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Welcome to 'Pride as Protest,' a New KQED Arts Story Series

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Hundreds of thousands of gay-rights demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington D.C. 25 April 1993. The march, which attracted one million people, aims at prompting legislation prohibiting all forms of anti-gay discrimination and a surge of new support for AIDS research. (PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

The annual Pride celebration is one of San Francisco’s most popular festivities, drawing out hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ people, straight allies and visitors from all over the world. But before Pride became a mainstream institution endorsed by city officials, local police and corporations like Google and Facebook, it was a revolt.

Fifty years ago, on June 28, 1969, queer and trans patrons at New York’s Stonewall Inn, led by trans women of color, rioted against police harassment. The chaos continued for three days, tearing up the Greenwich Village block in defiance of restrictive anti-LGBTQ+ laws and police brutality. Radical organizations sprung from the uprising: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), led by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, fought for the rights of trans women and gender-nonconforming people who routinely faced harassment and discrimination. The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) attempted to unite the gay rights movement with anti-capitalist, anti-war movements of the time.

KQED footage from 1973 shows an interview with vigilante group the Lavender Panthers, who armed gay people with clubs and red spray paint against police and homophobic violence. Video courtesy of KQED Archives.

The anniversary of Stonewall inspired Pride celebrations all over the country in the early ’70s, but not everything was harmonious in those times. Many queer women felt alienated by the GLF’s mostly male membership, as well as in mostly straight radical feminist groups. Conversely, many lesbian activists at the time discriminated against trans women, who they argued benefited from “male privilege.” There was little acknowledgement of bisexual people, trans men, intersex people or non-binary people. And furthermore, many early gay rights organizations had a majority-white membership that was often tone-deaf to issues affecting queer and trans people of color.


KQED footage from 1970 shows a protest in front of San Francisco’s ABC/KGO-TV studios against homophobia in mass media. Video courtesy of KQED Archives.

As flawed as it was, the early gay rights movement’s radical politics inspired decades of queer and trans organizing that endures today. In KQED Arts’ Pride as Protest series, you’ll read about queer and trans elders, like Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who forever changed history; dive into the LGTBQ+ community’s organizing efforts around the AIDS epidemic at a time when the federal government turned a blind eye; learn about the radical tactics of direct-action groups like Queer Nation and Gay Shame; remember how San Francisco’s first black-owned gay bar provided a refuge from racism and homophobia; and hear from drag queens using their craft as an art therapy tool for housing-insecure LGBTQ+ youth.

These stories run today through June 13, and we want to hear from you, our readers. We invite you to send in your photos of LGBTQ+ life for our #MyPrideLooksLike project, which aims to showcase the diversity and resilience of our queer and trans community. The goal is to celebrate the different ways we express ourselves, and to remember Pride’s radical roots.

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