June 29, 2022

Marches, Riots, and Parades

Opinion
By Micah Mabey | June 18, 2022

Just over 50 years ago, there was a riot.

From the end of June through early July, 1969, this particular riot lasted six days.

The Stonewall Riots (or uprising, or rebellion, or simply Stonewall) were a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the gay community in New York City. These riots were in response to a police raid—which began in the early morning hours of June 28—that turned violent at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan.

Patrons of the Stonewall and other Village lesbian and gay bars plus neighborhood community members fought back. Knees were broken by police; Molotov cocktails were thrown by rioters. The riots are widely considered the watershed event that transformed the gay liberation movement and the 20th-century fight for LGBT rights in the United States.

Riot.

This one word carried the energy of a movement on its back.

Locally, here in Traverse City, you’ll notice that we don’t have a Pride parade full of glitz and glamour. There are no floats that took a year to design, no mascots handing out candy.
It’s not a procession or ceremony.

Of course, it’s not a riot either. The Grand Traverse Area LGBTQA+ community (and those people that travel far and wide just to be here) are not throwing bricks or breaking windows. There’s no defacing of property or hateful words being thrown out. But it’s not a party the whole time either. There is something to be said.

Through the queer-oriented and queer-led organization Up North Pride, northern Michigan doesn’t have a Pride parade or a riot. It has a Pride March.

A march is meant to be seen, to be heard. A march puts people in the streets with an organized purpose and a question to be answered. From point A to point B, the goal is to be as loud as you can. Own the streets. Make them hear you.

A year after the original Stonewall uprising, to mark the anniversary on June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. The movement only grew from there. The energy became radical. The messaging was clear and concise. It was time for a change.

The next year, Gay Pride marches took place in cities all across the world. Boston, Dallas, London, Paris, West Berlin, Stockholm—the list continues. The march in New York covered 51 blocks, from Christopher Street to Central Park. The march took less than half the scheduled time due to the excitement in the air, but also because of the fear of retaliation from those who decided it was up to them to disapprove.

Traverse City and Up North Pride’s first march came in 2015, 46 years after Stonewall. And it’s not even the newest one. Every year, new marches get added all across the country. Pride in Pikeville, Kentucky, started in 2019. 2020 saw a rise of online celebration for everyone across the globe. Chapel Hill and Carrboro, North Carolina, have partnered just this year to support a new Pride festival between the two towns.

Things are growing in America, and more people are asking to be heard and to not have to hide.

However, the future of Pride remains uncertain. The idea of queerness as a public celebration is still unfamiliar to parts of the world. A crackdown on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Cameroon has resulted in the arrest or assault by security forces of dozens of people last year, according to Human Rights Watch. In a recent incident, two transgender Cameroonians have been sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of “attempted homosexuality.”

Sudan repealed the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual acts just last year, but people can still be imprisoned. It is still illegal to be homosexual in Egypt, Afghanistan, Iran, Jamacia, Pakistan, Yemen, Zimbabwe, and at least 61 other countries across the globe.

However, while some countries are tightening their hold on the banning of homosexuality and homosexual acts, we are seeing the number of countries take steps forward. Mozambique and the Seychelles have scrapped anti-homosexuality laws in recent years. A court in 2018 in Trinidad and Tobago ruled that laws banning gay sex were unconstitutional. In 2016, activist Aaron Jackson of the philanthropic group Planting Peace even brought both the rainbow banner and the Trans Pride flag on a voyage to declare Antarctica “the world’s first LGBT-friendly continent.”

Though there is much work to be done in the coming years, it is heartening to see both online and in-person Pride events continuing in this post-lockdown world. June, being Pride Month, is a great way to kick off the summer, and we know that all across the Grand Traverse and beyond, people will be celebrating—and still marching for their freedoms.

Micah Mabey is a writer, theatre-maker, photographer, and friendly native Michigander. You can find them as half of the digital media company Harpe Star and as a Resident Company member of Parallel 45 Theatre.

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