Pride in the Desert Pays Tribute to the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall
On September 28, Tucson Pride is bringing together the LGBTQIA+ community and allies for a family-friendly day of fun, music, dance, and celebration during the Tucson Pride in the Desert festivities. Replete with the annual parade starting at 11 a.m. and a festival from noon to 9 p.m., Pride in the Desert involves balancing light-hearted jubilation with commemoration, reflection, and mobilization.
“Ultimately, ‘Rise Up!’ is a call to action in our community,” explains Tucson Pride President Sam Cloud over email. “We have made vast progress over 50 years, but there is still so much work to do and we look towards the next generation to rise up and continue the efforts of those who paved the way before us.”
The 50-year landmark Cloud refers to is the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village, which began in the early morning of Saturday, June 28 when police attempted – yet another – raid on the Stonewall Inn’s clientele. The patrons fought back, organized, and the queer community has been fighting for equal civil rights ever since.
Locally, the LGBTQIA+ community had its own Stonewall seven years later. According to TucsonPride.org, the “Tucson Pride history began with a different tragedy; the brutal murder of Richard Heakin, a young gay man leaving the Stonewall Tavern here in Tucson one evening in 1976. When his attackers were given a slap on the wrist, our community rose UNITED to rally for change, officially forming the organization now known as Tucson Pride. Their efforts led to some of the first LGBT anti-discrimination legislation in the country.”
For the last 42 years, pride events have been held annually – starting at Himmel Park in 1977 with a handful of community members in attendance. Now, it is a large-scale fete that hosts over 4,000 event-goers flocking to Reid Park to enjoy the parade, activities for all-ages – including a Kid Zone, two stages of entertainment, along with loads of vendors and community resources set up throughout the event area.
“It takes a village to put on both the parade and festival,” Cloud shares, laying out the impressive details of producing an event that costs $70,000. The nonprofit’s board of directors navigates numerous local and state governmental agencies such as Parks and Recreation and the Tucson Police and Fire departments, coordinates 150 volunteers, collaborates with over 100 sponsors and vendors, works with other Pride organizations, books entertainment with local and national talent, diligently fundraises, and manages all the logistics that ensure event goers are happy and comfortable.
“We’ve addressed feedback from the community last year related to the festival and how we can improve the experience for all,” Cloud details. “We’ve added cooling tents, free water, more diversity, LGBTQ history, and we’ve implemented new processes to reduce admission line wait times.”
Those hospitality aspects will enhance the enjoyment of the entertainment at Reid Park’s DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center. The main stage headliners include Esera Tuaolo, Brody Ray, and Debby Holiday. Headlining the community and dance tent are DJ Tega, DJ Remix, and DJ Shorty.
In addition to live music, Tucson Pride’s Tucson Queerstory R*Evolution committee will have a historic walk through the festival grounds highlighting notable moments in local LGBTQIA+ history, as well as displaying memorabilia and video, and collecting personal stories from attendees for a video archive.
Along with supporting, celebrating, and fostering understanding of a diverse queer community, the focus of Pride in the Desert is firmly rooted in promoting the visibility of the LGBTQIA+ people and the ongoing work for equal rights.
“Visibility is crucial, now more than ever.” Cloud elucidates: “There is a large portion of the population that believes since our community now has the ability to marry same sex partners that we have achieved equal rights. This is far from the truth! Rights of people identifying as transgender have been ripped away from them. We still do not have full protection under the law to be free from employment discrimination, housing discrimination, businesses can still refuse service to us (remember the wedding cake bakery controversy?).
“Locally, one of the key issues happening right now is the ongoing debate over TUSD’s proposed new inclusive, age-appropriate and scientifically based sex education curriculum.”
According to an Arizona Public Media story published in late August, TUSD’s “curriculum is controversial because it moves beyond sexual abstinence as the only effective way of preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The updated proposal also takes a more gender-neutral position toward LGBT students, removing language they might find offensive.” The Tucson Unified School District board will vote on updating the sex education curriculum on September 10.
In an August 22, 2019 KVOA Channel 4 interview on the TUSD sex education updates, Cloud eloquently states, “Education and knowledge is power. That’s how we change things, and to limit children from education that could very well save their lives someday is abhorrent. We cannot do that. Children deserve better. The next generation deserves better.”
The next generation does deserve better. For the progress made over the last five decades (see below for landmark events), the fact that violent hate crimes perpetuated against the queer community still happen and that Safe Spaces are set up at local businesses to assist victims of hate crimes is telling.
“We’re people too,” Cloud said in an August 21 KVOA Channel 4 interview. “We’re just like everyone else, we have families, we have jobs, we deserve the same rights and we deserve to not live in fear.”
The Pride parade is free to spectators, starts at 11 a.m., and wends from Country Club Road and Broadway Boulevard to Reid Park at South Concert Place Way. To participate in the parade, there are nominal fees based on the entry type. The deadline to enter is Sept. 14. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for entry details and costs. General admission tickets for the festival are $20, with various discounts offered. Visit TucsonPride.org/pride2019 for all of the information.
Landmark Events in the LGBTQIA+ Human Rights Movement since Stonewall*
June 28, 1969: The Stonewall Riots put the LGBT movement on the mainstream map due to the size and media publicity.
December 1973: The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality as a “diagnosis” from the second edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).
May 20, 1996: Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rules a Colorado state constitutional amendment preventing protected status based upon homosexuality or bisexuality goes against the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause in Romer v. Evans.
June 26, 2003: In Lawrence v. Texas, SCOTUS rules that laws prohibiting private homosexual activity between consenting adults are unconstitutional and violate the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment Due Process Clause.
October 2009: The Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act becomes U.S. law, expanding the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
September 20, 2011: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 is implemented, “allowing” gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to serve openly in the U.S. Armed Forces. (It did not establish a non-discrimination policy.)
December 2012: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) adopts a Strategic Enforcement Plan that includes “coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply” as a top Commission enforcement priority.
June 26, 2013: SCOTUS strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, ruling that DOMA’s denial of federal recognition of same-sex marriages violates the U.S. Constitution’s 5th Amendment Due Process Clause.
January 2015: President Obama acknowledges the LGBTQ community in the State of the Union address. For the first time in U.S. history, the words lesbian, bisexual, and transgender were used in the president’s State of the Union address, when President Obama mentioned that, as Americans, we “respect human dignity” and condemn the persecution of minority groups.
April 2015: President Obama calls for end to conversion therapy. (Note that the link to the WhiteHouse.gov website referenced in the article, along with the petition, lead to a dead link on WhiteHouse.gov.)
June 2015: Sexual orientation is added to the U.S. Armed Forces’ anti-discrimination policy.
June 26, 2015: Love wins! SCOTUS rules in Obergefell v. Hodges that marriage is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. This decision also enables married, same-sex couples to adopt children.
July 15, 2015: The U.S. EEOC rules that discrimination based on sexual orientation is covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII prohibition on sex discrimination in the workplace.
June 24, 2016: The Stonewall National Monument is officially designated by President Obama, becoming the first U.S. National Monument designated as a historic LGBT site.
June 30, 2016: U.S. Military bans on transgender people serving in the armed forces are repealed. (However, on January 22, 2019, SCOTUS allowed Trump’s March 2018 ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. Armed Forces to take effect.)
November 2018:LGBTQ candidates sweep the U.S. midterm elections. More than 150 LGBTQ candidates are elected into local, state, and national offices, putting a historic number of queer or transgender politicians in positions of power.
May 2019: Just ahead of Pride 2019, New York City announced it will erect a monument in Greenwich Village dedicated to Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, activists who played critical roles in both the Stonewall Riots and the NYC queer scene. The two started Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) in 1970, an organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ people experiencing homelessness.
*The United States has no federal law prohibiting discrimination nationwide other than from federal executive orders which have a more limited scope than from protections through federal legislation. This list of dates is certainly not exhaustive.
These dates were outlined by – with a huge thanks to – Tucson Pride President Sam Cloud, along with some additions by this author.