“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us” – Marsha P Johnson
When I think of Pride I cannot help but reflect on how far we have come. From the lavender scare to coded language, colonisation to decriminalisation, ours is a community steeped in history. And while there is so much we can find to celebrate, and so much gratitude for those who fought before us, I find myself looking to the future and how far we have still to go.
Pride as a protest
Pride Month falls in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots which began when police officers entered the Stonewell Inn on Christopher Street in New York and demanded to ‘check the sex’ of some of the bars patrons by physical examination.
The Stonewall Inn had for years been a safe space for the gay, lesbian and trans community in New York, regularly frequented by drag queens and those who did not conform to gender binaries, and as a result had been subject to regular police raids. At this point in history, homosexuality was illegal in all-but-one US state, and ‘masquerading’ as a member of the opposite sex was a crime in New York.
The accounts of the events that followed that night are varied, and exactly how the riots started are unclear, but during attempts to arrest the bar’s patrons the crowd erupted, attracting attention of others around the Stonewall Inn and the unrest grew. What followed was six days of protests against police harassment and persecution of the queer community in the United States and marked a turning point in the history of gay liberation. The riots attracted a great deal of media attention, both within the US and beyond, and the sense of community in a fight for LGBT+ rights grew.
Exactly one year after the Stonewall Riots, members of the LGBTQ+ community organised and held the first ‘Christopher Street Liberation Day’ and marched through the streets of New York with gay banners and signs. That first march made the front page of the New York Times, “There was little open animosity, and some bystanders applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign “I am a Lesbian” walked by.”
From that first march and through the 1970’s and into the 1980’s the Gay liberation movement grew.
The pink triangle
During World War II, Hitler’s army identified groups of people held in Nazi concentration camps by assigning them an arm band with a colour-coded upside down triangle to indicate their “crime” or reason for imprisonment. The most commonly known symbol is the star of David badge or armband worn by the Jewish community; however, many other groups of people were required to wear arm bands as well: political prisoners, convicted felons, alcoholics, sex workers (then called prostitutes), individuals with disabilities, and queer folks, among others. Each group had an assigned upside down triangle whose colour identified their crime. The pink triangle was assigned to identify homosexual and bisexual men, trans women, and other “sexual offenders,” such as pedophiles. These badges of shame were used beyond World War II as a derogatory and offensive symbol of the gay/bisexual male and trans female communities for decades after.
In 1972, the publication of the memoir of gay concentration camp survivor Heinz Heger brought attention to the pink triangle as a symbol of gay rights. Gay liberation groups in Germany then reclaimed the pink triangle and encouraged gay men to wear it as a memorial to the victims of those concentration camps, and in protest of the continued persecution of gay men. Then, in 1975, Dr. Frank N. Furter can be seen wearing a pink triangle in the queer cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This use of the pink triangle grew as more and more members of the queer community began to use the symbol, reclaiming it’s meaning to one of pride and protest. Throughout the late 1970’s and 1980’s the pink triangle became more visible within the queer community as a symbol of queer identity, to mark safe spaces for the LGBT+ community, and has been used by groups like the Pink Panthers Movement, combating anti-LGBTQ violence and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.
Triangle tattoos have long since become a symbol of queer pride, and there are many variations of the upside down triangle ranging from the traditional pink symbol to a simple black symbol to a symbol of overlapping pink and blue colors (the latter to symbolize bisexuality, specifically).
In 1978 Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States, tasked Gilbert Baker, an artist, gay man and drag queen, with designing a symbol of pride for the queer community.
The first rainbow flag was born, originally designed with eight stripes comprised of hot pink for sex; red for life; orange for healing; yellow for sunlight; green for nature; turquoise for art; indigo for harmony; and violet for spirit. Two flags were hand-dyed and stitched by thirty volunteers in time for that year’s Pride parade.
Following Harvey Milk’s assassination in November 1978 there was a surge in demand for the flag, and hot pink fabric was extremely difficult to source, so the hot pink stripe was dropped. Then for the 1979 Pride parade Baker dropped the turquoise stripe to even out the number of stripes when decorating the parade’s route. Resulting in the Pride flag as we know it today which really gained prominence in 1994, when Baker created a mile-long flag in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
Since then, the rainbow flag has become a symbol of queer pride across the globe, and many variations of the flag exist today to represent different identities within the community. The flag, much like the triangle, has long been used as a symbol of acceptance and to signal safe spaces for members of the community.
Pride and One Direction
In the early years of One Direction the fandom was not considered a safe space for queer fans, and in response in 2014 Project Rainbow Direction was born. The project was developed by a small group of fans, and launched from a tumblr blog, Takemehomefromnarnia, which had been started to fight homophobia in the One Direction fandom with education, action and visibility.
The aim of the project was to increase visibility and create a safe space for LGBTQ+ fans by encouraging fans to bring rainbows to concerts, developing materials such as posters, fundraising by selling rainbow merch and by organising the first rainbow lights fan project in Boston in September 2015.
For the first time, on 3 September 2015, in Buffalo, New York, during One Direction’s On The Road Again (OTRA) tour, Harry Styles lifted a rainbow flag on stage. He waved it, he danced with it, he wore it as a cape, and ever since that show and throughout his solo career Harry has continued to wave those flags on stage as a symbol of LGBTQ+ Pride.
Since 2014 Rainbow Direction has not only supported One Direction tours, solo careers as well. As a result of their hard work and dedication, Rainbow Direction was nominated for and won the Global Digital Activist by the Gay Star News in September 2018. Furthermore, when Harry was presented with the Honour Award for LGBTQ Activist by the Gay Times later that year, Rainbow Direction were recognised for their role in making concerts a safe space for all of us.
Pride is, of course, not just about rainbow flags, the relationship with these obvious symbols can be complex for many members of our community, but they have undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the safe space that so many fans, and the artists themselves, now find at Louis’ and Harry’s shows.
This Pride Month we have so much to celebrate as a fandom, how far we have come from Harry lifting that first flag in 2015 to the rainbow flag hung onstage at Louis’ show in Antwerp this year but it is bittersweet for many of us. The version of me who watched Harry lift that flag in 2015 had such high hopes for what the next few years would bring, not just for the boys but for our community, for equality, and for myself. Pride is, for me, a chance to reflect, to be grateful, and to challenge myself in how I can make the future a better one for the young people that will come after all of us.
“Go out there, be nice to each other, be kind to yourself, love yourself.” – Harry Styles
Next issue: What Pride means to you