June is here. In Sonoma County, the LGBTQ+ community usually comes together to celebrate in a series of events during this traditional PRIDE month. During June, you would expect to see articles like this. Social media would be filled with announcements about upcoming PRIDE events throughout the county. The annual PRIDE parade, in and around Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square would be the most visible gathering of the community. Sponsors and vendors from all walks of life would join in the celebrations.
Those events are not happening this year. Because of the pandemic, the fund-raising events, planning meetings, corporate donations and all the other behind the scene efforts were cancelled or absent as most of the community went into shelter-in-place. Like other large crowd gathering events, the Old Courthouse Square parade and celebration as well as other related events this year were cancelled by Sonoma County Pride.
That doesn’t mean PRIDE won’t be celebrated, it just means it will be celebrated differently this year. It will be mostly online. Or perhaps as the Health Order continues to be relaxed, in small gatherings of community members practicing safe social distancing in their celebrations. The flags will still be visible on flagpoles and in windows. So instead of reporting on events and celebrations, this article looks back at the history of PRIDE for this, the 50th year anniversary.
The origins of PRIDE were born in protest in the 1960s. Before then, many gay rights organizations avoided in your face protests or advocacy. Most folks think the Stonewall Riots was the catalyst for more visible and assertive advocacy from the LGBT community. It was, but it wasn’t the only catalyst.
Two years before Stonewall, Steve Ginsburg formed an organization in Los Angeles, CA called PRIDE. The acronym stood for Personal Rights in Defense and Education. It was, more radical than gay rights groups before it. Their goal was to take to the streets, take political action and get in the face of the opposition with loud and noisy demonstrations. The year was 1967 and Los Angeles authorities raided the Black Cat Tavern that New Year’s Eve. The raid also led to riots and protests. But in 1968 the organization dissolved. They were under pressure from both the gay and straight community to stop their aggressive protest activities.
Then Stonewall happened on the morning of June 28, 1969. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender folks (LGBT) rioted after the inn was raided in Greenwich Village. This and other protests that followed are most often credited as being the “moment” for modern LGBT rights and the impetus for organizing pride marches. Coordinated by the “Mother of Pride,” Brenda Howard, a bisexual activist, the first Gay Pride march in U.S. history occurred one year later in New York City on June 1970. It’s grown every year since. PRIDE is now celebrated in countries throughout the world.
In Sonoma County, this year would have been the 33rd annual parade to be held. Floats, marchers waving LGBTQ+ flags or carrying banners, would be joined by local fire departments, police and sheriffs’ departments and first responders. Church groups and businesses would also join the multiple LGBTQ+ non-profits and organizations marching down Fifth Avenue to Old Courthouse Square. The streets would have been lined with spectators, young and old, cheering and waving their own flags. The Rainbow Flag and other PRIDE symbols would be seen all over the area.
The event would have again been sponsored by Sonoma County Pride. They are a non-profit organization serving Sonoma County’s LGBTQ+ community, friends and family. They are most visible within the local community during this annual parade during June’s Pride Month activities. Last year, the PRIDE parade had an estimated 5,000 participants or spectators. Related events throughout the month, drew many hundreds more.
Many of us miss our usual social activities and celebrations. Those include graduations and other school related events. It may also include plays, movies, sports games and other entertainment venues. We couldn’t celebrate Easter, Mother’s Day, or Memorial Day as before. Pride Month is just another casualty this year. Like most other events, they’ll be back next year, hopefully stronger and more joyous. In the meantime, especially for those who are allies or have friends and family within the LGBTQ+ community, find a way to acknowledge them. Know that they exist and are still here. They too are part of Sonoma County’s history and landscape.