By Liz Bergren
As June approaches, now is a good time to explore with students the history of Pride month and use this time for education and advocacy.
The Stonewall Riots
The year 1969 was a pivotal one for LGBTQ liberation. Gay bars provided solace for LGBTQ individuals looking for a safe place to socialize and be themselves, but gay bars were also a target for law enforcement, who regularly trolled the bars for individuals engaged in homosexual relations, which were illegal at the time. On Saturday, June 28, 1969, police officers entered the Stonewall Inn, a frequent gathering place for LGBTQ-identifying people. The bar was found to be selling alcohol without a license, and police unfairly arrested anyone who wasn’t wearing gender-appropriate clothing, as well as employees of the bar.
After the bar was cleared, patrons didn’t leave. This time they fought back. Fed up, they rioted, threw debris at police officers, and set fires. The crowd grew as local residents joined the protest, and rioting continued outside that bar for a week before the crowds dispersed. In the wake of the Stonewall uprising, as it became known, several gay rights organizations were started, including the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. Later, groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) were formed.
The Stonewall uprising is considered to have been a major catalyst for LGBTQ political activism. Early Pride events following the riots were poorly attended and were often heavily protested. However, year after year, the movement has increased in popularity and attendance, though it is never free from discrimination and opposition. The Stonewall Inn was eventually designated as a national monument.
The Rainbow Flag and Pride Month
In 1978, Gilbert Baker, a Vietnam War veteran and drag performer, was asked by politician Harvey Milk to create the flag for San Francisco’s Pride parade. An idea had come to Baker years earlier while exploring the idea of a rally sign for the LGBTQ community. He designated all the colors of the rainbow to represent a different meaning: “hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow signifying sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit.” Marchers in that 1978 parade proudly carried the rainbow flags Baker made. Today, the rainbow is a popular symbol of the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ Pride month is celebrated in June to commemorate the Stonewall uprising. LGBTQ activist Brenda Howard is considered the “Mother of Pride” since she organized the first Pride parade and rally in New York City on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. She also had the idea of holding weeklong events around Pride, which eventually became Pride month. Pride month is now celebrated by LGBTQ community members and allies. It offers many opportunities to show support, socialize, and celebrate in solidarity.
Pride at School
How can schools and educators use this time for education and for promoting tolerance and inclusion? Actually, it’s preferable to weave in LGBTQ history and issues throughout the school year—not only in June. June is when the school year ends for most schools, which unfortunately can make education efforts around Pride month difficult. Other important dates to take advantage of throughout the year include GLSEN’s Day of Silence, a national event in late April when students and teachers can take a vow of silence to represent the silencing and discrimination of LGBTQ people. This can be an all-school event or something that a student group chooses to lead or participate in. May 17 marks International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, and Harvey Milk Day is May 22. Any of these events can be used as a catalyst for educating students about LGBTQ history and issues.
If you are an ally or identify as LGBTQ, consider discussing with administration how best to support your LGBTQ students. Form advocacy groups, provide safe spaces for support, bring in speakers, create schoolwide initiatives, form a group of adults and students to participate in your local Pride parade. There are many online resources, such as the GLSEN and GLAAD websites, that can provide ideas for how best to support youth.
What activities do you use throughout the school year that support LGBTQ students?
Liz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.
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