50 Moments That Defined LGBTQIA+ Pride
Part civil demonstration and part triumphant celebration, Pride turns 50 this June.
It’s been 50 years since riots broke out at Stonewall Inn and sparked the modern LGBTQIA+ rights movement. Police had long been in the habit of raiding gay bars, but in the early morning hours of Saturday June 28, 1969, crowds gathered at the Manhattan watering hole to fight back, igniting a firestorm of determination to end decades of oppression against the queer community. Pride marches in New York City and around the world commemorate the June events, drawing millions together for what have become part civil demonstration and part triumphant celebration.
In the half-century since Pride became a rallying force for the LGBTQIA+ community, we’ve made strides — in culture, politics, nearly every aspect of life — that those who resisted that night may never have imagined. From landmark legislative victories to heights of visibility that seemed impossible just years before they weren’t, the march toward progress continues to barrel forward. Obstacles have only proven to strengthen our resolve even as they try to stall our momentum. Pride itself has come a long way, too, from grassroots protests at odds with the cops to city-sanctioned parades marked by corporate-sponsored floats and drinks.
Stonewall 50 and WorldPride will converge in New York City this year for what’s expected to be the largest Pride celebration in history. Before diving into the fray (or observing, vicariously, from afar), a little bit of herstory is in order. Our fore drag mothers and queer pioneers didn’t pave the way for us to merely wave mini flags in the dark about what it all means. In order to see where we’re going, it helps to understand where we’ve been. Here are 50 moments that have defined the meaning of Pride. Onward, sisters!
On the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a small march begins in front of the historic Manhattan bar and swells to span 15 blocks as it heads to Central Park. Called Christopher Street Liberation Day, it was the start of what would become the LGBT Pride March. Sister events in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco also kick off in 1970.
Pride marches were spreading around the country and across the globe by the following year, including Boston, Dallas, London, and Paris.
Frank Kameny, often referred to as the father of the gay rights movement, becomes the first openly gay candidate for U.S. Congress in 1971. Several years before Stonewall, he picketed the White House to protest his dismissal from the Army due to his homosexuality. He wages many battles in the ensuing years, including to defeat sodomy laws (which wouldn’t be struck down nationwide until 2003).
Kamney also works to convince the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which it votes to do in 1973.
That same year, Lambda Legal becomes first legal organization founded in support of LGBT civil rights.
Marsha P. Johnson, who may have actually thrown the first brick at Stonewall, is immortalized in Andy Warhol’s portfolio of screen prints called “Ladies and Gentlemen” (1975). The New York Times recently included Johnson in its “overlooked” series of retrospective obituaries.
A group affectionately self-identified as ‘Dykes on Bikes’ make their first appearance heading up San Francisco’s Pride March in 1976. The roar of their motorcycles has long heralded the start of Pride marches around the world since.
Harvey Milk becomes the first openly gay man elected to office in California in 1978, as San Francisco city supervisor. His assassination months later galvanizes the gay rights movement.
Gilbert Baker designs the first Pride flag later that same year, inspired by Harvey Milk to create a symbol of pride for the community.
The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979 draws around 100,000 participants.
Armistead Maupin begins his series of deliciously soapy novels chronicling queer lives in San Francisco. The first five appear in serial installments in local newspapers from 1978 through 1987. The remaining four are published as novels over the next 25 years. A miniseries adaptation starring Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis, begun in 1993, will continue with a sequel debuting on Netflix June 7.
1986 marks the dawn of a new era, in which Lady Gaga is alive on Earth.
The same year, New York Price has its first Dance on the Pier, which has grown into a massive party following the march, with headliners that have included Cher, Janet Jackson, and Ariana Grande. This year, Grace Jones will be throwing shapes on Saturday night; Sunday’s headliner has yet to be announced (Madonna would be an educated guess).
People magazine declares Divine (né Harris Glenn Milstead) “drag queen of the century” upon his death in 1988. A longtime muse of John Waters who’d just made an indelible star turn as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray that same year, Divine’s legacy continues to shape the future of drag.
Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris Is Burning (1990) introduces the world to the underground Harlem ballroom scene. Madonna may have brought ‘voguing’ to the mainstream, but the trans women of color and drag queen mothers immortalized in this film are the form’s true masters. They’re also responsible for a dictionary’s worth of queer vernacular popular to this day. “Now you wanna talk about reading? Let’s talk about reading.” Watch and learn, children.
The first Black Pride, specifically for African-American LGBTQ people, was held in Washington, D.C., in 1991, leading to the formation of groups dedicated to fostering the queer Black community around the country.
L.A. Law, an NBC nighttime soap, airs the first same-sex kiss on American prime time in 1991 when two lady lawyers lock lips. Some advertisers dropped the show, but viewer response was pretty tame — the show was well known for breaking taboos.
RuPaul rockets to fame with his debut single “Supermodel (You Better Work)” in 1993, inspiring sensitive boys everywhere to sneak into their mother’s closet and try on some heels. The following year, he becomes a face of MAC and the first drag queen to land a major cosmetics campaign.
Thousands of decked-out queens participate in the first annual Drag March across downtown Manhattan in 1994. Sparked in response to the Pride committee’s proposed ban on leather and drag for the 25h anniversary main event, the Drag March has become a free-wheeling, anything-goes pregame on the Friday of Pride weekend. The idea came from Gilbert Baker, designer of the first Pride flag.
The year 1995 in cinema becomes synonymous with gay rights when Hollywood gives us such queer, camp, and gay-friendly classics as To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, Clueless, Showgirls, and Party Girl.
Rent opens on Broadway, chronicling the lives of young downtown artists suffering from HIV/AIDS and christening a new generation of theater geeks who style their hair like Mimi and argue over who’s Mark and who’s more of a Roger.
Ellen DeGeneres comes out on the cover of Time in 1997, shortly before the character on her eponymous series also comes out, becoming the first lead on a prime time network to do so.
Will & Grace premieres in the fall of 1998.
Bill Clinton becomes the first president to declare June Pride Month, in 1999 and 2000. (But let’s not look back though rainbow-colored glasses; he also ushered in both ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the Defense of Marriage Act.)
Natasha Lyonne cements her status as a queer icon with 1999’s But I’m a Cheerleader. (“When I say I’m not gay, it doesn’t mean that I’ve never tried sleeping with women,” the Russian Doll ster told The New York Times in 2016. “Of course I have. I’m not a dumb-dumb.”)
Rome hosts the inaugural WorldPride in 2000, organized by an international coalition of Pride groups. This year New York will host WorldPride to coincide with Stonewall 50 in what may be the biggest, gayest public gathering ever on Earth.
Dawson’s Creek airs the first romantic gay kiss between men on television in the season 3 finale, when Jack kisses his crush Ethan. “There had been joke kisses, but there was never a romantic kiss between two characters, let alone two high-schoolers,” producer Greg Berlanti told Vanity Fair in an oral history of the series.
That same year, Hillary Clinton becomes the first First Lady to march in New York Pride.
Showtime premieres Queer as Folk in 2000 and The L Word in 2004, the first drama series of their kind focused solely on the lives of gay men and women, depicting queer-specific issues and explicit sex frankly and honestly. The L Word will return to Showtime for a sequel series later this year.
The Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas strikes down sodomy laws, decriminalizing homosexual conduct nationwide.
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy invites five professional gays to make men of the disheveled starting in 2003. Bravo’s groundbreaking reality series grants viewers an unprecedented look at actual gay men (as opposed to scripted characters) relating to each other and their straight subjects. Netflix reboots the series 15 years later with a new Fab Five and way more tears. Like, who-broke-the-Hoover-Dam levels of tears.
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The first annual Trans Day of Action assembles in Washington Square Park in 2005. Organized by the Audre Lorde Project’s TransJustice arm, the event champions the city’s communities of color and gender non-conforming.
Alison Bechdel publishes her graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic to critical and popular acclaim in 2006. Her story of growing up queer with a closeted gay father would eventually be adapted into a Tony-winning musical that bowed on Broadway in 2015.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Reverend Dr. Troy Perry become the first religious figures to lead the New York Pride March as grand marshals in 2007. “We’re going to stand at the front in a united float with choruses from both our communities singing together,” Kleinbaum told The Village Voice.
RuPaul’s Drag Race premieres on Logo in 2009. A televised drag competition that’s Project Runway meets America’s Next Top Model, Drag Race has grown from a niche favorite into an Emmy-winning cultural juggernaut that’s launched the careers of more than 140 drag queens. Yes, we can say amen!
Marriage equality is passed in New York just days prior to the 2011 Pride March, where ecstatic crowds celebrate with signs thanking Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Frank Ocean becomes the first major hip-hop artist to come out, with a heartfelt missive on Tumblr in 2011. “It was my first love, it changed my life,” Ocean wrote of his relationship with a man that inspired several songs on his album Channel Orange.
NBA player Jason Collins comes out as gay in a 2013 interview with Sports Illustrated, becoming the first active athlete to do so in any major league American sport.
Laverne Cox becomes first transgender cover star of Time magazine in 2014 and serves as grand marshal of the NYC Pride March the same year.
SCOTUS rules in favor of marriage equality nationwide in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges on June 27, 2015. The ruling is based on the due process and equal protection clauses in the Constitution.
Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi serve as grand marshals of the New York City Pride March. We stan distinguished Tolkien gays!
Caitlyn Jenner comes out as transgender on the July 2015 cover of Vanity Fair. As a former Olympic gold medalist and co-head of the mega-famous Kardashian clan, Jenner’s visibility both pre- and post-transition is unprecedented. She offers a behind-the-scenes look at her personal journey on the E! series I Am Cait.
President Obama names the area around Stonewall Inn the country’s first national monument to LBGT rights on June 24, 2016.
Moonlight makes history in 2017 as the first LGBT film to win the Best Picture Oscar.
The NYC Pride March is televised for the first time ever on June 25, 2017, by local affiliate WABC-TV, and made available to stream online.
Danica Roem defeats 26-year incumbent Bob Marshall in Virginia in 2017 to become the first openly transgender person to be elected and serve in a state legislature. Oh, and she is also a literal rock star.
Pose, Ryan Murphy’s acclaimed series about the 1980s ballroom scene first captured in Paris Is Burning, premieres on FX on June 3, 2018. The series features the most-ever trans actors in series regular roles, offering a glimpse into the glamorous world of ballroom competitions and insight into the experience of queer and trans people of color. Season 2 will return June 11.
The National Football League and Major League Baseball march in New York City Pride for the first time ever in 2018, joining the NHL, NBA and other athletic associations already throwing their weight behind the cause.