With most of the Pride celebrations throughout the world now in the rear view mirror, it is beyond amazing how far we have traveled down the road to equality. Keep in mind there is so much unfinished business needing to be addressed throughout the U.S. and the world, but what has transpired over the 45 years since Stonewall should definitely put a smile on our faces.
Frequent gay bar raids occurred with police demanding ID’s under the threat of arrest. Entrapment by the police was astonishingly commonplace especially in what are called “cruising areas.” So was blackmail.
Names of the arrested were published in the newspapers: Jobs lost. Tenants evicted from apartments. Families were torn apart.Gays were beaten up by straights with alarming frequency. Same-sex dancing was prohibited, as was touching. Gay sex was criminal behavior.
You had Mafia-owned bars serving overpriced watered-down drinks whose owners often worked in collusion with the police and cared not one bit about the gays and lesbians who were their customers as long as they could make money off of them. Bar bouncers roughed up drunken gays.There were no laws on the books to protect against discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations.
Gays and lesbians were banished from the military following extensive witch-hunts.There were no domestic partner benefits or any rights based on same-sex relationships at major corporations and few universities.
There were no openly gay elected officials, and anyone in the public eye remained in the closet. No officeholder supported an end to the harassment, much less advocated for equality. The thought of marriage between same-sex partners didn’t even exist.A television show with a major gay character was unthinkable, as well as an openly gay actor. Any gay characters portrayed in movies were either depressed, suicidal, flamboyant or a victim of some sort. There were few, if any, gay-related periodicals.
Homosexuality was viewed as a psychological disorder; queers were considered sick and fair game by a hostile, homophobic society.Most chose to remain in the closet. Partners were introduced as “roommates.” And because of family pressures, so many gays and lesbians were virtually forced to date or marry members of the opposite sex to deflect any suspicion of being gay.
The world then was hardly decorated with rainbow flags and pins. For those of us who have experienced it, we know all too well how depressing and lonely it was.When the first Pride took place in New York a year after Stonewall, it was all about trying to gain rights and not to be treated as second-class citizens. There were speeches, signs and banners proclaiming liberation (or at least hoping for it). There was no celebrating; it was a coming together of people who had suffered indignities and to demand changes.
Now fast-forward to today and just think of how much has changed. Without going into the myriad significant achievements, particularly over the past 10 years, all one needs to do is to take a look at Pride 2014 here and elsewhere, and it will be mind boggling.Today, Pride has mirrored LGBT acceptance to the point that politicians are falling over each other to be seen in a Pride parade. Candidates at all levels proudly march with LGBT supporters at their side. The President of the U.S., governors, mayors and aldermen routinely issue proclamations denoting LGBT Pride month.
Mr. Obama stated in his proclamation: “As progress spreads from State to State, as justice is delivered in the courtroom, and as more of our fellow Americans are treated with dignity and respect — our Nation becomes not only more accepting, but more equal as well.” By contrast, 45 years ago Richard Nixon was president.Banks, airlines, breweries, credit card companies and numerous other corporate entities see the business advantages of participating and/or sponsoring Pride events to cash in on the trend. They want their brands associated with Pride.
Over a million attended New York and San Francisco’s Pride events. A Pride flag flew at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv during that city’s Pride week celebration. Professional hockey players marched in the WorldPride Parade in Toronto. Burger King rolled out its own Pride-themed “Proud Whopper” wrapper in SF that says, “We are all the same inside.” How cool is that?For the first time in 82 years, a Chicago Cubs baseball game was not scheduled on a Sunday in favor of the huge Chicago Pride parade that would snarl traffic near Wrigley Field. A tradition of that magnitude yielding to LGBT Pride would have been considered inconceivable just a few years ago.
In Baltimore, the big debate was not how to achieve basic rights but whether Pride attendees should be allowed to openly consume alcohol during the Pride festival. It seems so trivial when you think about it, but it’s also a statement of how much has been achieved insofar as this was the burning issue of the day.Through the spirit of the celebratory nature of Pride around the world, we must also recognize that there is much work that needs to be done. Nonetheless, the comparison between the conditions existing before the first Pride and the Pride events of 2014 poignantly illustrates the distance traveled on this incredible journey.