New York, 1999: Heritage of Pride (HOP) is a volunteer-managed not-for-profit corporation that organizes Gay and Lesbian events in New York City, culminating each year in Pride Week at the end of June. Five members of their board of trustees took the time to answer a few questions about their organization: Russell Murphy (RM), Co-Coordinator; Janice Thom (JaT), March Chair; Jonathan Tominar (JoT), Development Director; Alan Reiff (AR), Executive Secretary; Jimmy Riordan (JR), Media Director.
RM: Heritage of Pride was founded in 1984 by members of the recently disbanded Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee. HOP developed a structure of individual membership rather than the coalition of groups that made up CSLDC.
AR: Stonewall was a catalyst for a change. Similar to the MARCHES in the American Southern States. It's all about civil rights: no matter the players.
JaT: In June of 1969, the police began to make a - for that time - standard raid on a gay club on Christopher Street called the Stonewall Inn. For the first time, the patrons refused to go quietly. Some say a drag queen kicked and resisted all the way into the wagon, others say is was a bull dyke. Either way, the evening ended with the police and members of the bar staff locked INSIDE the bar and enraged street queens and passers-by outside. In the next three days, the gathering on the street continued, the bar's window was broken by an uprooted parking meter, pennies from the meter were thrown at the cops as they fled the scene and a police car was overturned and burned. The Post's headline read "Queen Bees Stinging Mad."
RM: This event marks the first time that gay people stood as a community to resist the actions of society at large. The term "gay power" was born from the riots. The gay community of the time found they had a voice and strength together. Several activists group were born from the riots, including the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gay Liberation Front. These groups organized the first rally a month after the riots and the first march in June 1970. These were the first pride events. The riots are considered the birth of the modern gay rights movement. We hold the annual Pride events to commemorate those few who felt the need to fight back and stand proud as gay people.
JoT: The sixties was a universal time of social unrest, the labor of the changes to follow. The Stonewall Riots were not an intentional event (not planned) but a spontaneous reaction to what for the lack of a better description the "last straw" & "mob mentality" factors...They were spurned on by the media images of other civil unrest and a single unknown individual's reaction.
JR: To me the most amazing thing about the Stonewall Riots is the fact that the identity of the person at ground zero whose lone act of civil disobedience inspired everyone else on the street that night to stand up and fight back is unknown, and will always remain at best speculation...as a result, all people who today identify as Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, Bisexual or as Friends can take pride in the action that this person took thirty years ago as something they could have done.
JoT: Like a spark on kindling, once it started there was no stopping it. Individuals reacting became a small group reacting, then a mob reacting, finally a community wakening; that is what those riots that lasted days caused. The realization that we could be more than victims, we can be shapers of our future. These events have reached mythic proportions, no one can be absolutely certain of the exact details. We can only catch glimpses; but we don't need to have more. For we are inspired by what the Riots have come to mean to us today... visibility & our rights.
JR: The continuous production of Pride Week events for the 500,000+ participants who come to express themselves annually. And the outstanding outreach we do addressing the concerns of the Community as well as the support we give to smaller and newborn Pride committees whenever/wherever we find them.
RM: We are a small group of volunteers that plan all year long for a time when the entire gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community can be as one community instead of many different communities. Every year when the events come together and the community seems pleased, we feel it is our best success, yet sit down the next day to make it even better the next year.
JaT: In simplest possible terms, the growth of our events. Not because having lots of people on the street, in and of itself, is somehow wonderful, but because of what that signifies; that more people want to be out, that more people ARE out and, at least that one day a year, out demanding to be dealt with in a free and equal way.
JoT: ...that these events annually allow our presence to be seen, we are splattered across all the media outlets (Newspaper, Magazine, Television, Radio, Internet, etc...). Letting the world know we're here, we're queer, we're fabulous! Over the years HOP has been instrumental in the lighting the Empire State building lavender in honor of Gay & Lesbian Pride every year; and the annual painting a lavender line down Fifth Avenue March route, announcing to the world to look out, cause here we come...
JR: Despite trends which come and go over the years our events have always been open to all people, no strings attached, and convincing people of that fact is a never ending chore.
AR: The PRIDE ORGANIZATIONS around the world as a whole have to find a way to be more overtly inclusive to minorities in the L/G/B/T community.
JaT: Homophobia, both from w/in and w/out the queer community.
RM: ...Making the varied communities seen and heard. It is hard to balance all the opinions that are so important to all of us, with the ones that may seem important to only a few. While we strive to bring the entire queer community together, it seems that we inadvertently leave some one or something out. This is why we try and encourage as many different people join our ranks so that we can better serve the community as a whole.
Our other greatest obstacle is securing enough volunteers, not only to make sure the events happen, but also to continue the work of the organization through out the year and into the future.
JoT: Invisibility in the community that we serve. Many people aren't fully aware that we are an all-volunteer base organization. Many people go to the Rally, March, Festival, & Dance without thinking about what it takes to put on such Mega-events. Many more have always wanted to get involved...but feel intimidated. They don't know that it is so easy - once one takes the first step, simply helping out, it's amazing what happens to them. It is shown on their faces, in their lives.
Another obstacle is that many in the community don't realize that the majority of HOP's financial support comes directly from them, the community that we serve. Corporate sponsorships, currently only makes up less that 10% of what is brought in to help produce the events. Some support does come in from local businesses, but the majority of what comes in is from individual support and donation.
JaT: To continue to organize events the community needs and wants.
RM: The future is always hard to predict. We hope to continue to provide the queer community with Pride events every year...We have ambitions of ending our fiscal year with enough of a surplus that we can share it with the community through a grant program of some kind.
AR: The future will be more of an educational push. Many rights have been achieved MANY have not. In working to achieve more equality we need to tell "the story" to those too young to know what it was like before. This way they won't make the same mistakes and can build on what has already been done. I'd like to see HOP somehow get more politically active (within the limitations of our current structure).
JR: To maintain the Grass root spontaneity of the "old days" and to continue to help spread throughout the country and world the feeling of Pride--to show through example persons who live in areas where there are no Pride events how to go about it.
JoT: The future of the organization is the future of the Lesbian & Gay Community; and how much HOP can reflect those changes.
RM: People can call us (212-80-PRIDE), email us (email@example.com), come to any of our meetings, stop by the office or just talk to any of the members.
JR: Call us, or drop in unannounced; you will not be turned away, there is something to work on plan or think about all year round.
JaT: ...we need hundreds of people during the last week of June to make sure these events - the Rally, March, Dance & PrideFest are the best they can be, which is what NYC's queer community deserves.
JoT: We are always looking for more volunteers, we are all volunteers (like the Executive Board) and we are all in it together. The volunteer make up of Heritage of Pride, roughly (these are not exact numbers but estimates from my personal observation) is as follows: the August to November Planning Meetings about 28 - 38; December to March Planning Meeting around 40; April to May our membership begin to swell to 50; and in June we have a couple of hundred volunteers.
What truly is amazing is the amount of work that is primarily done by just a small group (at first), then how many who come together during that last week just to share the spirit of Pride.
JR: And, vote for your rights not your purse!
AR: To volunteer! To come to the March! To walk in the March! To come out to those around you. Getting involved varies for each person. But each person should do what they can.
AR: Volunteering makes me feel like I am an active participant in what effects my life socially, politically and emotionally. Also it gives me a sense of community and belonging.
JoT: I sometimes consider my volunteering a repayment for the Pride events; I've been there, I've enjoyed them. So if I want them to continue I need to help. I also volunteer my time because of what HOP has come to mean to me, and what I get from it. Celebration of who I am!
RM: I first became a member of Heritage of Pride because I felt that the organization discriminated against queer people of faith. I believe that the best change happens from within so I joined to make a difference. I found that while there were individuals within HOP that have strong feelings against organized religion, and that those feelings were reflected in the decisions of the organization, that it was not outright discrimination. Queer people of faith needed a voice that was just as strong in the organization and I tried to make myself that voice. I have stayed because the voice is still needed, just like we need the voices of other sections of the queer community to be heard within HOP. I also continue to volunteer because I believe that the Pride events are important to the community as a whole. The events are a time of protest and of celebration. Both are important to the queer community. We are strengthened every time we come together. I will probably continue to volunteer as long as there is a need and HOP answers that need.
JR: I volunteer my time because this is the only way I've found to be an activist. I like having a hand in perpetuating the unity of the many and diverse communities that make up our world, (as a tribe we have problems and disagreements but we are more creative and we do work them out). I hope to be able to continue to do so and I hope I succeed in encouraging all people who show up on the HOP doorstep into finding ways to help build Pride.
For more information about Heritage of Pride and Pride Week, click here.