Sometime around the third weekend in June there will be celebrations and parades in most major cities across North America. Gay Pride Day has become something of an accepted holiday in most cosmopolitan centres and some of the parades associated with it have become something of a tourist attraction. Flamboyant and sometime outrageous, while primarily a celebration, they are also a defiant reminder to the rest of the world that the people of that community are alive and well, and here to stay.
Seeing these parades, and the recent spate of "queer" television shows, it's probably difficult to imagine that only forty years ago homosexuality was illegal in most places and that statutes like New York State's forbidding the serving of liquor to homosexuals existed. But it wasn't until 1968 that then federal Minister of Justice for Canada, Pierre Trudeau, introduced legislation legalizing homosexuality in Canada. His words, "the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation," began the long, slow process of opening the door to equality for gay, lesbian, and transgendered people.
One doesn't need to look any further than the various ballot propositions aimed at stripping away many of those hard earned rights being put forward in the next American election to release how tenuous are any gains gays and lesbians have made. Even in Canada where the courts have recognized same sex marriages as a right, the current government would, if it could, turn back the clock to the days when society and laws forced people to live secret lives and feel shame and guilt because of who they were.
All the more reason than for people who care to take time to remember the bad old days, and those who were the first to stand up and fight for their rights. A great way to do that would be to get your hands on the recently released DVD version of Stonewall from BBC America. Based on the memoirs of gay rights activist Martin Duberman, the movie recreates what it was like to be gay in America in 1969, and the incident that sparked the celebrated Stonewall Riots.
On June 27, 1969 gays in New York City rioted in protest over the police arresting the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a New York City gay bar. For the next three nights there were riots as the gay population of the city finally said enough to harassment. The following year between 5,000 and 10,000 people turned up at the Stonewall site to demonstrate for gay rights. While probably few make the connection any more, gay pride parades are held each year to honour those men and women who were brave enough to fight back that summer's night.