When Pride Month rolls around each June, revelers take to the streets of America’s major cities for parades that capture the LGBTQ imagination, with empowering and subversive displays of pageantry, theatrics and, of course, rainbows. That rings especially true this year, which marks 50 years since the pivotal Stonewall riots.
But amid the procession of branded floats, from Starbucks and HSBC to Salesforce and IBM, it’s easy to gloss over the fact that early marches weren’t mere parties; they were brave acts of political resistance at a time when living an openly queer life in the United States was illegal in almost every respect.
This year, don’t end your Pride plans when the parades wrap up and the bars shut down. As you travel across town or across the country for the festivities, here’s how you can retrace the steps of queer and trans pioneers, dive into little-known chapters of LGBTQ history and reconnect with Pride’s radical roots.
Visit monuments to LGBTQ liberation.
Fifty years ago, simply not wearing “gender-appropriate” clothing was cause for arrest in New York City, and unrelenting police raids of gay bars provoked riots, most notably the five-day demonstration at the mafia-owned Stonewall Inn in 1969. In honor of this defining queer-liberation milestone, President Barack Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument in 2016 — the first LGBTQ historic site ever declared a U.S. national monument. Honor this legendary act of resistance with a visit to the monument, a unit within Christopher Park in Greenwich Village, where NYC Pride will host “Rally: Stonewall 50 Commemoration” (June 28). Across the street, the original Stonewall Inn — still a privately owned bar — is one of several dozen designated historical landmarks throughout the country.
Retrace the footsteps of pioneers.
Few of those common “National Historic Landmark” signs for tourists sprinkled across cities document the legacy of queer pioneers and activists. This is why historians have mapped out walking tours that reveal little-known stories. The first initiative of its kind, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project populates an interactive map with more than 100 points of interest; its series of themed, self-guided itineraries include “The Harlem Renaissance,” “Transgender History” and “Lesbian Life Before Stonewall.” In Washington, a volunteer-run nonprofit offers downloadable brochures for themed Rainbow History walks, complete with helpful maps and detailed blurbs that illuminate the significance of locations around the city’s quadrants. And in the Golden State, a professional guide leads the long-running Cruisin’ the Castro walking tours through San Francisco’s most iconic “gayborhood.” They chronicle the journey of the community in the city from the California Gold Rush to the AIDS epidemic.
Join identity-affirming festivals and marches.
Because marquee Pride parades tend to center on gay men who are cisgender — a term for those whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth — activists have created events for people who often get marginalized within the LGBTQ community. The San Francisco Trans March (June 28) begins one of the largest gatherings of trans and gender-nonconforming people on the planet, with an afternoon of festivities at Dolores Park before the 45-minute march, led by a classic streetcar. Neither corporate floats nor sponsors are permitted at the NYC Dyke March (June 29), a protest-minded demonstration with roots in Washington, where more than 20,000 lesbians marched in 1993. Spilling into Independence Day weekend, San Diego’s feminist She Fest (July 6) hosts a day of queer-women-focused workshops, concerts and even speed dating.
Check out art and history exhibitions.
Although LGBTQ themes in art and history have only recently received serious consideration in the nation’s mainstream cultural institutions, Pride Month is influencing museums from coast to coast. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History curates a selection of artifacts that go beyond the famous riots in “Illegal to Be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall” (June 21 through 2020). The Brooklyn Museum presents the works of more than two dozen artists born after 1969 in “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall” (through Dec. 8). The roving Museum of Trans Hirstory & Art brings trans and non-binary perspectives to the fore at the Oakland Museum of California with “Queer California: Untold Stories” (through Aug. 11). And, of course, special events and exhibits populate the calendar at queer venues such as the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art in Manhattan and the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco.
Read to resist at LGBTQ libraries and book clubs.
Book clubs and independent libraries have played a largely unacknowledged but significant role in the fight for civil rights. And in an era when LGBTQ-specific education is prohibited in public schools in at least six states, queer reading groups thrive as incubators for change and rare sober social venues.
The stalwart Gerber/Hart Library and Archives in Chicago and Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis are two of the best-established LGBTQ libraries, and they host book groups that cover a variety of topics and genres. Activist-minded booksellers such as Bluestockings in New York and Moon Palace Books (known for an active non-binary-focused group), also in Minneapolis, host recurring LGBTQ reading clubs and Pride-themed events. And individually organized lit meetups happen monthly in virtually every sizable city — from Austin to Seattle to Portland, Maine — keeping the spirit alive long after the body glitter has washed into the gutter.
A checklist for non-LGBTQ folks who attend Pride:
“Allies” often show up at Pride to celebrate, socialize and protest with LGBTQ friends and family. Here are a few tips for cisgender-, straight-identified people planning on attending.
- Allies are guests at these events intended for LGBTQ people. Act respectfully and take a step back to create physical space.
- Avoid assumptions about identity and pronouns. Politely ask for a person’s preferred pronouns. Simply do not make comments of a sexual nature.
- Keep your hands to yourself: Pride events are meant to be safe spaces. Don’t touch anyone who has not given you explicit permission.
- Ask before snapping a photo: Pride is not a circus or tourist destination.
- Bring cash for tips and merchandise: Drag performers, go-go dancers, bartenders and cash-only vendors often rely heavily on Pride Month income, so bring plenty of dollar bills and tip generously. When tipping performers, it’s polite to hold the bill out for collection (unless told to do otherwise), and avoid the faux pas of awkwardly asking a queen for change.
- Do your research and learn by actively listening: Read up on the issues before arriving and show support by paying attention.