Over the weekend Dublin held its annual Gay Pride Parade (also known as the LGBTQ Pride Parade). ). Held every summer on the last Saturday in June, it commemorates the Stonewall Riots in New York City in June 1969.
There are many myths surrounding that weekend – so it can difficult to separate fact from fiction.
There is an unproven urban legend that it was Judy Garland’s funeral which inspired the gay community to riot. That’s all very clichéd – but seeing as no-one can be certain of the exact events then it remains a theory.
What is not in dispute however, was that in 1969 being gay was illegal in New York (along with everywhere else in the US). Respectable establishments shunned the community – which congregated instead, in Mafia controlled bars. The Mob would pay the police, cash bribes to stay away. One such bar was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. It was a dive bar – a drinking den for poorer, seedier types – homeless, working class, poor. The crowd was a mix of people – gays, lesbians, trans people – of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Apparently at the end of June 1969, a police payoff had not been made. Therefore the response would be the usual – the ruination of some lives. The police could (and routinely did) arrest the attendees of the gay bar for public indecency (dancing with each other). They were subsequently named and shamed in the press – thereby losing their jobs and livelihoods. A terrifying means of keeping them under control.
On this evening however, New York was in the midst of a heatwave. When the paddy-wagons rolled up to the Stonewall ready for the usual arrests, there was trouble afoot. Perhaps it was the weather, perhaps it was Judy’s funeral, perhaps it was just the inevitable breaking point for a community which was shunned, hated and despised by mainstream society.
As the police raided the bar, the patrons did not respond meekly as was their usual response. A glass was thrown. And then all hell broke loose. Word got out to the street where throngs of gay people were congregated in Greenwich Village – an allegedly safe part of town. Within minutes hundreds of people had gathered outside the Stonewall Inn. As the police tried to shove the arrested bar patrons into the police cars, the crowds started jeering and throwing coins and stones at the cops. The NYPD quickly retreated into the bar and barricaded the doors, along with all the patrons. Word had spread – the crowds did not disperse. They began rioting on the streets, as more and more of them gathered outside the Stonewall.
This was unusual – gay people rioting? Weren’t gay people meant to be meek little victims?
The disquiet continued even after the arrival of the Tactical Police Unit.
After several hours of violence the riot dissipated – police cars had been overturned, fire hydrants unearthed, windows smashed, hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage had been caused.
The following two nights saw a repeat of the first night’s rioting. The Stonewall had been boarded up, but became the eye of the storm for the enraged community.
This night was the foundation of the modern American (and by extension Western) LGBT rights movement. Following the riots, new radical groups sprang up, which decided that toeing the line for a society which hated them, was no longer good enough. They started demanding equal rights and revolution. They founded groups and collectives to achieve their goals. The annual parade to commemorate the Stonewall riot, began in New York in June 1970 (attended by 1500 people). It quickly spread to other cities and has become an annual feature of the calendar for every town with a gay community.
Ireland’s first Pride Parade did not follow the usual calendar. We had our first Pride on Saturday March 19th 1983.The previous September a gay man – Declan Flynn – had been kicked to death in Fairview Park by a gang of youths who’d been enjoying an evening of ‘queer-bashing’.
They were given a suspended sentence for manslaughter in March. The judge in the case – Sean Gannon – stated that while what they had done could never be construed as murder, it was a bit naughty to brutally kill gay people. Thus the suspended sentence.
The culprits held a victory parade in the Park.
The gay community quite reasonably saw red. Despite still being criminals (until 1993) a protest march – against the leniency of the sentence – took place between Liberty Hall and Fairview Park. It was attended by over five hundred people – from gay groups to feminist groups to trade union groups. This was the first large scale protest for gay rights in Ireland.
(Poignantly, the footbridge near where Flynn was murdered was festooned with ribbons and balloons on May 23rd 2015 – the day after Ireland voted yes to legalise same sex marriage.)
Since then the date for Dublin Pride has moved to the last weekend of June – to coincide with the Stonewall commemoration. Weather wise it’s a better fit for Ireland than March.
Limerick (being a lady) has settled on mid July for our parade – we don’t want to compete with Dublin – how could they match our panache after all?
This year 50,000 people took to the streets of Dublin to party and to celebrate the community. The protest element has evaporated to a large extent in Ireland. It is a day for fun and unity and resolve.
It is also to send a message of solidarity to people in countries with more repressive regimes.
The corporate sponsors are out in force these days – with companies like Facebook, Tesco, Google, Proctor and Gamble, Dell, IBM, Smirnoff etc. proclaiming how down they are with the gays, and hiring big old floats to advertise their wares.
There appears to be a growing backlash in the community against the corporate takeover of Pride. These companies tend to be fair-weather friends. They are also profiting from their trade in countries which still holds the death penalty for homosexuality. But if they print some posters with rainbow flags in the logos then we are automatically we are meant to forget their underhand deeds. There is in fact a term for this cynical opportunism. It’s called ‘pinkwashing’.
They’d do well to remember that Stonewall was a riot.