soil Americans are flying the rainbow and Pride flags this month.
The history of the quest for equal rights has been bloody and dark, but the LGBTQIA+ community has shown resilience and courage, and a refusal to back down. As more steps are taken towards acceptance in Hollywood, Washington DC, and homes across the nation, the 6-year anniversary of marriage quality passing in the United States makes this a good time to reflect on how far the community has come, even though there’s still a long way to go.