By Jess Clawson
June means a lot of things in the horse world: Devon, Upperville, the end of the school year, the beginning of summer.
For a lot of us, it also means the start of Pride Month, when LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer) celebrate how great our community is. It’s a month sprinkled with Pride events involving parades, fairs, dance parties, and drag shows. The spirit of Pride is joyful and often irreverent as we spend the month focusing on our creativity and resilience.
Pride has a cool history. The reason we celebrate in June is because that’s when the Stonewall Rebellion happened. If you’ve ever been to the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, you may have encountered an unassuming bar called the Stonewall Inn. If you’ve been there since early 2016, you’ve seen a national monument designation there.
There’s a good reason for that: Stonewall is where most of us queer historians agree that the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement started. Before the 1970s, queer people often violated a lot of unjust laws just by existing as we are–gathering in groups, wearing clothing thought to belong to the “opposite” gender, engaging in same-sex relationships were all illegal. So the police often raided gay bars and hauled their patrons to jail, usually after beating them up.
But on June 28, 1968, the patrons at Stonewall weren’t having it. There was an especially large crowd that night, as the community gathered to mourn the death of the iconic Judy Garland. When the police arrived with their batons at the ready, the queer people fought back, throwing bottles and refusing to submit to unjust policing. Trans women of color Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson lead the charge. It was the first time in US history that queer people collectively refused to be oppressed for who we are, and even though I wasn’t even born yet, it still brings tears of pride to my eyes to think of how brave they were.
The 1970s ushered in an era of liberation for queer people. The legal situation hasn’t been great: it was a felony to be gay until 2003; many states don’t have employment protections for trans people and many don’t have them for gay and lesbian people either; new legislation means trans people can’t serve in the military and can be denied even life-saving care by physicians if those doctors don’t like trans people. It’s scary.
But the post-Stonewall era means we define ourselves now. No longer willing to let haters define us as sick or degraded, we have shown ourselves to be a community full of incredible diversity, vibrancy, brilliance, and strength. That’s what Pride is all about.
Over the course of June, The Plaid Horse will be showcasing the voices and experiences of LGBTQ+ equestrians across the country. You’ll hear from everyday riders to those at the top of the sport across the spectrum of identities. Like the queer community, the equestrian community is brave and creative and diverse. We can’t wait to introduce you to all of the wonderful LGBTQ+ riders in our world.
Do you have something you’d like to contribute to our Pride month celebration? Email Jess at [email protected].
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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