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What is Gay Pride, and why is it important?

History hasn't always been kind to gay people. The 1950s and 1960s were particularly oppressive. Just being seen touching another man in public could be cause for arrest, and homosexuality was considered a mental illness. The shame and humiliation that was attached to being gay made it nearly impossible for most gay people to be out, which meant they lived in constant fear of being discovered. If someone found out, they'd lose their jobs, their homes, and their families. Sometimes they'd actually be institutionalized. So much for the love of human kindness.

In New York City, the Mafia ran gay bars. Gay bars could not get liquor licenses because the State Liquor Authority considered gay bars to be disreputable. The mafia could get licenses, and they would bribe the cops to stay away. It was also a good cover for organized crime, so benefits were mutual.

Gay people had their idols. Many were divas of the silver screen, like Judy Garland. Gay men identified with her for many reasons: her roles in specific movies, like "Wizard of Oz", in which a young girl finds she had the power all along, to "A Star is Born", where her character engages in impersonation, something all gay men are forced to do before they come out. She also married two gay men. It is not uncommon for gay men to marry women, because society expects them to, and because it's an excellent cover if you don't want people to know you are gay.

In 1969, Mayor John Lindsey started a crackdown on homosexuals, in an effort to "clean up" the city. He ordered the police in NYC to systematically harass gay bars and their patrons, and they would storm into the bars and interrogate patrons, or infiltrate under cover. Men would often be arrested, and their names would be published in newspapers, effectively outing them.

Judy Garland died on June 22, 1969. Her death sent many in the gay community into mourning. Her memorial service was held on June 27 in Manhattan. In the wee hours of June 28, 4 undercover police officers, 2 men and 2 women, infiltrated the Stonewall Inn, where drag queens were celebrating Judy's life and mourning her death. There were 205 people in the bar. The undercover officers were there to gather "evidence" to be used to close the bar permanently. They called the 6th Precinct for backup. Some bar patrons were arrested on questionable charges, handcuffed, and very publicly forced into police cars.

That was the last straw for the gay community. The raid did not go as planned. As patrons were being rounded up for arrest, a crowd grew outside the bar. It quickly became a mob, and violence broke out. Officers were assaulted, and the police wagon was overturned. Rocks and bottles were thrown at the officers. They ended up barricading themselves inside the bar, waiting for assistance. Someone squirted lighter fluid into the bar and set it alight, forcing the police to evacuate.

More cops came to rescue the endangered officers. More confrontations occurred, but by 4:00 AM, the streets were basically cleared. The police were angry and humiliated because they had been beaten by a bunch of "fairies".

The next night was a night of rioting as gay people met at the Stonewall. Police who came to keep order were attached and forced back. Gay people were done with being harrassed, and they would no longer put up with it.

The gay rights movement had been ignited.

So, the gay rights movement was born in violence, when an oppressed people stood up for themselves, because no one else would stand up for them.

The movement spread. Other riots had happened in other cities before Stonewall, but now the protests became organized and much more successful. Rather than being ashamed, gay people began to be proud of who they were, and of what they could accomplish.

To mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, parades were organized in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. The movement continued to grow, and today, there are pride events in most major cities across the world.

We've come a long way, from our shame-filled, oppressed past to today. We've won some rights. The right to marry is one of the most important. Before marriage equality, LGBT people in long term relationships could be denied visitation rights when their loved ones were in the hospital, and could be excluded by their loved one's family if he or she should die. Wills, if there were any, could be contested. I saw this personally. A friend of mine was prevented by his partner's family from visiting him in the hospital where he was dying from cancer, and once he died, he was not allowed to attend the funeral. A few days after the funeral, he returned home to find that the locks had been changed and he was no longer able to even retrieve his personal items from the home they had shared for more than 20 years, because his partner's mother was a rabid homophobe who never accepted their relationship.

Virginia even had a law, 20-45.2 of the Code of Virginia, which stated that: "A marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited. Any marriage entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created by such marriage shall be void and unenforceable."

We can still be fired for being gay in most places. We can be denied housing. We can be denied healthcare and other services. But we will continue to fight until we are fully equal. We are proud. And as our slogan says, "We're here, we're queer, get used to it."

That, my dears, is Gay Pride, and that is why it is important.

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