As our nation celebrates LGBTQ Pride Month to recognize and honor the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, we at The University of Akron champion our students, faculty, staff and community members in support of each other.
Celebrations of Pride Month, Pride parades and Pride marches were not rooted in the signature joy and excitement that mark this time in the month of June each year. Pride materialized commemorating the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the ensuing protests and demonstrations that represented a struggle for civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
In the early morning of June 28th, 1969, eight officers from the New York City Public Morals Division, a unit of the police department, raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. This raid wasn’t unusual in New York (or many other cities). Back then, the Public Morals Division enforced all laws for vice and gambling, including prostitution, narcotics and homosexuality. Police could arrest and even force hospitalization of gay people.
On this particular evening, however, the bar patrons fought back. It started when Marsha P. Johnson cried “I got my civil rights!” and threw a shot glass into a mirror (now known as "the Shot Glass that was Heard Around the World"). More and more patrons joined the fight, including people from neighboring bars, and mayhem ensued. Hundreds of people resisted arrest and fought against police oppression. Rioters broke windows, set cars on fire and injured three police officers. The police ended up barricading themselves inside the Stonewall Inn. New York City’s Tactical Patrol Force intervened, but even they were run out of the neighborhood by the rioters. Things eventually calmed down. But once the word got out about the riots, thousands returned the next night to continue the protest. The protest lasted six days.
Stonewall was not the start of the LGBTQ movement. LGBTQ activists have been organizing since at least the 1920s. But the rage and fervor caused by the Stonewall riots helped catapult the LGBTQ movement to a new level. Media coverage of the riots allowed others to see the LGBTQ struggle for themselves and to relate to and support those fighting for their rights. Events at Stonewall emboldened others to do what they could to help.*
While the pride movement brought LGBTQ life out of the shadows, the HIV/AIDS epidemic plunged the community into crisis and action. In 1987, The AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed for the first time on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The quilt is both a celebration of the lives lost to AIDS-related causes and a powerful reminder of the disease’s deadly toll. Particularly after the spread of HIV/AIDS—political and social activism has become central to Pride events and continues to strive toward community and action.
In the following years, the anniversary of the Stonewall riots was marked by demonstrations that turned to celebrations, and ultimately the manifestation of Pride Month.
As we join in this celebration, we are reminded of the importance of reaffirming our love and support for everyone at UA, including the LGBTQ+ community. Our national dialogue reminds us of the importance of this now. Our University strives to draw strength from people’s differences and supports each other in reaching our fullest potential as we pursue our goals and dreams. We vow to continue efforts to make this learning environment, campus and our community inclusive and welcoming.
Pride celebrations have grown from the first Pride marches of a few hundred people, to parades with crowds of more than one million. We’ve come a long way from the police brutality and stigmatization of the 1970s. The parades have become the voice and coming together of the LGBTQ community and allies to celebrate the lives of the LGBTQ+ community. For seven years, from 2009 through 2016, President Obama officially declared June as LGBT Pride month. Today the LGBTQ community can get married and legally adopt children in all 50 states.
We know we have work to do. Throughout U.S. history, moments of upheaval have led to the inception of genuine progress and change. As crowds march sparked by the killing of George Floyd, the pain, anger and turmoil has galvanized people against discrimination throughout the nation. We have been inundated with devastating personal stories, and there are just as many parallel personal tragedies in the LGBTQ community.
The new student-led Inclusive Excellence Action Team is undertaking the charge to get to know one another’s stories, celebrate our differences and make all UA students welcome. We know that the telling of personal stories is powerful—because knowing someone can change people, and enough changed people can change the world. As we celebrate Pride this month, we encourage you to join in celebrating the diversity of everyone, including your LGBTQ+ family members, friends, neighbors and acquaintances.
We are Akron. Together We Rise.
Jolene A. Lane
Vice President for Inclusion & Equity
Chief Diversity Officer
Title IX Coordinator
The University of Akron
John A. Messina
Vice President for Student Affairs
The University of Akron