Imagine a pride march in Lagos; scores of Lagos market women in rainbow colored wrappers, hundreds of queer people and their allies waving flags, the area boys not to be left out, happily wearing rainbow bandanas, oblivious to the reason for celebration but hoping to get some food, and maybe pick a pocket or two. The pride march moving from Balogun market down through third mainland bridge and finally settling for the ultimate big party in Gbagada.
Whether this would ever happen is all up in the air but as we speculate on the future of pride in Nigeria, let’s take a look at its history;
In the wee hours of June 28th, 1969, while most of the city was still asleep, eight officers from the New York City’s 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 and most major US cities in the sixties. Back then, the Public Morals Division enforced all laws for vice and gambling, including prostitution, drugs and homosexuality. Cops could arrest and even force gay people to check into mental institutions.
On this particular evening, however, the bar patrons did not take it lying down. 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”). This roused more patrons to join the fight, including people from neighboring bars, and mayhem ensued. Hundreds of people resisted arrest and fought against police oppression. Rioters broke windows, set vehicles on fire and injured three police officers. The police ended up barricading themselves inside the Stonewall Inn.
New York City’s Tactical Patrol Force were brought in to quell the mayhem, but even they were run out of the neighborhood by the rioters. Things eventually calmed down. But word got spread about the riots and thousands joined the next night to continue the protest. The protest went on for six days.
The LGBTQ movement had begun before Stonewall, records show as early as the 1920s, organizing had already began in the community. But the zeal and rage caused by the Stonewall riots helped catapult the LGBTQ movement to another dimension and brought in a new army of allies. Extensive 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 by participating or donating. Events at Stonewall galvanized others to do what they could to help.
In 1970, the following year, the anniversary of the Stonewall riots was marked by riots in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other locations. At first, the New York City day of celebration went by the name “Christopher Street Liberation Day.” In California, these parades became known as “Gay Freedom Marches,” and the day was called “Gay Freedom Day.”
Politics and celebration were the driving force of the parades. They boosted the visibility of the LGBTQ community and served as a megaphone for LGBTQ issues — like protection against harassment, raising awareness of the AIDS epidemic or fighting for marriage equality. They gave a growing LGBTQ movement a voice and helped them become a force.
The culture evolved in the mid to late 80’s, as less radical activists began taking over the march committees in different cities. They moved past the tags of “Gay Liberation” and “Gay Freedom” and embraced the term “Gay Pride.”
This year some pride events were significantly scaled down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual events were held in Sydney, Paris, New York, and some other cities while some were held on the streets with much less fanfare. In Nigeria, social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram have given more visibility to the movement but there is still a long way to go in the fight for liberation. But is Nigeria’s ‘stonewall revolution’ going to be online or on the streets like the image painted at the beginning of this article? Time will tell.