THE BLOG

What's the Point of Pride Marches?

06/19/2013 06:56 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

In the United States, LGBT rights activists have put on pride parades since 1970, when the day of protest was called "gay liberation" day. The first parade was planned for the last Sunday of June: the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which has been called the beginning of the LGBT rights movement. With pride month well underway and New York City's pride parade almost here, we need to remember our history as well as our current struggles.

LGBT liberation day came about because of a culture of discrimination: President Eisenhower issued an executive order in 1953 legalizing the firing of LGBT people. Openly LGBT couples (and people) were not even allowed to publicly gather; those who did were both harassed by civilians and criminalized by police. In 2013, much has changed in our country. LGBT relationships are completely legal, our president became the first in history to support gay marriage, and the Defense of Marriage Act seems likely to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. But we still have a long way to go as a country, and as an international community.

New York Pride this year promises to be a big event. With Cher as the event's headliner and corporate sponsors like Vitamin Water, the event is geared to cover one topic that unites the politically diverse LGBT community: gay marriage. While gay marriage has been the focus for the past several years, 2013 seems to be different. Hate crimes in New York City, particularly hate crimes against white gay men, have gotten more attention as of late, highlighted by the heartless murder of one openly gay man in Chelsea in May. With a court decision on "Stop and Frisk" still pending, even the disproportionate policing of trans people of color has been reaching new mainstream audiences.

And that's not to even mention some of the recent attacks against LGBT people happening in the rest of the world. A bill banning children from receiving any information about LGBT people recently passed Russia's lower house of parliament unanimously. Not a single member of parliament voted against it, and it will soon become law. While this may not be surprising, given Russia's history of oppressing LGBT people, Greece has also escalated its offensive. On May 30, daily raids began in Thessaloniki, where trans people were rounded up and arrested, and released under the demand that they "return to normal". This list of injustices could go on and on.

Nevertheless, in New York City, on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots -- which were led by fierce trans women who were sick of getting beaten by the cops -- the mainstream LGBT movement is still talking about gay marriage. Of course, there will be other amazing protests to commemorate Stonewall, like the annual "Dyke March" of over 20,000 people. But is it too much to ask that the 1.7-million-person New York City pride parade expand its agenda a little bit?

Pride parades, or "gay liberation protests," as they were first called, have been critical to bringing about LGBT rights all over the world. But we've abandoned their initial purpose as a call for equality for all LGBT people. We owe it to ourselves, and to our history, to embrace our current struggles and to call upon our rich activist traditions. We can use the power of protest to create meaningful positive change for our community, because otherwise, LGBT pride has lost its purpose.