It’s that time of year again. The trees are green, the flowers are blooming, and the rainbows are out in full force for Pride month. While the timing of Pride celebrations in Canada varies, in the United States, June is the month for commemorating and celebrating queer liberation and Pride milestones, notably the Stonewall riots of 1969.
The catalytic Stonewall riots started in the early hours of June 28th, 1969, prompted by a late-night police raid on the popular Christopher Street gay bar in New York, NY. Six days of conflict and protests followed the initial clash between police and the bar’s queer patrons, many of them drag queens and trans/queer people of colour.
One year later, the first Pride march was held in New York to commemorate the riots. The Library of Congress holds documents describing the event as being meant for the community to gather “...to commemorate the Christopher Street uprisings of last summer in which thousands of homosexuals went to the streets to demonstrate against centuries of abuse.”
The number of Pride events held in June to commemorate, celebrate, and protest for LGBTQIA+ rights and victories led to the month being declared National Pride Month, with October being designated as LGBT History Month in both the United States and in Canada.
For the Okanagan, pride trickled in at the end of the 90s, with the first Pride March being held on June 30th, 1996, in Kelowna at the end of a week of celebration. Member of Parliament Svend Robinson served as the Grand Marshall, having the distinction of being the first MP to come out publicly.
The late sociologist Dr. Sharon-Dale Stone wrote in her paper Lesbians, Gays and the Press: Covering Lesbian and Gay Pride Day in Kelowna, 1996 that the local newspapers received 36 letters to the editor regarding the stories about the upcoming event, many protesting the loud, proud pride week and march. The event allegedly went off without any major hitches, marking a successful end to a week of events celebrating Gay and Lesbian Pride.
Kelowna’s track record for LGBTQIA+ support hasn’t always been sunny; the following year was marked by the then-unnamed Okanagan Rainbow Coalition filing a human rights complaint against then-Mayor Walter Gray. Gray had refused to sign a proclamation in support of Gay and Lesbian Pride Day, saying that “...the word ‘pride’ should not be included.
Next week, we’ll dig more into the history, milestones, and evolution of queer liberation and celebration in the Okanagan valley, from the first Gay and Lesbian Pride Day to the first-ever Trans march in Kelowna.
Jayme D. Tucker is a journalist, writer, and performer settled on unceded Syilx territory. They're queer, tall, and tired of answering all the same token questions when they come out; So they're answering those questions and more for thehub.LGBT Kelowna. They've written for Daily Hive Calgary, won a scholarship for fiction writing with Eat North, and is the founder of The Queer Agenda, a non-profit social group focused on sober friendly, all-ages networking for LGBTQ2IA+ individuals (currently on COVID hiatus).