Why do you need a parade?
The question most often heard around Pride season is “why do you need a parade?”. Don’t let the glitz and glamour of the current celebratory floats fool you; the roots of the Pride parade are far darker than the current day celebrations bely. For the purposes of this article, we will be using the term “queer” as an all-inclusive term to encompass all the gender and sexuality spectrums of non-heterosexual, non-cisgendered persons.
The history of discrimination and danger inherent in being a queer - identifying person is long; in fact, in most countries, including North American countries, it was illegal to be in a same-sex relationship at one time or another. For this reason, 2SLGBTQI+ people often gathered in queer clubs and bars where they sought refuge and the safety to be themselves. These places tended to operate discreetly but were often raided by police, who arrested patrons and owners alike under the argument that homosexuals gathering, particularly where alcohol was served, was “disorderly”. In New York, the situation was no different; The New York State Liquor Authority would regularly subject these bars and clubs to raids until the regulations allowing such were overturned in 1966; a small victory for activists, as homosexuals could now be served alcohol, but it still remained illegal to engage in “gay behavior” (holding hands, kissing or dancing with someone of the same sex) in public, so the police continued to harass queer bars under the authority of that law.
One such bar was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Manhattan; a popular club for queer people within the city that allowed a safe space for drag queens, runaways, and homeless queer youths, and was one of the few queer clubs that still allowed dancing. The police raided the Stonewall Inn in the early hours of 28 June 1969 and began roughly hauling employees and patrons out of the bar, arresting 13 people and forcing people they suspected of wearing “gender-inappropriate clothing” (ie – someone the police identified as male wearing clothing designed for a female) into the bathrooms to confirm their sex; this sparked a riot involving hundreds of people, including the bar patrons and neighborhood residents. The protests that followed the initial riot, and lasted for five more days, involved thousands of people, and changed the course of queer rights in America; while there had been uprisings against this type of behavior before, the Stonewall rebellion received more attention than any other and is credited with beginning the gay rights movement in the US and North America, and some say the world.
The following year on 27 June 1970, marches were held in Chicago and San Francisco to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion; this was followed by a march from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park in New York while chanting “say it loud, gay is proud”, and a similar parade in Los Angeles, on 28 June 1970; these marches and parades became America’s first ever “gay pride parades”. The first unofficial Canadian Pride parade was held in Vancouver in 1978, with 1979 seeing the first official Canadian Pride marches held in Montréal and Vancouver.
While we, as Canadians, are fortunate to live in a time and place where Pride can be a “parade”, vice a march to battle for equal rights for all persons, the reasons for “why we need” a parade still exist, as the Pride parade symbolizes the recognition of a pinnacle moment in North American history that spurned governments to evaluate and revise discriminatory laws that oppressed the 2SLGBTQI+ community. The flagship event of any Pride celebration, we use the parade to honor the hardship once endured and the sacrifices made, to celebrate the progress Canada has made in equality for all, and to continue to think critically about how we can improve ourselves as a society to ensure we treat all people with respect and dignity – and, really, who doesn’t love a parade?
1. Canadian “Stonewall” events:
15 July 1990: Montréal police raid The Sex Garage’s After Party, igniting 36 hours of clashing between 2SLGBTQI+ members and the Montréal police – this is considered to be Montréal’s Stonewall, proving to be a turning point for queer rights activism within the province
2. , In 1965, Canadian Everett Klippert, living in the Northwest Territories, was investigated as part of an arson investigation; while the police determined Everett had no involvement in the fire, the interview resulted in him being sentenced to prison indefinitely as a “dangerous sex offender” after he admitted he was gay. The case ignited a firestorm that resulted in the decriminalization of homosexuality by Pierre Trudeau in 1969, and Klippert released from prison in 1971. Everette is known as the last Canadian to go to jail simply for being homosexual.