The History Of LGBTQIA+ Pride | From Stonewall To Street Party

Gay Pride Month is coming up in the United States and across the world, and that means it’s the perfect time to look back on all the LGBTQIA+ folks who protest walked so we could run. In 2021, we’re used to dazzling displays of rainbow flags and pride events littering the entire month of June, but it wasn’t always like that for our queer brothers, sisters, and gender-neutral siblings. 

Here we discuss Pride Month's origins, including the U.S. Stonewall, the Toronto Raids, and the important events that followed. Read on to find out about LGBTQIA+ heritage!

The History Of Gay Pride And The Gay Rights Movement

Before the colourful identities of the LGBTQ community (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer for the uninitiated) blossomed into what it is today, pride celebrations were often sparsely attended gatherings met with protest around the world. 

So, what was the spark to the rainbow-coloured flame of today’s modern gay rights movement? Across North America, two independent yet equally spirited events that paved the way: the Stonewall Riots and Canada’s decriminalization of homosexual acts.

Canada’s Pride Milestones

One day before the first brick was thrown at Stonewall on May 14, 1969, Canada decriminalized homosexual acts between adults. While this was a giant leap forward for the Canadian members of the LGBTQIA+, there was still a long way to go.

Two years later, in 1971, the first round of protests took place in Ottawa and Vancouver. A crowd of about a hundred men and women marched in support of a 13-page document entitled “We Demand”. It detailed a list of specific changes necessary to create an equitable society for queer folk in Canada, including removing all legislation targeted at discriminating against the gay community.

Over the next forty years, the gay rights movement slowly crept across Canada. This resulted in the gradual awakening to equal treatment and the addition and removal of discriminatory laws. Here are some of the major highlights in Canadian Pride History:

  • 1973 - The First Pride Week: Several Canadian cities pioneered their first Pride Weeks, which consisted of art shows, a dance, picnic, and several films and documentary screenings alongside a rally for gay rights. This was a watershed moment for the movement in Canada and introduced the idea of “Gay Pride” to the public.

  • 1974 - The Brunswick Four: Four lesbians were ejected from the Brunswick Tavern, arrested, and harassed by 8 police officers. This event was widely publicized and inspired a more militant movement.

  • 1977 - Canadian Immigration Act Amended: Lawmakers amended the Canadian Immigration Act by lifting a prohibition on queer men migrating to Canada.

  • 1979 & 1980 - First Pride Festivals: After much turmoil, Montreal, Vancouver, and Edmonton host their first-ever Pride Festivals in their cities.

  • 1981 - Operation Soap/The Toronto Raids: Local Toronto police stormed four bathhouses and arrested hundreds of men. This triggered an eruption of protests and rallies, which later led to the birth of Toronto Pride.

  • 1990s - Sex Garage Raid: While Stonewall was catalytic for LGBTQIA+ folks in the United States, The Sex Garage Raid ignited the hearts of Canadians in Montreal. Police raided this after-hours establishment and forced 400 patrons to evacuate, only to bar them from leaving with an overwhelming police presence. Customers were verbally assaulted, beaten, and arrested. A woman named Linda Hammond managed to photograph the event, which led to widespread protests occurring for days after.

  • 1990s - Legislation Changes: Over the next few years, the City of Toronto formalized the Lesbian and Gay Pride Day, Federal Court lifted the military ban on LGBTQIA+ members. The Charter was then changed to guaranteed equal rights and protections. Laws were also amended to allow same-sex couples the same freedoms and benefits as common-law spouses.

  • 2005 - Same-sex Couples Allowed To Marry: Canada legalized same-sex marriages, making them the fourth country to do so. 

  • 2013 - Bill C-279: Human rights protections were extended to trans and queer folk.

  • 2017 - Bill C-16: Protections were further expanded to cover all forms of gender identity and expression. As a result, discrimination based on a person’s gender or sexuality were criminalized, alongside hate speech and crimes. 

  • The Stonewall Riots

    When talking about Pride Month in the United States, it all started on the night of the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969. But before we jump into the annals of gay pride history, it’s important to establish context.

    In 1969, New York City had laws designed to police and punish members of the LGBTQIA+. Men (or male-presenting people) were arrested for doing drag, while women (or female-presenting people) were apprehended for wearing “non-feminine” clothing. It was commonplace for the police to raid bars and other well-known haunts for the LGBTQ community. 

    On the night of June 28, a police raid turned into a riot when they crossed the threshold into the Stonewall Inn, a haven for gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals living in the West Village of New York. Stonewall Inn was owned by a local mafia family, and the police would give them a warning before starting a raid – but not this time. 

    Transgender, gay, and lesbian patrons and individuals were harassed and manhandled, but they fought back. Black transgender women fronted this rebellion, historically “throwing the first brick” at the cops. This event fully culminated in what was later known as the Stonewall Uprising, which stretched out for five days afterward. 

    Anniversary Of The Stonewall Riots - Gay Liberation Day & Freedom Day

    In June 1970, one year after the Stonewall, members of the LGBTQ community in New York City and the rest of the world were roused to action. There were no giant floats or pride parades – instead, there were protests spearheading the gay liberation movement. 

    The first Gay Pride March/Christopher Street Liberation Day started with a meagre hundred people or so, but it slowly stretched into a crowd of thousands. At its longest, the marchers occupied a whopping 15 blocks, which shook the nation. 

    This event made history and set a precedent for LGBTQ communities all around the United States, with folks like Frank Kameny (often referred to as one of the most significant figures for American gay rights) and Ellen Broidy (an organizer of the first Gay Pride March) at the helm. Eight short years later in San Francisco, the rainbow flag became the standard of Pride events and Pride marches in cities everywhere – unifying closeted and silenced groups under one banner. 

    The Aftermath Of Christopher Street

    As the events of June 1969 went down in history as a turning point for LGBTQ people, the world started waking up to the gay rights movement. In the 1980s, after the spread of AIDS, Pride parades became the mecca for social and political activist groups to push for a more inclusive world, free from hate crimes and discrimination against those who are merely expressing who they are. 

    But while people were coming around to it, the fight wasn’t over yet. 

    LGBTQ Rights And Legislation In The United States

    Thirty years after the first Pride March in 1970, President Bill Clinton made "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month" official in 2000. This was accompanied by laws that made workplace discrimination based on sexuality illegal – honouring the Stonewall Riot and spurring community organizers to fight for more inclusive cities and communities. 

    A few years later, President Barack Obama expanded the scope of LGBT Pride, changing its name to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. Then, in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states –  a huge step forward for lesbian and gay couples everywhere. With this spurt of pro-LGBTQIA+ support from the government, the Pride parade of yesteryear has become less a political march and more a celebration of diversity. 

    The Pride Parade Of Today | LGBTQIA+ Rights

    The LGBTQIA+ community has walked a long path from the era of shakedowns and raids, and modern Pride Parades reflect that. But while today’s celebrations seem to be more party than protest, politics hasn't taken the backseat. Instead, local governments, corporations, and massive crowds come together to celebrate how far they’ve come while still advocating for progress.

    In short, the progress humanity has made toward building a more loving and inclusive world does not mean we’ve forgotten about the efforts of queens and queers everywhere. On the contrary, our street parties and massive rallies stand on the shoulders of everyone who came before us, and we wouldn’t have today’s Pride without the first brick flung at Stonewall.

    Wear Your Pride

    The gay rights movement in the last 50+ years has paved the path for folks of all gender identities, sexualities, and preferences – and that means gender-affirming gear is more easily accessible than ever. If learning about Pride’s turbulent history has inspired you to take the next step on your journey, check out our product page to see what we’ve got on offer!