With the specters of the gay-marriage debate and recent homophobic violence looming, this month's gay-pride festivities are recalling the mixture of celebration and rabble-rousing that marked the first such event, in 1970.
"Every chance we have to come out and talk about our community and our issues, we have to do it," said Rodney Scott, president of the Christopher Street West Association, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender service organization. "We have to keep pushing open that proverbial closet door to make [others] aware of who we are.
"We are elected officials. We are their neighbors. We are [Vice President Dick Cheney's] daughter," he said.
Widely recognized as the birth of the LGBT civil-rights movement, the first gay-pride parades took place in New York and San Francisco to commemorate the previous year's Stonewall Riots, in which police raided a Greenwich Village gay bar and patrons fought back. The demonstration was a show of unity and strength, and also served as a protest against anti-gay discrimination and violence.
Thirty-six years later, the community has achieved significant advancements: the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, re-examination of state sodomy laws and an increasingly accepted presence in mainstream pop culture.
Yet despite these gains, many battles for equality are still being fought; the current cultural climate indicates that this struggle for civil-rights will be a long one.
One of the most crushing blows to the gay community's pursuit of equal rights came this month with the president's proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Defeated in the Senate, the amendment would have defined a legal marriage as a joint union only between a man and a woman (see "Senate Rejects Constitutional Amendment Banning Same-Sex Marriage").
"Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society," Bush said in his radio address on Saturday.
Needless to say, the gay community disagrees.
Advocates for same-sex marriage have repeatedly stated that they are seeking what they consider to be basic human rights: the right to marry, raise a family and live as equals in the eyes of the law. "I think the minute our president stands up and tells people that they don't deserve the same rights and privileges that he has, he sets up a class system," said Scott. "He has no right to say that I am not as equal as he is — I pay his salary."
While right-wing politicians argue gay marriage will lead to a weakening of the family unit, and therefore a disintegration of the moral fabric that holds together U.S. society, gay-marriage advocates point to locations where steps toward meeting their goals have already been taken. Canada is currently celebrating its third anniversary since permitting same-sex couples to marry. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to allow gay marriage (see "Same-Sex Couples Marry — Legally — For The First Time In U.S.").
However, an incident of possible discrimination in that state occurred this month. A window display promoting Boston's gay-pride week was placed in one of the city's Macy's department stores. The display featured two male mannequins — one of which wore a rainbow flag tied around its waist — accompanied by a listing of some of the week's planned events.
MassResistance, an activist group known for opposing gay marriage, quickly launched a full-scale protest against the store's so-called support of what the group dubbed "a week of rather raunchy homosexual activity" on its Web site. The group also claimed the display's mannequins were offensive, noting that, "One mannequin is wearing what looks like some [sort] of rainbow skirt. And when was the last time you saw male store mannequins with breasts like those?"
Macy's modified the display but retained the event listing; the mannequins and Web site addresses for Boston Pride and the AIDS Action Committee were removed from the window. A spokesperson for the department store originally said that the mannequins were removed in order to strike a balance, but later attributed the display change to a "miscommunication," according to The Boston Globe.
The gay community faced another kind of attack in New York, where gay drag performer Kevin Aviance was beaten in the East Village on June 10 by four young men shouting homophobic slurs. A march against gay violence took place a week later.
Outside the U.S., pride celebrations went on despite protests and, in some cases, violence.
Although Moscow has officially banned gay-pride celebrations, activists attempted to stage the first such event in May; the demonstration was marred by violence and hate speech. Marchers were heckled and assaulted by skinheads, Orthodox Christians and radical nationalists, The Washington Post reported.
A similar scene unraveled in Romania, where organizers staged the nation's second pride parade in early June. After revelers were confronted by stone-throwing protestors and nuns and priests brandishing crosses, 10 people were injured and dozens were arrested, according to BBC News.
With these incidents in mind, many members of the gay community feel that it is more important now than ever to publicly gather to speak their minds — and celebrate.
"Pride celebrations are a funny phenomenon because I think they tend to make people feel really good," said Paul Cates, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "So, with all this bad news that people have been hearing, I think that [the parades] will actually inspire people to have a good time this year."
And despite the inevitable presence of protesters, LGBT individuals have been holding their heads up high, unashamed and unapologetic of who they are, Scott says. Attendance has been high at many cities' events, and that trend is expected to continue for upcoming pride celebrations throughout the rest of June.
"The religious right says that the gay and lesbian community has an agenda," said Scott. "Well, as the leading pride organization in this country — they're right, we do. We have a full agenda, and that's love, equality, pride."