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June 2024 - Pride Month / Leadup to General Election

June is undoubtedly shaping to be a hectic month in more ways than one this year. Not only will this June be a month for fostering community (as we covered briefly during the introduction of International Yoga Day in 2023), but it will also be the month when the political landscape becomes alive in anticipation of an event that will determine the course of the UK for the next five years: the announcement of a general election.


As such, we will have a divisive double feature that will hopefully spark a healthy amount of controversy and light the fuse for exciting conversations!


What is Pride Month about?

Pride Month is an event celebrated annually in June and is a month-long observance dedicated to honouring and advocating for the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and others). It also commemorates the historical struggles, triumphant achievements and rich diversity of the community.


A pride parade with people walking under a large flag held up by the sides

Although there are plenty of other historical events related to the origin of Pride Month, one of the most notable was the events at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which we shall discuss today.


In the 20th century, Stonewall Inn was an average bar with frequent visits from its patrons. Meanwhile, police frequently conducted raids of "disorderly" premises per the orders of the State Liquor Authority. However, the vague excuse was just a coverup for more insidious activity. They were targeting places of refuge and safety as it was illegal to:


  • serve any homosexual patrons

  • display homosexuality publicly

  • two homosexuals to dance together


While the bar appeared average on the outside, it was owned by an American mobster from the Genovese family member named Tony Lauria (nicknamed "Fat Tony"), who saw a lucrative opportunity to buy the property and turn it into a gay bar - driven by profit over clientele.


Stonewall Inn garnered a reputation for being perilous. Yet, it rapidly became one of the most popular go-to destinations in the community, as it was the only haven to relax. On several occasions, the Mafia also bribed top officials for the police department in exchange for "ignorance", usually in the form of intelligence regarding when bar raids were scheduled and to ignore activities within the club. To signal for a potential raid at the Stonewall Inn, the bar owners would often brighten the lights in the venue as an indication to patrons to stop whatever they were doing.


Stonewall Inn was fine until June 24th, 1969, when the club was not forewarned of a raid. Undercover police officers stormed the club with a warrant and went on to arrest working employees and individuals in drag. More officers began to arrive to help speed up the process of releasing the detained and to load the arrested in the back of a police van. Onlookers watched in horror and anger as individuals thought to be wearing drag were shoved into police vans with excessive force, which was one factor that caused tensions to escalate in the area into an uprising between the residents, the patrons and the police.


Four days later, in the early morning hours of June 28th, was supposedly when the uprising truly began in full force. The gathered crowd watched a butch lesbian (a term used to describe a masculine woman in the community) resist an arrest. As she was dragged, she made a desperate plea to the crowd that was watching at the time before being clubbed, which then spurred the crowd into an agitated frenzy. They proceeded to throw insults and hurl projectiles at the officers and the police truck rather than idly spectating after the brutal blow was delivered.


Who did the police detain? Is this what caused the outrage of the crowd outside of Stonewall Inn?


Word began to spread quickly about the surprise raid and the commotion all across New York. As the initial police squad left to escort the detained people, the growing crowd forced the initial raiding police party to retreat into Stonewall for safety as the crowd started to ram the barricaded door with a parking meter and began to fling beer bottles, trash and firebombs in defiance.


In turn, the police requested the help of the city's riot police. As they marched towards the protestors, many began to outsmart them by circling and ending up behind the officers. Thankfully, nobody on either side of the conflict was critically injured during the first night of the riots.


The very next day, the 29th, Stonewall reopened before dusk of the following night. This time, a plywood panel (scrawled with words of defiance) was placed over the shattered window, and no alcohol was to be served. Even still, a crowd of supporters appeared outside the Inn and began chanting to support the patrons. This commotion leads to the police and riot squads being called to the scene yet again to disperse the crowd with tear gas and force.


The police were then again called to the scene but arrived with the aid of the riot police from the get-go to disperse the crowd with tear gas and force. This continued until the early hours of the following day, when the large crowd of supporters dispersed from outside the Inn.


The mood was less tense during the next two nights as gay activists gathered again outside of Stonewall to take advantage of the aftermath, sharing what had transpired over the last few days and distributing pamphlets to awareness of the issues surrounding Mafia-run gay bars. While police also returned to the area, tensions lessened, and only a handful of more minor fights broke loose.


While this was taking place, several articles by the local newsletters caused unrest due to their derogatory language and biased reporting over what had taken place at Stonewall. Most notably, an article was written by Lucian King Truscott IV and Howard Smith for The Village Voice (a local news outlet) that caused yet another uproar due to the derogatory language and biased views on what had happened. So much so that protestors rushed to the paper's office.


What was the impact?

New York and beyond became fascinated by the uprising at Stonewall, which drove more attention to the gay rights movement. Many organisations became the centre of attention, such as:


  • The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was founded in July 1969 in response to the Stonewall Riots. Their radical approaches emphasised direct action and solidarity with other social movements at the time. The events at Stonewall also led to the formation of many branches in the UK.

  • The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was founded by a few former members of the GLF who wanted to focus more on LGBTQ+ issues rather than broader social issues. Their activism was more strategic and included lobbying for legal reforms.

  • Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) was founded by both Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson in 1970 to support transgender and homeless LGBTQ+ youth. It provided shelter, food and advocacy on the needs of the most marginalised members of the LGBTQ+ community.

  • The Mattachine Society predates Stonewall's activities but was one of the earliest LGBTQ+ rights groups in the United States at the time.

  • Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) was established as a secret social club in 1955. As they gradually recruited members, their focus pivoted to becoming more politically involved, speaking on behalf of lesbian women who were afraid of constant harassment.

  • Radicalesbians was also founded by former members of the GLF in 1970. Their focus was on challenging mainstream feminism and the male-dominated gay rights movement.


Aside from giving organisations publicity, Stonewall was also where the first Gay Pride parade started, unlike the traditional picket protests. On the first anniversary of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, many gay activists in New York organised the Christopher Street Liberation March. This march was routed towards Central Park, and many supporters watching from the sidelines began tagging along with the parade.


Does it still matter?

Of course! This year marks the 55th anniversary of the events at the Stonewall Inn and the surrounding streets. Pride parades today are celebrations of identity and community and powerful reminders of the ongoing struggle for acceptance, rights, and equality for all LGBTQ+ individuals - which was what the Stonewall Riots were all about.


Today, we would not think twice about the severity of the riot. Still, the residents of Christopher Street saw the opportunity to take the upper hand over fear and injustice and demonstrate what it truly means to be adamant, chase after the passions of the heart, cherish, and live as one pleases, which was tough to do without being on guard and glancing back over one's shoulder.


The 7.7 acres surrounding the Stonewall Inn also saw displays of action and affection during the uprising, which is why the 44th president of the United States (Barack Obama) declared them a national monument in 2016.



In the UK, LGBTQ+ activities have similarly flourished, reflecting the same spirit of activism and celebration that began with Stonewall. One of the most prominent events is Pride in London, an annual parade and festival that brings together thousands of people from diverse backgrounds to celebrate LGBTQ+ culture and advocate for equal rights. This vivid event includes a colourful parade through central London, live performances, speeches from activists and politicians, and numerous community-led activities.


Beyond London, many other UK cities host their Pride events, such as Manchester Pride, Brighton & Hove Pride, and Birmingham Pride. These events also feature parades, concerts, and cultural activities to create an inclusive space for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies to unite in solidarity and celebration.


The Stonewall charity in the UK, founded in 1989, was not directly connected to the riots of 1969 in New York City but was formed in 1989 as a response to Section 28 of the Local Government Act. The name "Stonewall" was deliberately chosen to honour the legacy of the Stonewall riots and to signify the charity's commitment to fighting for LGBT rights and equality. This charity has played a part in almost every critical development in the UK for LGBTQ+ laws and regulations and continues to strive for change today close to home.


 

The current prime minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak, has declared that a General Election will take place on July 4th. Currently, there are no MPs within the House Of Commons.

As it has recently been announced, we would like to summarise what a General Election is and why voting is a big deal.


What is a General Election?

These must be held every 5 years, as per law under the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022. This states:

If it has not been dissolved earlier, a Parliament dissolves at the beginning of the day that is the fifth anniversary of the day on which it first met.

They can also be called earlier if the prime minister requests for a dissolution of Parliament and to call a general election.


During a General Election in the United Kingdom, the country is temporarily divided into 650 separate areas, each known as a constituency. Each constituency votes to elect one Member of Parliament (MP) from a group of candidates to represent it in the House of Commons. These candidates can be endorsed by various political parties with matching goals and ideas or can opt to run "independently".


This is where we hear about the known primary parties, aliases, and political standings, which can make understanding political happenings slightly more confusing than necessary.


Before we continue, let us briefly explain the political origins of some of these terms and give a brief rundown of each known party:


Where did the political standings come from, and what do they mean?

Known Parties Explained

Several parties compete for seats in the House of Commons, each with its unique platform and policies. Here are the primary parties with their historically assigned nicknames:


  • Conservative Party (Tories): Traditionally centre-right, focusing on free-market policies, national security, and reducing government spending.

  • Labour Party: Centre-left, advocating for social justice, workers' rights, and public ownership of key services.

  • Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems): Centrist, promoting civil liberties, electoral reform, and environmental sustainability.

  • Scottish National Party (SNP): Centre-left, primarily focused on Scottish independence and progressive policies.

  • Green Party (Greens): Emphasises environmental issues, social justice, and sustainability.


With the basic terminology explained, let's discuss why voting at this stage is significant. The party that has control over the most constituencies forms the government, and if a party gains the majority of 236 seats or more, it can form a government outright with no contest. If you are eligible to vote, you can contribute to the formation of a government in some small degree.


For example, in 2017, Stephen Gethins, a candidate on behalf of the Scottish National Party, managed to secure a seat in the constituency of Fife North-East and came out on top. He beat another candidate, Elizabeth Riches of the Liberal Democrats, with 13,743 votes. It was a close competition, but the Scottish National Party secured that constituency with a two-vote difference.



A hard-won battle for equality

Now, imagine what would have happened if the votes from all females were removed from that close total to decide an MP for that constituency. Would the outcome still have been the same, or more importantly, would the result be considered fair?


No woman was allowed to vote in parliamentary elections before 1918. The struggle for women's suffrage was also marked by many decades of activism, protests, and perseverance similar to that displayed during Stonewall. Women from various backgrounds united to demand the same right to vote as men, who excluded them from the democratic process.


At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, many women contributed significantly to the war effort, taking on roles traditionally held by men who had gone to fight. Their indispensable contributions further highlighted the injustice of their exclusion from the electoral process. As a result, public opinion began to shift gradually, and the government faced increasing pressure to address the issue of women's suffrage.


After much pressure, 1918 was the year the Representation of the People Act was passed in the United Kingdom. This approved bill granted the right for women over 30 to put a cross on a piece of paper and vote. While this was a monumental step forward in the right direction, women had to meet specific criteria, and many women still were unable to vote equally due to age or lack of property ownership. An entire decade later, with the passage of the Equal Franchise Act in 1928, women in the UK finally achieved equal voting rights to men, which allowed every woman over the age of 21 to vote regardless of irrelevant criteria.


Two groups of women, the suffragists and suffragettes, helped make this possible. Each had its own unique methods for drawing attention to the fact that women could not vote.


Who were the suffragists?

Who were the suffragettes?


 

Discussion Points for Democracy, Diversity and Tolerance


  • Do you think Stonewall was a riot or an uprising? Is there any reason as to why?

  • Is it worth breaking laws in the name of intolerance? To what degree?

  • Should politics be more comprehensive?

  • Is there a party (or individual) that campaigns for the same values that mean the most to you?

  • Do you know what your local constituency is called?

  • Should it be made mandatory to vote in a General Election? Can you think of any other occasions where this already exists?











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