Understanding Pride

The Intersex Progress Pride flag includes elements of the rainbow Pride flag, Transgender Pride flag and Intersex flag. (Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Celebrating Pride is much more than waving rainbow flags and partaking in vibrant summer parades. It’s a chance to reflect on how hard the LGBTQ community has fought to be seen and heard in this country and recognize that the fight for equality is a long way from being won. It’s acknowledging what it has taken to reach this degree of acceptance in society and celebrating the diversity that makes up the community. Although June shines a spotlight on the LGBTQ community, it’s important that light stays visible year round. 

Pride didn’t start out as the joyful celebration it is today. On June 28, 1969, the iconic Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the heart of Manhattan’s West Village, was raided by police. Police raids were common for gay bars at the time, but the patrons decided to stand their ground that night and over multiple days of riots as they fought back against police harassment. This event later became known as the Stonewall Uprising, a flashpoint for the gay rights movement. A year later, the first gay pride marches were held to commemorate the uprising, and in 1999, the U.S. government officially recognized Pride Month. 

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The term “Pride” and the official title of the celebration evolved over time. In 2000, President Bill Clinton called it Gay and Lesbian Pride Month; nine years later, President Barack Obama changed it to National Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month; and last year, President Joe Biden expanded the official title to include more individuals in the community, calling it Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Pride Month. But Pride still serves as the umbrella term to capture all LGBTQ+ identities, including people who identify as intersex (typically used for people whose sex characteristics don’t match strictly binary definitions of male or female), asexual (someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction to others) and others who don’t always neatly fall within these labels. 

As a whole, about 7.2% of adults identify as LGBTQ in the U.S., according to a 2023 Gallup Poll — a significant rise from 3.5% in 2012. 

When we think about Pride, the image most associated with the celebration and with the community is the rainbow flag. It hangs outside buildings and businesses and is often embedded in brand logos throughout the month of June. But controversy has popped up over the years about brands “rainbow washing,” where companies switch to rainbow branding during Pride, but don’t advocate for LGBTQ issues the rest of the year.   

The concept for the flag was created in 1978 by activist Gilbert Baker and had eight colors correlating to different meanings: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, indigo for serenity and violet for spirit. The number of stripes was reduced to six to simplify the manufacturing process of each flag. The rainbow flag may be the most popular symbol, but it’s not the only one. There are other flags that represent specific groups within the LGBTQ community, such as the pink, blue and white flag for the transgender community and the Philadelphia Pride Flag, which incorporates additional black and brown stripes for communities of color.  

Despite the political, social and economic progress that’s been made, the LGBTQ community has faced lots of pushback from federal and state governments. Various laws were put forward to restrict LGBTQ rights, like the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was in effect from 1994 to 2011 and forced queer military members to hide their sexuality while serving their country; the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal recognition of marriage and any associated benefits for same-sex couples for almost 20 years; and North Carolina’s HB2 bill in 2016, which tried to prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that matched their gender identity. In the past two years, 19 states have passed laws restricting or banning transgender health care for minors. This year alone, lawmakers in more than a dozen states have proposed bills seeking to restrict drag performances with such measures passing in Tennessee, Florida and Montana. Last month, the expansion of the Parental Rights in Education bill in Florida, also known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, restricted teaching about gender identities and sexual orientation in schools from prekindergarten through eighth grade. 

Regardless of the push for anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country, there has still been progress. In 2015, same-sex marriage was legalized when the Supreme Court decided on the Obergefell v. Hodges case. Last year, Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which helped secure federal protections for same-sex marriage. Also, at least 20 state governments and Washington, D.C., have banned the use of “conversion therapy” on minors. Most recently, the Food and Drug Administration has created new guidelines allowing more gay and bisexual men to donate blood.  

Equal rights for the LGBTQ community would not be where it is today if it weren’t for relentless pioneers like Christine Jorgensen, the first transgender celebrity; Glenn Burke, the first openly gay MLB player; and Kathy Kozachenko, the first openly LGBTQ person elected to public office in the U.S. These trailblazers and so many others have paved the way for the LGBTQ community to navigate the roadblocks to progress and equality. 

Today, the queer community continues to make history and break barriers through the work of people like Kim Petras, the first transgender woman to win a Grammy; Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate; Karine Jean-Pierre, the first openly lesbian woman to serve as White House press secretary; and Ariana DeBose, the first openly queer woman of color to win an Oscar. 

If we look back less than a decade, the leaps the U.S. has made in acceptance of the LGBTQ community are significant, but that doesn’t negate the fact that there’s still a long road ahead as their rights hang in the balance, not only in America but also around the world. Nevertheless, Pride highlights this diverse community and their right to live proudly.