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The Legacy of Stonewall: Is It Time to Queer Pride?

June 28, 2022

It’s pride month! A time where queer people get to celebrate being authentically themselves. But it wasn’t always parties and rainbows. The history of pride is violent.

The Stonewall Riots

On June 28, 1969, police targeted the Stonewall Inn for a routine raid. Officers would perform gender checks and arrest patrons dressing in drag as a common way to suppress the queer community. This time, the community fought back.

Led by Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender women of colour, riots ensued. Queer patrons resisted arrest, beer bottles were thrown, and protesters stood their ground. Over the next couple of days, queer people continued to show up at the Stonewall Inn. Protesters were beaten and exposed to tear gas, but they persisted.

A year later, on the first anniversary of the police raid, queer activists in New York organized Christopher Street Liberation Day. Hundreds of people marched through New York, and this inspired activists in other cities to do the same. Now, every year on the last Sunday of June, we celebrate Christopher Street Liberation Day with colourful pride parades.

The Legacy of Stonewall Lives On

Today, pride is more of a celebration than a march, but the discriminatory perspectives which led to the Stonewall Riots persist. It’s true that for the most part, White lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people are living in a whole new world. But what about rights for those who are racialized, transgender, or non-binary?

While transgender women led the Stonewall Riots, trans rights are lagging far behind the rest of the queer community, and the murder of transgender women is an epidemic. Throughout 2020, over 350 transgender people were murdered globally, with most being racialized women. Prior to 2021, it was the deadliest year on record for transgender people. Unfortunately, last year surpassed that record with 375 murders. Due to reporting difficulties, the actual number is certainly higher.

Even if transgender people escape murder, 77% will seriously consider suicide, and 45% will attempt it. Transgender people are two times more likely than LGB people to attempt suicide. We need to ask ourselves why.

Where We Stand Today

With all that said, of course we should celebrate how far we have come. In fact, it’s officially our first pride in Canada without the legalized practice of conversion “therapy,” which has been described as being akin to torture. So this pride month we can celebrate the creation of four new Criminal Code offences. Collectively, they ban the practice and promotion of conversion therapy, prevent minors from being sent abroad to receive these practices, and ban anyone from profiting from them.

This is another example of the queer community gaining more widespread acceptance, which is encouraging. But we must recognize that systemic discrimination persists.

Queering Pride

Maybe it’s time to queer the modern-day pride parade. In this context, queering means to consider something from a perspective that troubles it in some way. Yes, the double meaning of “queer” is fun, but the term is also fitting. Parades have become typical in Western countries, and they are an exciting way to celebrate progress. But we cannot leave the transgender community, those who fiercely fought for the rights of all queer people, behind.

Pride is not just a celebration; it is an act of defiance. Perhaps, in addition to celebrating, we should consider returning to the roots of Christopher Street Liberation Day: a march against oppression.