By Makena Huey
From the initial riot that inspired June’s Pride month parades to the protests supporting Black Lives Matter, both had the same goal: ending the police brutality of a marginalized community. Current Black activists are echoing the demands of the original Black activists who advanced the LGBTQ rights movements just over 50 years ago.
Pride began not as a colorful parade but as a violent protest against police brutality.
Local organizations have expressed similar statements of solidarity and intersectionality.
“As the nation rages and mourns in the wake of stolen Black lives, I can’t help but reflect on our shared experiences,” Fernando Zweifach López, executive director of San Diego Pride, wrote in a June 1, 2020 website post. “Pride was a riot against legal state-sanctioned police violence long before it was a celebration.”
Sodomy was illegal in California until 1975, and people who did not conform to what was considered appropriate sexual behavior were often arrested and harassed, according to Lillian Faderman’s “LGBTQ in San Diego: A History of Persecution, Battles, and Triumphs.”
“The intimidation of the gay community by the police in the 1950s and through much of the ‘60s was really disgusting,” said Faderman, an LGBTQ historian based in San Diego. “… Gay people were presumptive criminals, constantly harassed by the police.”
The LGBTQ community adopted several tactics that the Black community utilized during the ‘50s and ‘60s, including sit-ins, and Faderman said progress would not have been possible without the peaceful and non-peaceful protests of the civil rights movement.
“If peaceful protests had worked in those days, I’m sure there would have been peaceful protests but … it really took young gay people to say, ‘We are not having any of this anymore,’” Faderman said in a phone interview. “It took their anger to finally call attention to the way the gay community was abused.”
One of the primary catalysts of the LGBTQ rights movement and modern pride parades, according to CNN, was the Stonwall Riots, which began June 28, 1969 after New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn — a gay club in Greenwich Village, New York — and arrested 13 people. Infuriated by the police harassment and other forms of descrimination, customers and community members remained outside the bar and began throwing objects at the police. This raid sparked six consecutive days of violent protests against oppression and police brutality.
On June 28, 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, thousands of people participated in the country’s first gay pride parade. Located in Manhattan, this event was known as Christopher Street Liberation Day, according to www.History.com.
“What the pride parades were really all about was commemorating gay people not being victims, standing up, and it’s not that it was glorifying violence but it was saying, ‘This is our pain, we’re crying out,” Faderman said.
San Diego’s first official pride parade occurred in 1975, one year after a local sergeant reportedly denied activists a permit and threatened arrest. This event was preceded by Gay Liberation Front’s “gay-in” at Presidio park in 1974, the city’s first gay protest in 1971 outside of the San Diego Police Headquarters, and the May Company protest in 1974, according to Faderman.
“There was a general consensus that they were sick and tired of laying low and hiding,” said Ken Selnick, archivist at Lambda Archives of San Diego, who describes the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the police at the time as “contentious.”
Eventually, the San Diego police began to lose credibility and several LGBTQ officers served as agents of change, even attending pride parades as a display of support, Selnick said.
“It was certainly polar opposite from the oppressive nature of it back in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Selnick said.
However, despite decades of anti-bias training, the LGBTQ+ community still faces discriminatory treatment from police. Black LGBTQ people are particularly at risk—they are three times more likely to experience excessive force by police than non-Black LGBTQ people, as reported by National Coalition of Antiviolence Programs in 2017.
LGBTQ individuals and activists have long debated whether police officers, especially those in uniform, belong at pride marches. In 2020, San Diego Pride announced that police officers would no longer have a contingent in the parade.
“There has been a police contingent marching with us — not surveilling us, not intimidating us but marching with us — and I think it’s great,” Faderman said.
Reflecting on the country’s current protests against violence at the hands of police, Selnick said he sees similarities between the fight for African American rights and the fight for LGBTQ rights.
“I see a lot of parallels, but the people in each community don’t see how much they’re connected to each other, and it’s almost like they’re competing silos for equality, and there hasn’t been a truly unified response and message,” Selnick said.
As the Black Trans Lives Matter movement has gained traction, both communities are coming together to support people with this combined identity. More people are fighting for Black trans people after decades of Black trans people, including Marsha P. Johnson at Stonewall Inn, fighting for civil rights.
— Makena Huey was the intern for San Diego Uptown News in summer 2020. You can follow her current writing at www.makenahuey.com.