By MAKENA HUEY | San Diego Downtown News
Photos courtesy of Kendra Sitton and Lambda Archives
From the initial riot that inspired June’s Pride month parades to the protests occurring around the world in response to the murder of George Floyd, both had the same goal: ending the police brutality of a marginalized community. Current Black activists are echoing the demands of the original Black activists who advanced the LGBTQ+ rights movements just over 50 years ago.
“This state-sanctioned violence and brutality against Black and brown communities has a history that dates back to the country’s first colonizers and shares the same roots as the violence and brutality that the LGBTQ+ community fought back against at Stonewall in 1969,” the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition said in a statement.
Pride began not as a colorful parade but as a violent riot against police brutality. In response to years of advocacy from queer and trans People of Color, San Diego Pride will no longer have law enforcement contingents in the parade.
One of the primary catalysts of the LGBTQ rights movement and modern pride parades was the Stonwall Riots, which began June 28, 1969 after New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn — a gay club in Greenwich Village — and arrested 13 people. Infuriated by the police harassment and other forms of discrimation, customers and community members remained outside the bar and began throwing objects at the police.
Although it may never be known who threw the exact first punch or brick, Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson and Black lesbian Stormé DeLarverie have been credited with starting the scuffle. This raid sparked six consecutive days of violent protests against oppression and police brutality.
On June 28, 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, thousands of people participated in the country’s first gay pride parade. Located in Manhattan, this event was known as Christopher Street Liberation Day, according to History.com.
“What the pride parades were really all about was commemorating gay people not being victims [and] standing up. It’s not that it was glorifying violence but it was saying, ‘This is our pain, we’re crying out,’” lesbian historian Dr. Lillian Faderman said in a phone interview.
In California, sodomy was illegal until 1976. People who did not conform to what was considered appropriate sexual behavior and gender presentation were often arrested and harassed, according to Faderman’s “LGBTQ in San Diego: A History of Persecution, Battles, and Triumphs.”
“The intimidation of the gay community by the police in the 1950s and through much of the ‘60s was really disgusting,” Faderman said. “Gay people were presumptive criminals, constantly harassed by the police.”
LGBTQ activists adopted several tactics that the Black community utilized during the ‘50s and ‘60s, including sit-ins. Faderman said progress would not have been possible without the non-violent and violent protests of the civil rights movement.
“If peaceful protests had worked in those days, I’m sure there would have been peaceful protests but … it really took young gay people to say, ‘We are not having any of this anymore,’” Faderman said. “It took their anger to finally call attention to the way the gay community was abused.”
San Diego’s first official pride parade occurred in 1975, one year after a local sergeant reportedly denied activists a permit and threatened arrests. This event was preceded by the city’s first pro-LGBTQ+ protest in 1971 outside of the San Diego Police Headquarters, the May Company protest in 1974, and Gay Liberation Front’s “gay-in” at Presidio park in 1974, according to “LGBTQ in San Diego: A History of Persecution, Battles, and Triumphs.”
“There was a general consensus that they were sick and tired of laying low and hiding,” said Ken Selnick, archivist at Lambda Archives of San Diego, who describes the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the police at the time as “contentious.”
Eventually, the San Diego police began to lose credibility and several LGBTQ officers served as agents of change, even attending pride parades as a display of support, Selnick said.
In 1992, San Diego Police Department Chief Bob Burgreen marched in the parade, and soon after the Sheriff’s Department forbid harassment and discrimination against lesbians and gay men.
“It was certainly polar opposite from the oppressive nature of it back in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Selnick said.
Still, LGBTQ+ people are discriminated against by police even if there are no longer laws dictating consensual sexual behavior and gender presentation. Stop data analyzed by University of California San Diego and Voice of San Diego showed San Diego Police Department officers are more likely to stop LGBTQ+ people and place them in handcuffs than their straight cisgender counterparts.
Black members of the LGBTQ+ community are particularly at risk, with Black LGBTQ+ people three times more likely to experience excessive force by police than non-Black LGBTQ+ people, as reported by National Coalition of Antiviolence Programs in 2017.
LGBTQ+ individuals and activists have long debated whether police officers, especially those in uniform, belong at pride marches.
On June 3, the organizers of the Los Angeles Pride Parade announced that the event — which was initially canceled due to the coronavirus — will now take place June 14 as a solidarity march and protest against racial injustice and police brutality, as reported by CBS.
San Diego Pride recently expressed similar statements of solidarity.
“As the nation rages and mourns in the wake of stolen black lives, I can’t help but reflect on our shared experiences,” Fernando Zweifach López, executive director of San Diego Pride, wrote in a June 1 post. “Pride was a three-day riot against legal state-sanctioned police violence long before it was a celebration.”
A four-step plan released on the SD Pride website states there will no, there will no longer be a law enforcement contingent in the next San Diego Pride Parade. In step two, Lopez requested Pride be recognized as a free speech event so they will no longer be charged for police presence and other city fees. Other groups will be in charge of safety and road closures, and all savings will be directed to Black-led LGBTQ+ programming.
The statement also requests the San Diego Police Department immediately adopt the #8cantwait reforms and phase in more reforms in the future centering the demands of Black LGBTQ+ people.
— Makena Huey is a senior at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, pursuing a major in English and minor in journalism. The San Diego native was the editor-in-chief of Currents magazine and is currently the managing editor of the Graphic newspaper.