Looking Back At The History Of The Pride Movement

The Pride movement all over the world has waged an inspirational struggle on multiple fronts. Here's a look at the highlights in the US and India
Waving the Pride flag aloft
Waving the Pride flag aloft

Rainbow flags flutter proudly all over the world in June. The reason is a seemingly simple and straightforward one. June marks the Pride Month every year (since 1999), a landmark period for the LGBTQIA community and activists championing their rights. But the journey to this state of affairs has been anything but simple.

An overview of the movement in the US

  • The Stonewall Riots on the night of June 28, 1969, are often thought to be the starting point of the gay rights movement in the US. But, experts and scholars cite and point to some other similar but equally significant incidents and uprisings that happened in the years prior to Stonewall&mdashfor instance, the one at Cooper Donuts in Los Angeles (1959), the protests at Compton Cafeteria in San Francisco (1966) and the LGBT demonstration at Black Cat Tavern also in Los Angeles (1967). What&rsquos important to note is that all these protests happened in response to the increasing police brutality against members of the drag/transgender community all across the US (ironical, considering the fact that many of today&rsquos corporate-funded Pride marches are organised with police protection). Relevantly enough, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots saw the first-ever Pride march in New York City

  • What this also shows is the fact that the Stonewall protest wasn&rsquot an isolated, one-off incident. In fact, the law of the time expressly forbade men to dress up or act as women and vice-versa&mdashthe reason why the police cracked down severely on gay clubs and members of the transvestite and the transgender communities especially around the time of elections.

  • Pioneering figures who emerged during the time of the Stonewall Riots include Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Both Johnson and Rivera played pivotal roles in consolidating and organising protests during the three-day riot at Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street. They would go on to co-found STAR, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, an organisation that was at the helm of sit-in protests by the trans community, while also helping homeless LGBTQIA youth. Johnson and Rivera were also integral members of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), an influential outfit that held marches and raised funds for the oppressed queer people and published its own newspaper, among other activities. STAR and GLF were also instrumental in creating and sustaining global networks of similar organisations fighting for the rights of the LGBTQI community. However, they were not the only influential figures to have championed the Pride movement. Speaking to Bustle, Caitlin McCarthy, the archivist for The Center, an LGBTQ community centre in New York City, mentions that &ldquo Johnson and Rivera's lesser-known (but not less important) siblings include Zazu Nova, a member of the GLF and STAR Stormé Delarverie, a drag king and emcee for trans- and drag-centered touring company Jewel Box Revue and Lani Ka'ahumanu, who founded the Bay Area Bisexual Network.&rdquo

  • Due to its radical roots, the queer community and the organisations championing their causes preferred the term &ldquogay power&rdquo as their slogan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is partly due to the fact that movements such as this one and others like the Black Power movement found it easier to unite people under their umbrellas with such terminologies. The term &ldquogay pride&rdquo, which came into vogue much later in the 1970s, has been credited to Craig Schoonmaker in 1970. It&rsquos worthwhile to note that the term as conceptualised by Schoonmaker was extremely polarising (&ldquoof gay men, by gay men, for gay men only&rdquo) and eschewed the inclusion of other identities such as lesbian under its ambit. The term &ldquopride&rdquo, however, has come a long way and has been reclaimed by the queer community since&mdashand today, it is used as a term to describe and refer to protests and celebrations by the LGBTQIA community.

  • So, when was June officially adopted as the Pride Month Despite its long history of protests and proud resilience, it was only in 1999 that President Bill Clinton officially proclaimed June as the Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Later, in 2011, President Barack Obama underlined and emphasised the inclusive nature of the Pride movement by retitling it as the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.

Petitions, court battles and Pride Parades Developments in India

  • The history of the Pride movement in India is inextricably linked with the discourse around Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), an outdated legacy of the British era that criminalised homosexuality. The legacy continued even after Independence and despite the addition of a certain Article 14 in the Indian Constitution, promising equality to all.

  • The first known protest for gay rights in India happened on August 11, 1992 outside the police headquarters in Delhi&rsquos ITO area. The protests, spearheaded by the AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan (ABVA), opposed the action of the police who had arrested men from Central Park in Connaught Place on the suspicion of homosexuality.

  • In 1994, ABVA also filed a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the constitutional validity of Section 377 of IPC in the Delhi High Court. It is considered to be one of the first legal protests against the government repression of the LGBTQIA community in India. Three years prior to this, in 1991, ABVA had already brought out a sensational pamphlet called Less than Gay&mdasha first-of-its-kind citizens&rsquo report on the harassment faced by the queer community in India.

  • On July 2, 1999, India held its first Pride Parade in Kolkata. Called the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk, the march was the first-ever Pride march in South Asia.

  • Since this momentous event, Pride marches have been held in over 21 Indian cities. Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru saw their first parades in 2008. The following year, Bhubaneswar and Chennai held their first marches. Kerala held the first such event in 2010, with Pune following a year later in 2011. The first Pride walk in the Northeast was held in Guwahati in 2014. As late as 2017, Awadh, Bhopal and Dehradun organised their first Pride marches, with Jamshedpur following the trend with its own event in 2018.

  • Despite the profusion and outpouring of support for the LGBTQIA community from the civil society in various cities over the years, the legal battle to ensure the decriminalisation of Section 377 has been an incredibly topsy-turvy one. In 2009, the Delhi High Court provided a much-needed impetus for the Pride movement in India. In the Naz Foundation vs Govt. of NCT Delhi case, the court ruled that treating a case of homosexual sex between consenting adults as a crime is a gross violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

  • However, in 2013, the movement suffered a major setback when the Supreme Court overturned the 2009 decision of the Delhi High Court in the Suresh Kumar Koushal and another vs Naz Foundation and others case. Instead, it reinstated the archaic Section 377 of the IPC once again. Two years later, in 2015, parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor introduced a bill to decriminalise homosexuality. However, it wasn&rsquot passed by the Lok Sabha.

  • Things took a turn for the better in 2017, when the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement in the Puttaswamy case, upheld the right to privacy as a fundamental right for individuals.

  • Riding on the momentum generated by the Supreme Court&rsquos right to privacy judgement in 2017, the Pride movement achieved what many consider to be its greatest success in India till date. On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court unanimously decreed that Section 377 of the IPC was totally unconstitutional, &ldquoin so far as it criminalises consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex&rdquo.

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