We are now well into the Pride season. June is the month the USA celebrates Pride Month, their annual celebration of the lgbt community first established by President Clinton in 2000. June was chosen in commemoration of the events 45 years ago tonight on 28th June 1969 – the Stonewall Riots – which are considered as a pivotal moment in the history of lgbt rights.
Most lgbt people will have attended at least one Pride march or event. Some people, like myself, know from experience that a Pride event doesn’t organise itself, it needs a group of dedicated volunteers to plan ahead and co-ordinate. It was the same in 1969 just a month after the Stonewall Riots took place, and in the first recognised Pride March that took place on its first anniversary in 1970.
One name which often leaps out as a major pioneer in the organisation of these two events, and in shaping the development of Pride today, is Brenda Howard (1946-2005).
Brenda was present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and co-ordinated the rally one month later. At that time there was no thought of an annual event. That idea seems to have been first suggested by members of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organisations. It was they who formed the first organising committee of a march which they would hold annually in June as near as possible to the actual anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
But it wasn’t called Pride. That name didn’t start to be applied to the event until 1971. Brenda Howard is credited as being one of several people who first popularised the word in relation to the Stonewall march, which was called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, named after the street on which the Stonewall Riots took place.
One Pride element we can be sure was the brainchild of Brenda is Pride Week, a series of events that lasted several days around the Pride march. Brenda’s idea was the spark that ignited a chain of events which have travelled around the world.
Think about it for a while. The first Pride Weeks were a way for the lgbt community to come together to discuss, socialise and, yes, celebrate their existence in the face of homophobia. Today these Pride weeks involve everything from lgbt rights conferences to pool parties, from marches to high-brow art installations. There doesn’t even have to be a Pride march to go with it, as can be seen in the creation of events such as the British Film Institute’s LGBT Film Festival.
From Pride Week the lgbt community recognised a sense of togetherness which over the decades has also come to recognise its own diversity. So now we have Bi Pride, Bear Pride, Leather Pride, and many more. And not only that, but non-lgbt communities have started to use the format – Pagan Pride, Black Pride. Brenda, unintentionally, created a global phenomenon.
From Pride Week the lgbt community also began to acknowledge the struggles and discrimination of their predecessors. That is the whole reason for the first marches – to remember the Stonewall Riots and the people who stood up for their rights. This developed into a need to protect and reveal the heritage of the lgbt community, to discover those struggles that have been forgotten yet can reveal so much about how the modern community evolved. From individual cities and regions the importance of these lgbt histories and heritage led to the creation of LGBT History Month.
From Pride Week the lgbt community showed the world that there is nothing wrong in celebrating your identity or your diversity. The USA in particular has embraced the diversity of its nation – Asia-Pacific Heritage Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage Month, and others.
While I have said very little about Brenda Howard’s life, I hope I have given you some idea of how great a legacy she left behind after her untimely death from cancer, also on this day, in 2005, the same day as the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
In time I hope that the name of Brenda Howard will be used in the same breath as other pioneers of the modern lgbt community like Harvey Milk, Gilbert Baker (the designer of the Rainbow Pride flag) and Tom Waddell (founder of the Gay Games).