Shortly before midnight on June 27, 1969, four police officers and two undercover agents entered the Stonewall Inn, a neighborhood bar popular with people of color and drag queens in the predominantly gay neighborhood of Greenwich Village, New York City, to “observe the illegal sale of alcohol.” They then called their precinct for backup, which soon arrived. In the early hours of June 28, the officers began strong-arming patrons into the street and arresting them, a typical – and frequent -- police action against the homosexuals.
This time, however, something amazing happened. Instead of going gently into the night and the paddy wagons, the bar’s 200 patrons, challenged the police, jerring at them and assailing them with anything and everything they could find. Many eyewitnesses credited Sylvia Rivera, a transgender rights activist, as the first person to fight back, but whoever it was, the action ignited three nights of the protests and rioting and forty years of progress toward full civil rights for lgbt people everywhere.
In New York only the Village Voice reported on what had occured. Mainstream newspapers like the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle never mentioned it. No matter. Within a day the New York Mattachine Society’s Action Committee had distributed a flyer calling for organized resistance; by the end of July, local lesbians and gays had created the Gay Liberation Front to press for civil rights. Soon members of lgbt communities across the United States also formed or joined organizations to protest discrimination and to press for civil rights.
Stonewall was not the first time that members of glbt communities fought back against police harassment and government persecution of homosexuals in the United States, but it became a defining moment and changed forever the paradigm in the struggle for gay rights and around the world. What happened at Stonewall, unlike earlier protests and demonstrations, was remembered and
One year later, on Saturday, June 27, 1970, some thirty self-proclaimed “hair fairies” marched from Acquatic Park down Polk Street to San Francisco’s Civic Center to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. On the same day, the Chicago Gay Liberation organized a march from Washington Square Park to the Water Tower, which then spontaneously continued on to the Civic Center, now Daly Plaza. These were the first two pride parades held in the United States. Parades in both cities now are on the last Sunday of June.
San Franciscan’s commemorated the actual date of the Stonewall Riots, June 28, with a massive Gay-In at Golden Gate Park. The same day, New Yorkers held their first "Christopher Street Day March" with a route from Greenwich Village to Central Park, and Los Angeles witnessed its first glbt parade down Hollywood Boulevard.
In the years that followed, annual marches and parades began in more and more cities in the United States and then the rest of the world, almost always in June. New York and Atlanta called them “Gay Liberation Marches,” held on "Gay Liberation Day." In San Francisco and Los Angeles they became known as “Gay Freedom Marches,” held on "Gay Freedom Day." When other cities and towns started holding their celebrations, they adopted these and similar names.
There was no organized celebration in San Francisco in 1971, but the city has seen one in every year since. Some 3,000 people marched in 1972’s parade down Polk Street to a festival in Civic Center, cheered on by a crowd estimated at 54,000. The next year "Gay Parade ‘73" became part of a larger, week-long “Gay Freedom Week” that culminated with a “Gay Picnic in Golden Gate Park.”
The number of participants and onlookers has increased ever since. In 1974, the crowd was estimated at 60,000; in 1975, it was 84,000. By 1978, it had reach 240,000 spectators. In 2003, it surpassed an estimated 1,000,000 people.
Every San Francisco parade has had at least one first, including:
1972 – first politician to participate in the parade, San Francisco County Sheriff Richard Hongisto, the first sheriff to hire lesbian and gay deputies
1973 – first community banners
1974 – first empress to ride in the parade on an elephant
1975 – first time the parade was the largest in the United States
1976 – first mayoral proclamation, issued by George Moscone
1978 – first appearances of Gay Freedom Day Marching Band, Dykes on Bikes® at the head the parade, rainbow banners
1979 – first time rainbow banners lined Market Street
1984 – first nationwide theme
1985 – first time a United States senator, Alan Cranston, spoke at a pride celebration anywhere in the country
1988 – first time a San Francisco Mayor, Art Agnos, rode the parade
1996 – first time a Catholic church, Most Holy Redeemer, participated in a pride parade anywhere in the world
2001 -- first time a Moslem contingent participated in any pride parade
Today there are annual pride celebrations on every continent except Antarctica, including Cape Town Pride in South Africa; Pride Parade Brasília, Brazil; Lambda Istanbul Pride Week March; Sofia Pride in Bulgaria; the Tokyo Pride Parade in Japan; and hundreds of other. To commemorate the Stonewall riots and the activism it inspired, almost all take place in June.