A Brief History of Pride: Lessons for the Modern Event Organiser

Tito HQ is in a city where it was illegal to be gay until the year this writer was born.

So, as you’d imagine, Pride is a subject very close to our hearts and minds.

For something with so rich a legacy, condensing the vivacious spirit of the LGBT+ community into the 30 days of Pride month is a challenge. Yet, every year, celebrations across the globe become even more effervescent, rising to that challenge.

In today’s post, given we’re in the final week of Pride month for this year, I wanted to reflect on the history of Pride celebrations through the years. I’ve drawn some comparisons that may influence how organisers make decisions about what their events represent and how they evolve. 

A Brief History of Pride

The first pride parade took place on the first anniversary of the first night of the Stonewall Riots (that is, June 28th, 1969). In the US in the sixties, people could be arrested for dressing in drag, simply being gay, or engaging in “acts of homosexuality” publicly. It was also an offence to sell liquor to people from LGBT+ community, among plenty other draconian restrictions.

The aforementioned Stonewall Riots were in response to police harassment that night in June at the Stonewall Inn, a mafia-owned gay bar in Greenwich Village. This was a final straw of sorts. Over the next week, hundreds rioted in pursuit of civil rights for the LGBT+ community and in rejection of the oppressive control the state held over them.

According to David Carter, author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, “The real change that Stonewall made was it transformed gay rights into a movement, by taking a very militant stand and taking it to the level of the street.”

a brief history of pride

Pride celebrations take place across the world to this day (literally) to mark the injustices still being faced by the community and the triumph of overcoming stigmas from the past. As part of this they celebrate those who prompted the movement including Storm Delavarie, Dick Leitsch, and Silvia Rivera.

The comparison: Knowing the importance of remembering where you come from, why an event started in the first place, and the problem or gap it hoped to solve for is vital. Remember also that pioneers in the field are ample sources of guidance. 

The resources: 

  1. MPI. MPI is the largest global meeting and event industry association. They provide publications and educational resources to event professionals worldwide which are available through their website. They also host their own events where they facilitate networking within the profession.
  2. Social Media Influencers Event Professionals Should Follow via Social Tables 

Knowing What You Symoblise

Though some argue that the image of a man with a handlebar moustache in a Banana Hammock is their default symbol of pride, many more would (somewhat more respectfully) say theirs is the rainbow flag.

While new design concepts to promote the representation of other groups under the LGBT+ umbrella have come up in recent decades, none have stuck quite as well as the (second-to) original, six-colour version:

a brief history of pride tito

Each colour has a particular meaning, each of which have resonated with the community for decades. According to Bustle:

  • Red = Life
  • Orange = Healing
  • Yellow = Sunlight
  • Green = Nature
  • Blue = Serenity
  • Lilac = Spirit

The comparison: Being willing to evolve, but knowing what that entails, is a valuable skill for any event organiser. Whether that means re-branding an event or business, it’s important to consider the values the event represents going forward, and how the symbolism chosen will affect the overall business strategy.

The resources: 

  1. When is it Time to Re-Brand? (And When It’s Time, How to Do It) via Special Events
  2. The Art of the Rebrand: When, Why and How to Rebrand Your Non-Profit via Non-Profit Pro
  3. Venngage Logo Maker: an easy way to redesign a professional logo with minimal effort. 

Growing Into Other Cities

a brief history of pride 2018

The above graphic came from research that The Guardian performed in 2016 to track the timeline of when cities held their first Pride celebrations. Visibly, cities followed Manhattan’s example both quickly and slowly. 

However, the chart doesn’t illustrate the fact that many Pride parades have since been cancelled due to conservative attitudes and governance. For example:

The comparison: Expansion is a tempting milestone for an event organiser, but not one that comes without challenge or sacrifice.

The resources:

  1. What You Need to Know About Hosting a Multi-City Conference via BizBash
  2. Web Summit has had major success in expanding from its original edition in 2009. To see how events can diversify to one of the largest extents in the history of the industry, you can check out their additional events: 

Co-Opting a Corporate Approach

In Charlottesville, North Carolina alone, in one year, Pride celebrations were worth $7.75 million. Impacting the local economy is an often-celebrated achievement for events, but there are more controversial aspects surrounding the commerce of Pride nowadays.

The idea of Pride parades becoming nothing more than a platform for corporations to advertise in faux-solidarity is a concern among many LGBT+ individuals. The level of corporate sponsorship is seen by some as so egregious that many people boycotted San Francisco Pride in 2016 as a result.

a brief history of pride logos

The comparison: It’s important to consider profit sources and sponsorships carefully. When shifting from a free to paid event, or a self-funded event to a sponsored one, consider the impact that associating yourself with other brands and corporations can have on how the public perceives you, and if that perception is what you want to portray.

The resources: 

  1. Event Power by Chris Rojek. This book discusses power and social control in the context of events and how the industry positively and negatively interacts with corporations and governments. 
  2. Corporate Sponsorship for a Creative Event Can Work via (Tito’s) Annie Lowney

For further reading on the history of LGBT+ rights, you can check out these resources:

aAnd, if you’d be so kind, for further reading on the event industry, you can subscribe to Tito blog posts at the top of the page.