The First Pride Was a Riot

Legal expert speaks on the history of Pride, community activism, and how the movement has allied with Black Lives Matter protesters.

By Katherine Gianni

Photo by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash.

This month, the LGBTQ+ community and their allies celebrated Pride 2020 under the tagline ‘Exist. Persist. Resist.’ For many, this year’s Pride presented a significant dual meaning, not only representing the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, but also uplifting the important work of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

To learn more about the protest movements Pride was founded in, and how people can lend their voices and actions to support the LGBTQ+ community all year long, we spoke with Boston University Professor of Law Robert Volk. Professor Volk’s legal writing and research focuses on issues of civil rights and diversity and inclusion. He is a member of the Association of Legal Writing Directors and the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Bar Association, and serves as faculty advisor to OUTLAW, the law school’s LGBT student group.

June 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of annual LGBTQ+ Pride traditions. How are people continuing to celebrate despite the coronavirus pandemic?

Many Pride events have gone online, but the covid crisis has certainly put a damper on the festive spirit that is the hallmark of Pride. The recent Supreme Court decision finding that the nation’s anti-discrimination laws protect LGBTQ Americans, however, is cause to celebrate.

People are drawing comparisons between the Stonewall uprising and the Black Lives Matter movement with sentiments like “Pride began with a protest” or “the first Pride was a riot.” How does the historical significance of Stonewall influence or support the Black Lives Matter movement?

The Stonewall uprising occurred at a time when the nation was facing centuries of discrimination against Black Americans and owes much to the civil rights movement. In fact, the first Pride was a riot. LGBTQ+ Americans should be able to relate to the struggles of Black Americans, and be inspired by their fight for justice. The Black Lives Matter movement, however, speaks to an injustice far more ingrained in the American psyche.

Who were some of the early pioneers of the gay rights movement? What were their stories?

So many pioneers. First, our law school alum, John Ward, founder of GLAD — Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (now known as GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders), the first public interest law firm focused on issues affecting the LGBTQ community. I would also mention Larry Kramer, who recently died, founder of ACT UP, the organization born during the AIDS crisis.

John Ward, photographed by Jackie Ricciardi for Bostonia Magazine.

In the landmark case, the Supreme Court just ruled in favor for gay and transgender rights in the workplace. How will this decision transform what it means to have an equitable workspace for all, and what work still needs to be done when it comes to future legislation?

While Massachusetts has prohibited discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and transgender status for many years, this decision protects Americans nationally. Moreover, the decision will likely expand this protection to federal laws prohibiting discrimination in education and housing. This is a major change in the law, and one that will affect the lives of millions of people across the USA.

How can folks continue to lend their support to the LGBTQ+ community during Pride month and beyond?

People can support Pride by speaking out when they hear homophobic or transphobic remarks. Too often, people are reluctant to call out speakers who make such comments. People can also lend their support to political candidates that support equal rights for all.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Professor Volk on Twitter at @rv240. Follow the Boston University School of Law at @BU_Law.

Cutting-edge research and commentary out of Boston University, home to Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners and Guggenheim Scholars. Find an expert: bu.edu/experts

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