MANCHESTER, NH – Crowds of people gathered on the afternoon of June 19 to attend Manchester’s Third Annual Pridefest. Unlike last year’s event, which was a bit of a rushed, small affair, this year’s event was much larger in size, occupying most of Arms Park. Overlooking a calm, peaceful Merrimack River, the park is usually a place for quiet reflection – a patch of nature among concrete streets and brick buildings.
Saturday, however, the park was bustling with energy as people walked about, scratched out colorful drawings in a parking lot with chalk, played an oversized game of chess, sat in front of booths, and sold various food and drinks. A singer belted out tunes of various kinds, her voice going through a speaker that could be heard from some distance away.
People wore outfits of various kinds. Some dressed in normal clothes; others wore colorful outfits. Unlike the normal, subdued colors of everyday life, people were freer to be themselves. While there were no police officers in sight, a member of the fire department could be seen here and there, observing the proceedings.
A convivial atmosphere settled over the area, with people walking back and forth between the Juneteenth event at the Hop Knot and Pride in the park. Together with advocacy organizations were Manchester Mental Health and Amoskeag Health. A total of 88 organizations showed up, the list of which can be found here.
People from all walks of life showed up: men, women, and anyone in between or outside the gender binary. Long lines formed in front of some of the food trucks, especially Playa Bowls, which served frozen treats of various kinds. A youth tent had been set up specifically for young people to access. Planned Parenthood sat next to Double Midnight Comics; there were as many businesses as non-profit organizations.
Historically, the first Pride event took place as an organized march on June 28, 1970. The previous year, police had made it their business to arrest, beat, and harass LGBT patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. At the time, homosexuality was still taboo. Many such businesses like Stonewall were owned by the mafia who paid police officers to look the other way while extorting patrons for money, threatening to out them if they did not comply.
The arrests by themselves had not been anything out of the ordinary; they had been continuing for some time. In New York, “masquerading” as a member of the opposite gender was illegal. Rioting began in earnest when police brutality occurred. The following day, despite having been torn apart by police, the Stonewall Inn opened again. Police showed up once more to tear gas and beat members of the crowd.
New York media in 1969 condemned gay rights activists with unkind pejoratives. Of particular concern was how the phrase “gay power,” chanted by activists might be inextricably linked with violence. For some time previous to this, activists had used passive, non-threatening tactics with very little to show for their efforts. The world seemed against them; except for businesses that welcomed their patronage.
America in 1969 and 1970 was a country that had built upon conservative traditions for some time. Though the Civil Rights Act had been passed in 1964, discrimination against Black people persisted and continues to persist today. Despite Title IX of the Education Amendments being passed in 1972, discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation persisted and continues to persist today.
Activists in the first Pride parade march were under no illusions that anything would change at once. The cause of LGBT rights, despite numerous strides over the years, still contends with bigotry from leaders, both public and private.
Today, instead of a riot in which bricks, bottles, and all manner of objects are thrown at police officers, there are safe spaces wherein no officers are to be found. This year, both New York and Denver banned police from their pride events. While violence against LGBT has continued to escalate, particularly against LGBT people of color, the prevailing belief is that police create an atmosphere and intimidation- an atmosphere completely at odds with trying to create a safe space for LGBT people to exist, relax, and have fun.
This was what everyone who attended Manchester’s Pride event found this year: a place wherein they can exist without judgment, without criticism, without suffering torment or abuse. Instead, people could easily forget how bad things were, and perhaps still are, for a time. Rather than feeling the need to riot, people can come to Pride simply to enjoy themselves.
That is a victory for anyone who felt excluded, marginalized, hurt, or otherwise ill-treated by a society which values heteronormativity and homology over diversity and inclusion.