Pride refers to annual celebrations, usually in cities, that commemorate the Stonewall Awakening of 1969 and the beginning of Gay liberation. Gay Pride celebrations usually occur over a weekend, and include a Pride parade where LGBTQ people and their allies display themselves publicly. When the various Prides are taken together as one global celebration, Gay Pride is comparable to worldwide pre-Lenten Carnival and the World Cup for Soccer as among the largest and most internationally recognized festivals, with over a million revelers and spectators reported per Pride festival in cities such as London, Madrid, New York, and Sydney (known as Sydney Mardi Gras), and over two million reported in Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo.
The first official public demonstrations that would eventually become Gay Pride were held in New York City and Los Angeles one year after Stonewall. Demonstrations and marches in other major cities in the USA occurred on or near the date on which NYC commemorated the first anniversary of Stonewall on Sunday June 28, 1970. Strictly speaking, the first major annual commemoration of Stonewall was neither in NYC nor Los Angeles but in Chicago, which had planned its event on Saturday, June 27. Fewer than a hundred people participated, much different from the approximately 500,000 that participated in the fortieth anniversary parade in 2009.
Initially, the demonstration in NYC was organized by the Gay Liberation Front and called the “Christopher Street Liberation Day” in honor of Christopher Street in front of the Stonewall Inn. Pride celebrations in Germany and Switzerland have been called Christopher Street Day since they started in 1979.
From Liberation to Pride, March to Parade
The first public commemorations called for Gay liberation, and street processions were called “marches,” reflecting the need to resist oppression. As the movement came to include more people, commemorations went from being confrontational to celebratory and festive. Liberation shifted into pride, and many of the marches became “parades.”
Pride as Coming Out
The tactical shift in names, however, did not change the motivation for Pride celebrations, which is public presentation of as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, and ally. As such, Pride events are rooted in one of the most basic performances in the lives of LGBTQ people: coming out.
Many cities sponsor public marches or parades. As Pride parades evolved, some basic elements have emerged, such as conspicuous performance of drag, marching bands, color guards, floats with scantily dressed young men, Dykes On Bikes (local women’s motorcycle troupes), LGBTQ people with their families, religious communities that support Gay people’s rights, LGBTQ organizations, Gay-friendly politicians, and Gay-friendly businesses. Some organizations and businesses sponsor floats. The general rule is that, although a pre-set order is established for troupes, banners, and floats, and major parades may have barricades separating onlookers from participants for safety reasons, anyone can join the march/parade, particularly at the end.
Internationalization of Pride
Since 1970, Pride has spread around the world to major cities on every inhabited continent. Asian cities, however, waited for decades, having Pride parades in the 1990s and first decade of the twenty-first century, not necessarily because being Gay was a crime, but because of pressures on those who are gender and orientation variant to be discreet. It has not been unusual in Asian Pride parades to see participants wearing masks to protect their identities, at least in the earliest parades. In many Muslim, African, Caribbean, and Eastern European countries, homophobia has prevented public celebration of Pride in any form. Moscow, for example, imposed a hundred-year ban on Pride parades in June 2012. Yet there are exceptions: Guatemala, a country not known for its acceptance of LGBTQ people, has had a Gay Pride march in its capitol since 2000.
Three major Pride weekends have turned into massive events for multiple communities, both Gay and Straight: Sydney Mardi Gras in Australia, Montreal Divers/Cité in Quebec, and Amsterdam Queen’s Day in the Netherlands. Sydney Mardi Gras combines Pride with pre-Lenten festivities in February or March, appropriate for a country in the Southern Hemisphere in which such months would be warm in temperate climates. Montreal Divers/Cité sponsors a series of free outdoor performances and dance parties every year in early August, including La Grande Danse, a Circuit-oriented event that may have as many as 50,000 people dancing to one DJ. Amsterdam Queen’s Day (Dutch: Koninginnedag) celebration, which is set around a particular date (April 30) instead of a weekend, is a commemoration for the Dutch queen that has also become a major Gay Pride festival.
The International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) on May 17 is celebrated in several different nations as an alternative to Pride, perhaps preferable in places that may not be ready for a celebration of LGBTQ pride, but would support a march against homophobia. For example, IDAHO is celebrated Cuba with a march, activities, and celebrations in Havana.
Dissatisfied with the lack of representation of women in many Gay organizations, Lesbians began to have their own marches, often the day before Pride. Trans Pride is also becoming an affiliated yet separate event in major cities. In addition, Black Prides and Latino Prides have been held in the USA to focus more on those respective communities.
Many city businesses and municipal governments in the Americas, Europe, and Australia anticipate the influx of visitors for their Pride events, and may launch advertisement campaigns to encourage tourist dollars. If there is more than one city in a state or region that compete for attendees, they may stagger Pride celebrations over a month or longer, often giving the largest city the last weekend in June (the nearest date to the original Stonewall Uprising). Currently, Pride celebrations usually occur in late spring, early autumn, and just about any weekend during the summer months for countries in the Northern Hemisphere.
Some within the LGBTQ community criticize the commercialization of the events and the parade as a sign that the original message is watered down in what has become just an excuse to party. Others see such commercialization as sending an important message to the Straight community that supporting the LGBTQ community is no longer a scandalous thing.
Post-Communist Pride and IDAHO in Eastern Europe
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, several former Soviet satellite nations have similar public attitudes against LGBTQ people as Russia. This is often reflected in official condemnation of the Gay community by those in power, and crippling neo-Nazi attacks against Pride marches and IDAHO marches held in places such as Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Poland. Despite adopting a veneer of tolerance to conform to Western European standards for economic purposes (passing laws decriminalizing homosexuality, for example, to join the European Union), sentiment against Gay people has been fostered by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian authorities as well as ultra-nationalists and skinheads.
Significant progress has been made, however, in Bulgaria, Slovakia, Poland (site of EuroPride 2010 and the concurrent march), Hungary (which had been celebrating Gay Pride in Budapest since 1997), and the Czech Republic (decriminalized homosexuality in 1962, legalized Gay civil unions in 2006, and has Pride marches in major cities), although violence from male Neo-Nazi extremists is still a problem.
One solution to official censure and ultranationalist/Neo-Nazi violence has been to announce a march in one location, then holding it in another, or not announcing an event at all. In order to avoid attacks, the organization Rainbow Flash sponsored flashmobs (unannounced groups that perform in a given moment and location without permission from authorities) to commemorate IDAHO 2009 in twelve Russian cities. Members passed out pamphlets and multicolored balloons to the surprise of onlookers, thus continuing and reinterpreting the Gay activist custom of the zap, a sudden unannounced protest action. In 2010, Rainbow Flash expanded to other countries.
Johnston, Lynda. Queering Tourism: Paradoxical Performances at Gay Pride Parades. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Munt, Sally. Queer Attachments: The Cultural Politics of Shame. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008.