Happy Pride Month Brooklyn!
Pride month is always tons of fun in Brooklyn. From the parades to the parties it’s a wonderful time to celebrate diversity, inclusion and visibility, the highlight of which is the Pride Parade. The Pride Parade was started in 1970 to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which were a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the gay community to protest the police raid of the Stonewall Inn.
Historically Stonewall is often seen as the start of the Gay Pride movement, a veritable phoenix rising from the ashes, but even before Stonewall there were men and women working to support and defend gay communities from discrimination throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. One such group was the Mattachine Society.
The Gay Pride Movement of the 1970’s utilized the tactics and language of the Civil Rights Movement that came before, but in the 1960’s when the Mattachine Society was active there was no handbook to protest large scale discrimination. This was a time during which LGBTQ+ communities were deemed criminal and a Senate subcommittee issued a report calling homosexuality a national threat. It was in this hostile environment that small pockets of activism like the Mattachine Society started to grow. They based their name on a medieval French secret society of masked men who, through their anonymity were empowered to take on the ruling class. The organization was started in Los Angeles but soon there was a New York City group with many chapters. One of these chapters was in Brooklyn Heights, and in 1966 they staged a successful campaign against a local newspaper, the Brooklyn Heights Press.
In the early 1950's Brooklyn Heights found itself at the center of a growing gay culture which, at a time of rampant homophobia, they seemed to take in stride. According to Suleiman Osman, the author of The Invention of Browntone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York, a letter in the local paper referred to the gay community as “those dears” which they had no complaints about. They were called a “harmless lot who mostly stuck to themselves.”
But things did not stay that way for long. By the 1960’s LGBTQ+ folks were pushed out of the Village by gentrification and police crackdowns, and began relocating to Brooklyn Heights. Their new neighbors, a crop of white-collar professionals, were far less tolerant. The Brooklyn Heights Association issues a statement calling the gay community a danger to the “wholesome development of minors” in the community.
By 1966 things got worse.
In response, Dick Leitsch of the Mattachine Society of New York sent in a letter to the editor suggesting that rampant homophobia was at play and reiterated that the humanity of the gay community must be respected.
After the paper refused to allow them to place an ad calling for a town meeting to discuss the issue, the Mattachine Society called for a boycott.
The paper responded with a front page editorial:
But by then even its readers were getting tired of it!
By the 1970’s the boycott had proved successful. While the paper never redacted its earlier comments they did start a new column:
So as Brooklyn celebrates Pride Month let’s remember the good hard work that was done in the community even before Stonewall. Before it was embraced by the straight community Brooklyn has always had a strong proud queer presence.
Happy Pride Month, Brooklyn and remember love is love is love!