By Nicole Mitchell
“The next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why Gay Pride Month is June tell them, ‘A bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.’” — Brenda Howard
While it’s true that the first pride was a riot, many credit bisexual and LGBTQIA+ Activist Brenda Howard for continuing the fight and making June officially known as Pride Month—therefore awarding her the name of “Mother of Pride.”
The Stonewall Uprising
Before discussing Howard’s accomplishments, it’s important to understand the history of the Stonewall Riots.
In 1969 it was illegal for LGBTQ+ people to get together and drink or dance with same-sex partners. Not just that, but “the New York State Liquor Authority penalized and shut down establishments that served alcohol to known or suspected LGBT individuals,” and according to History, argued “ that the mere gathering of homosexuals was ‘disorderly.’” This led to most bars and clubs not allowing gay people into their establishments.
Most of bars except for The Stonewall Inn—a mafia-run bar that allowed everyone through its doors. Stonewall’s acceptance of LGBTQ+ people wasn’t a secret; meaning cops often would raid the bar with the goal of arresting and harassing LGBTQ+ people.
Come June 28, 1969, the occupants of the bar decided they were tired of the abuse and discrimination; thus beginning the “Stonewall Riots” that we know of today—with transgender women of color Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera being said to have “thrown the first bottle (or brick or stone) at the cops, respectively,” History stated. The riots continued daily until July 3 of that year.
Post-Stonewall Pride Celebrations
One month after the protests ended, LGBTQ+ activists—including Howard—organized the Christopher Street Liberation Day March to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. “Thousands of young men and women homosexuals from all over the Northeast participated,” The New York Times reported, “proclaiming ‘the new strength and pride of the gay people.’”
The Christopher Street Liberation Day March was a celebration of the success of the Stonewall Uprising, but it was also much more than that. The parade inspired people across the U.S. to join the celebration as well.
Howard organized a week-long series of events to mark the anniversary of the Christopher Street Liberation Day March a year later, according to Legacy Project, a Chicago-based non-profit dedicated to researching and promoting the contributions of LGBTQ+ people have made to world history and culture. Her organized celebrations created a wave of similar marches and parades being held across the world—similar to the Pride celebrations we know and love today.
Alongside her work in organizing these events, Howard and Activists Robert A. Martin and L. Craig Schoonmaker are each credited with popularizing the word “pride” to describe the celebrations, according to the Legacy Project. This made June an obvious pick for a yearly celebration of LGBTQ+ rights, thus creating Pride Month.
Who is Brenda Howard?
Howard was born in the Bronx in 1946, where she eventually discovered activism in the ‘60s. While she is known as the “Mother of Pride,” LGBTQ+ activism wasn’t her only passion. She was also an anti-war activist—supporting the movement against the Vietnam war.
Howard also was active in a variety of LGBTQ+ organizations, including the New York Area Bisexual Network, which she helped found in 1987; the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights; the Gay Liberation Front; and Gay Activists Alliance’s Speakers Bureau.
Her activism after the start of pride “included work on the 1993 March on Washington for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Rights where she was female co-chair of the leather contingent and helped lobby to have the term “Bisexuals” included in the title,” wrote Legacy Project.
Unfortunately, Howard’s life ended in 2005 after a battle with colon cancer. However, her story lives on. Every June when people across the world celebrate Pride, they celebrate also the work of Howard and other activists who were at Stonewall and the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, such as Robert A. Martin, L. Craig Schoonmaker, Marsha P. Johnson, and more.
Nicole Mitchell (she/they) is a writer and social media manager who graduated December 2020 with a degree in strategic communication. A few of her favorite things include cuddling with cats, listening to Bon Iver, making lattes, and running her book club (even though sometimes she forgets to read the books.)