There’s nothing more personal than who you love, who you’re attracted to, and how you identify. Love is a beautiful and unique expression. And to be proud of the liberty to love whomever and however you want is to celebrate each person’s individuality.

But the collectivization of the concept of gender and sexuality still runs rampant. While it’s common to see gay couples holding hands on the streets of major cities, the controversy surrounding transgender individuals’ choice of bathroom remains.

The origins of the gay pride movement

The gay pride movement started precisely as a reaction to attacks on the freedom to define yourself. Its origins date back to June 28, 1970, with the Christopher Street Liberation Day parade covering 51 blocks of New York City, from Christopher Street to Central Park.

This parade was organized to remember what had happened a year before, on June 28, 1969, on the same Christopher Street, when the gay community of Greenwich Village revolted for the first time in response to police operations against gay bars in the neighborhood. 

At the time, gay Americans were marginalized, and the government actively campaigned against homosexuals, cracking down on their lifestyles and freedom of expression. None of this had stopped Greenwich Village from having a strong gay community. There was, however, a legal risk to operating LGBTQ+ community-oriented businesses there. Many establishments were managed outside the law, banking on corrupt relations with the authorities to keep functioning.

The story of the liberation of Christopher Street begins with one of these establishments: the Stonewall Inn.

Run by the New York mafia, the Stonewall Inn catered to Greenwich Village’s gay crowd. Homosexuals from all walks of life frequented the place, from drag queens to bankers inside Wall Street’s closet. The bar paid bribes to the police to keep running, but it was still perpetually on thin ice.

The bar was dark, and typically, when the police approached, the lights were turned on to alert the regulars. As cross-dressing was a crime, police officers often verified the gender of patrons by inspecting their genitals. Drag Queens identified as crossdressers were arrested and taken to the police station.

June 28, 1969, however, was different.

That fateful day, the police approach to the Stonewall Inn began late at night. (Bribes paid to the police ensured that operations were usually carried out earlier, before the busiest time in Greenwich Village.) The population of New York, however, had been pressuring the police to take a harder line against the city’s gay bars, and the police had decided to act.

The Stonewall Riots

The unusual action of the police, however, aroused a feeling of revolt in those who watched the operation. A crowd gathered outside the bar to stop the cops. They even started throwing coins at the Stonewall building, imitating the payment of bribes. The police were not used to reactions from the gay community and were not prepared to quell the backlash, which escalated and lasted all night. These events became known as the Stonewall Riots.

It was an act of defiance. The rioters fought for their individuality and the freedom to be who they were. That tireless push for individual expression continues to run strong within the gay community. It is the lasting legacy of June 28, 1969.

A year after the Stonewall Riots, Christopher Street Liberation Day was held. Nowadays, it’s replicated around the world with Pride parades.

There are still long steps to be taken, but there’s no doubt: Great achievements have been made on the liberation front. Whenever a man puts on a dress, wig, and makeup; every time a same-sex couple holds hands in public; every time someone dances Vogue; and every time someone does not conform to what is attempted to be imposed on them; those people are celebrating pride in being themselves.

That’s why gay pride is so special. It is resistance against those who do not love the freedom of others.

To see Learn Liberty’s take on Pride Month and another way government agencies have persecuted the gay community, see our video below:

A version of this article was originally published on the Students For Liberty website in Portuguese in 2017

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.