Honouring the Stonewall Riots: Pride's Annual Reminder of Struggle and Progress
Glitter, splashes of colour and partying are often the first things that come to mind when we think of modern Pride events. Whether it’s shops donning their annual rainbow flags or parades up and down the country, it is a time of year that a lot of people look forward to - a celebration while proudly showing who we are.
It almost seems easy to forget that Pride started with a riot 54 years ago in New York City, and that it is still surrounded by danger and rebellion in other areas of the world today. The catalyst to the gay rights movement in America, the UK, and around the world started when police raided queer bar, The Stonewall Inn, in the early hours of June 28, 1969 prompting six days of protests and violent clashes between law enforcement and the public. The one year anniversary in June 1970 saw the first ‘gay liberation march’ which ran through the streets of New York with the UK seeing its first Pride March in London in 1972.
While gay rights have come a long way in the UK since the Stonewall Riots more than half a century ago, it’s important to remember that queer people across the globe continue to face persecution. 12 countries continue to impose the death penalty for gay people according to the Human Dignity Trust, a UK-based non-profit organisation which uses law to defend the human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the globe. People living in Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen face execution for “private, consensual same-sex sexual activity”. In the present, the death penalty remains a “legal possibility” for those living in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, UAE and Uganda.
A shocking 66 jurisdictions around the world criminalise private, consensual same-sex sexual activity; these areas of jurisdiction almost explicitly target men. Meanwhile, 41 countries criminalise consensual same-sex acts between women with laws against lesbianism, same-sex relationships and so-called ‘gross indecency’. According to the Human Dignity Trust, 14 countries also criminalise the gender identity and/or expression of transgender people using so-called ‘cross-dressing’, ‘impersonation’ and ‘disguise laws’. This doesn’t include various other countries which target gender-diverse people with other laws, including those that criminalise same-sex sexual activity.
Of course, persecution against the LGBTQ+ community is not confined to just these countries as it is still present in areas of the world where we openly celebrate Pride - from attempts at archaic anti-trans legislation in parts of America, counter-protesters at Pride events globally, to the debate around trans rights almost constantly on UK media outlets and the UK Government’s move to redefine sex within the Equality Act earlier this year (to name but a few).
At home in Wales, a survey of LGBTQ+ residents commissioned by the Welsh Government in 2020 to support its LGBTQ+ Action Plan showed that many continue to face significant barriers in everyday life. Of those who took part in the survey, 78% of respondents said they avoided being open about their sexual orientation or gender for fear of a negative reaction from others. Meanwhile, almost half of those who responded (46%) said they had experienced verbal harassment in the year prior to the survey. In its action plan, which was published in February of this year, the Welsh Government said:
“Such findings show the distressing experiences LGBTQ+ people continue to go through in Wales today and demonstrate how far we still have to go to achieve equality, and for people to feel happy and safe by just simply being who they are.”
It is clear that Pride is still as important now as it was more than 50 years ago, both for queer people in the UK to feel at home and express themselves freely, but also for the freedom of LGBTQ+ people in other countries who are killed and imprisoned just for being themselves.