A Brief History of Pride

What is it to be proud? Why have the LGBT+ community adopted pride above all other virtues – or sins?

Traditionally, there have been two notions of pride – one virtuous, one sinful. After all, pride is one of the seven deadly sins, often considered the original and most serious. In English, the two generally become conflated: both hubris and magnanimity fall under the banner of pride. Google defines pride as both, “a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements,” and, “consciousness of one’s own dignity.”

This distinction goes back to Aristotle, who discussed both at length in his Nicomachean Ethics:

“Pride (megalopsuchia), then, seems to be a sort of crown of the virtues; for it makes them more powerful, and it is not found without them. Therefore it is hard to be truly proud; for it is impossible without nobility and goodness of character.”

In contrast, he described pride as a vice, hubris, as “to cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to you, nor because anything has happened to you, but merely for your own gratification… As for the pleasure in hubris, its cause is this: naive men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater.”

This notion of hubris was taken up by many Christian thinkers, being described as “anti-God” because it is the perversion of humility and dignity, the faculties that bring mankind closer to God. Dante, in his Divine Comedy, described pride as a “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour”.

Of course, it is the former understanding that LGBT+ Pride festivities align themselves with. Many criticisms of pride – and calls for a “Straight Pride” – seem to stem from this confusion. The pride we celebrate isn’t hubris; we’re not out to claim that we are superior. Pride is the opposite of shame: Google lists self-esteem, dignity, honour, self-worth as its synonyms. After centuries of homosexuality and queerness being labelled deviant, shameful, sinful, celebrating pride acts as a response to this. We won’t be ashamed for being who we are. To borrow a slogan from Queer Nation, “We’re Here! We’re Queer! Get used to it!”

LGBT+ celebrations haven’t always described themselves as “Pride” marches. The first Gay Liberation Day was celebrated on 28th June 1970, marking the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Craig Rodwell, his partner Fred Sargeant, Ellen Broidy, and Linda Rhodes, members of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) and Gay Liberation Front (GLF) formed the core organising committee. They initially decided on the title “Christopher Street Liberation Day” and started the march at Christopher Street, the location of the Stonewall Inn, then covered 51 blocks, finishing at Central Park. In Berlin, Pride is still commonly known as CSD (Christopher Street Day).

The same weekend, activists in San Fransisco organised a “Gay-in”; the following year, “Gay Liberation” or “Gay Freedom marches” took place in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. In the 1980s, the activist nature of the marches lessened and the events became more celebratory: “Pride” started to be used more and more.

Brenda Howard became known as the “Mother of Pride” for her role in organising the first march; along with Robert A. Martin (aka Donny the Punk) and L. Craig Schoonmaker, two fellow LGBT+ activists, she is credited with popularising the term.

As Tom Limoncelli put it, “The next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why [LGBT] Pride Month is June tell them ‘A bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.’”

In 1983, London’s march was officially named “Lesbian and Gay Pride”, with the controversy of Section 28 causing more people to protest from 1988 onwards. Throughout the 1990s, it became more of a carnival event; since 2004, “Pride London” (now “Pride in London) have organised events – initially political, now more carnivalesque – alongside the parade. The first WorldPride was held in Rome in 2000, coming to London in 2012 for its third iteration; this year, it was hosted in Madrid and it will be in New York in 2019, marking 50 years since the Stonewall riots. Liverpool Pride was formed in 2010 in response to the outcry in the wake of the murder of Michael Causer, a young gay man assaulted for being gay, who died from his injuries; such events act as a reminder of the activist origins of Pride events.

There are many reasons to be proud, to celebrate Pride. But there is a lot more to Pride than rainbows and glitter: it originated as an intensely political, activist event and still has this potential. We take over Regent’s Street, Piccadilly Circus, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, queering these traditional spaces, affirming our presence. There are still problems that desperately need addressing in the LGBT+ community and beyond: Pride can and should still be the space to bring these issues to light.

Because we’re still here and we’re still queer. Get used to it.