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    The ‘Mother of Pride’

    By Louise “Lou” Fischer–

    Happy Pride Month; what used to be only a day is now a whole month! We’re almost done with this pesky pandemic, so wrap yourself in a rainbow flag and celebrate the 52nd anniversary of Stonewall. While there is no full-blown Pride parade of 270+ contingents crawling up Market Street followed by the blowout party in the Civic Center, San Francisco Pride, the official organizer of the Pride March, announced they will be holding smaller in-person events. 

    One of my new favorite events, completely unaffiliated with San Francisco Pride, is the People’s March and Rally organized by Alex U. Inn and Juanita MORE! from Polk Street to City Hall—the original route of the first gay parade in 1970. G-d bless these two iconic San Francisco activists for taking a stand against the over-corporatization of Pride and bringing the march back to its roots while also shining a light on the Black Lives Matter movement.

    My partner Amy and I attended last year’s inaugural event, and while we were nervous about getting too close to crowds and therefore stretched the “social distance” paradigm from 6 feet to 100 feet (when we could), we were close enough to hear Alex, my long-time buddy (from the 1980s, yikes!), speak up for change and the importance of advocating for Black people and other people of color.

    Thinking about the roots of the LGBTQ movement got me wondering about the history of Pride celebrations, marches, and how we surreptitiously managed to wrangle a whole month from what started out as a single day. The short story is that Pride commemorates the June 1969, Stonewall Uprising in Greenwich Village where a group of fearless fairies, drag queens, queers, trans people, and gender-nonconformers had finally had enough and fought back against police brutality and the endless raids of queer establishments. 

    What is less known is that a Jewish bisexual woman, Brenda Howard, known as the “Mother of Pride,” coordinated the first LGBT rally one month after the Stonewall uprising, and a year later, led the committee that planned Gay Pride Week and the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade. Howard’s event evolved into the annual New York City Pride march and Pride celebrations that are now held around the world.    

    If you put 1000 LGBTQ people in a room and mentioned Brenda Howard’s name, you’d probably have 999 people say, “Brenda who?” Howard (1946–2005) was a radical feminist, anti-war and AIDS activist throughout her life, and an active participant in gay and lesbian organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists’ Alliance. 

    Along with other committee members, she is credited with popularizing the word “Pride” that is associated with LGBTQ marches and celebrations. She was unabashedly open about her bisexuality, polyamory, and affiliation with the BDSM community, and worked for decades to increase understanding and visibility related to what were then considered “taboo subjects” even within the queer community. 

    She co-chaired the leather contingent of the Second National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights in 1987, and was instrumental in getting “Bi” added to the title of the 1993 March on Washington so it would become the “March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights.”

    Howard died of colon cancer at the age of 58 on June 28, 2005, the 36th anniversary of the start of the 6-day Stonewall Uprising. That year, the Queens, New York, branch of PFLAG created an award in her honor. The Brenda Howard Award

    ( ) recognizes “an individual or organization that best exemplifies the vision, principals and community service exemplified by the late LGBT rights activist Brenda Howard and who serves as a positive and visible role model for the Bisexual Community.”

    At the time, it was the first award given by a major U.S. LGBTQ organization that was named after an out bisexual person. The winner of the 2005 award, Larry Nelson, Howard’s surviving partner, noted that “[if] you needed some kind of help organizing some type of protest or something in social justice, all you had to do was call her and she’ll just say when and where.” In 2014 he described Howard as “an in-your-face activist, she fought for anyone who had their rights trampled on.”

    Her unquestionable legacy within the LGBTQ and feminist movements was best expressed by her longtime friend, activist and author Tom Limoncelli: “[T]he next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why Gay Pride Month is June tell them, a bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.”

    Happy Pride, everyone, and stay safe and get vaccinated if you haven’t done so already!

    Louise (Lou) Fischer is a Former Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and has served as an appointed and elected Delegate for the State Democratic Party. She is a proud graduate of the Emerge California Women’s Democratic Leadership program, was a San Francisco Commissioner, and has served in leadership positions in multiple nonprofit and community-based organizations.

    Published on June 10, 2021