When it comes to homosexuality, most gay organizations are determined to project an image of normalcy in which all gay men are Will Truman and all lesbians Ellen DeGeneres.
— Riki Wilchins
This massive last-Sunday-in-June event has always been characterized by a mixture of flamboyance and defiance. Initially known as the “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March,” it began as a way to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – the singular event that sparked the gay rights movement.
The Stonewall Riots (also known as the Stonewall Rebellion) took place over several nights in June 1969. The riots started during what was supposed to be a routine police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street. According to Martin Duberman’s book, Stonewall, the rebellion was sparked when a police officer prodded drag queen and incipient transgender activist Sylvia Rivera with a nightstick and she responded by throwing a bottle at him.
A melee ensued and the angry crowd overwhelmed the surprised officers who’d expected the crowd at the Stonewall, like all their predecessors, to quietly enter the paddy wagon and submit to arrests for “indecency.” When passers-by and patrons of other bars in the neighborhood joined the fight, the NYPD brought in reinforcements and riot gear. Before it was over, a crowd of 2,000 protestors fought 400 police officers. Once unleashed, their sense of injustice and outrage quickly led to the formation of several gay rights organizations.
Over the years, the anger and rebellion that fomented the gay rights movement have been largely replaced – at least in the mainstream media – by a more conservative message, a more inclusive, celebratory and conciliatory tone. The march turned into a parade, the words “Liberation” and “Freedom” were replaced with “Pride,” the focus on transgender rights and concerns was replaced by the fight for legalized gay marriage.
But this year, the rage and outrageousness that fueled the movement’s beginnings returned to the front pages and parade-goers’ conscienceness. On June 11, popular drag performer and Billboard chart-topping singer Kevin Aviance was attacked outside a gay bar in the East Village. He was robbed and savagely beaten by a group of men who yelled “Kill the faggot” and pelted him with garbage.
Suffering from a broken jaw and requiring extensive physical therapy, it appeared that he would be unable to participate, as scheduled, in the parade’s after-party.
However, two days before the march he told the New York Post, “I am getting my mouth unwired for one day, so that I can be done up for the Gay Pride Day Parade on Sunday.” And so he did. Today he made a triumphant return to the public eye, riding Hannibal-like on the back of an elephant while waving to the ecstatic, cheering, wildly proud crowd.