Christopher Street Day: A brief history

Author: Lynn
BDSM & Society | Stories

What is Christopher Street Day?

Christopher Street Day, or CSD for short, is a demonstration by the LGBTQ+ community that originated in the United States. It is primarily known as a parade that takes place in various cities in German-speaking countries on different weekends, mainly, but not only, in June and July. In Germany, the biggest events take place in the cities of Cologne and Berlin, but almost every major city can boast an event. In English-speaking countries, the term “gay pride” and “pride parades” is usually used. June is celebrated worldwide as Pride Month.

The parades are dedicated to gays, lesbians, asexuals, aromantic, trans and intersex people as well as bisexuals and other queer people and their supporters. What looks like one big party from the outside has a political mission above all: namely the visibility and integration of the LGBTQ+ community in the heteronormative majority society, the normalization of alternative lifestyles and the end of discrimination.

One of the flags of the Pride movement.
Source: Wikimedia Commons .

Origin of the CSD

The origin of CSD is the uprising of homosexuals and other social minorities against police brutality in New York. In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the so-called Stonewall Uprising, named after the Stonewall Inn bar, began on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. The background to this was regular, sometimes violent raids on bars with a homosexual clientele, as homosexuality was illegal until 2003. African-Americans and people of Latin American descent with homosexual tendencies were particularly frequent victims of abuse and arbitrary arrests.

The law to which these raids applied was also one that specifically prohibited cross-dressing. So it was not just about homosexual orientation but also about queer gender identity. That evening, drag queens, black trans people and Latinxs (in particular) fought back against this injustice. There were battles with the New York police that lasted for days.

History of Christopher Street Day

One year later, on the first anniversary of this uprising, the “Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee” was founded. Since then, Christopher Street Liberation Day has been celebrated annually in New York on the last Saturday in June, commemorating the events with a street parade. In a November 1970 issue, the German newspaper FAZ reported on the parade in a rather critical tone, but omitted any reference to its origins a year earlier and the police attacks on queer people:

[…] With silken banners and defiant placards, a peculiar parade recently marched through New York. […] 

FAZ: ‘Aufstand der Homosexuellen’ – Vollständiger Abdruck auch in ‘Over the Rainbow. Ein Lesebuch zum Christopher Street Day’. MännerschwarmSkript, Hamburg, 2001, Seite 9.
Hrsg.: Detlef Grumbach.

When did we start celebrating CSD?

In Europe, the reference to the birth of CSD, the “Stonewall Riots”, only became public eight years later. All of a sudden, the euphoria for CSD really took off in Europe. What had previously been perceived by the public as a fun parade now became an event designed to raise awareness in the fight for equal rights. Numerous organizations and associations begin to bring Christopher Street Day to our cities. The main focus is now on raising awareness of the rights of queer people and drawing attention to alternative lifestyles.

On June 30, 1979, the “Schwule Aktion Bremen”, the “Schwule Aktion Köln” (in cooperation with the Gay Liberation Front) and the “Homosexuale Aktion Westberlin” organized the first CSD-related events under the names “Gay Pride International – Gay Carnival” and “Gay Freedom Day”. A demonstration took place in Stuttgart with around 400 participants. However, there was still no uniform structure. In Bremen, Gay Pride International had the character of a demonstration procession from the main train station to the market square, while in Cologne there was an evening event with films, information stands and a dance party. The first CSD event in Austria took place on June 26, 1982 with a torchlight parade. Since June 1996, Christopher Street Day has been held in Vienna under the name Rainbow Parade.

At all events in Germany, the focus was on calling for the abolition of Section 175 and the elimination of discrimination.

Section 175 of the German Criminal Code existed from January 1, 1872 (entry into force of the Reich Criminal Code) until June 11, 1994 and criminalized sexual acts between persons of the male sex.

Christoper Street Day in Europe

Pride parades now take place throughout the summer in Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland. They also take place in Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Hungary and the United Kingdom.

The continued importance of these events can be seen in several negative examples of tolerance towards the LBGTQ+ community in Europe, such as the anti-trans sentiment in the UK or the legislation in Hungary, where homosexuals and bisexuals are relatively protected, but the rights of trans people are increasingly being curtailed.

Christopher Street Day in Eastern Europe: why pride and solidarity are so necessary

Another major negative example can be found in Poland. In 2004 and 2005, the event was banned by the city council of Warsaw. In 2006, several celebrities announced their support by attending due to the high level of attention these bans attracted in Europe. The Polish government responded by calling on Wojciech Wierzejski to take action against them with truncheons.

In 2007, Poland was found guilty by the European Court of Human Rights of having fundamentally violated the right to freedom of assembly.

After a few calm events, the situation came to a head in 2019 when a demonstration of queer people in Bialystok in eastern Poland was attacked by right-wing extremists and hooligans from the soccer scene.

A demonstration by homosexuals. Symbolic image
Source: Peter Kneffel/dpa

The 800 or so LGBTQ+ demonstrators were pelted with bottles, paving stones and firecrackers. As if that wasn’t shameful enough, Polish President Andrzej Duda followed up during his election campaign by saying:

“LGBT people are not human beings, but dangerous ideologues, even more harmful than communism.”

The reaction from the population was an even greater disappointment for tolerance and acceptance. Around a third of Poland declared itself an “LGBT-free zone”. The organization “Atlas of Hate” published a map on which these zones were marked to illustrate the dramatic extent to which hatred of queer people has reached in Poland.

This map shows how great the rejection of the LGBTQ+ community is in Poland.
Source: Screenshot

Not only in Poland and Eastern Europe…

As if all this wasn’t sad enough, we are currently seeing this development in more and more Eastern European countries. Instead of taking the desired steps forward, some governments are explicitly taking a backward stance and threatening the freedom and physical integrity of the queer community in their countries.

But even in Western Europe, the rainbow does not always shine everywhere. In German-speaking countries, for example, there is currently massive resistance, even outright attacks, against the concept of gender-inclusive language. The German Bundestag recently voted against the so-called Self-Determination Act, which was intended to make the path much easier for trans people. Even within the Green Party, a party that is considered to be particularly LGBTQ+-friendly and which proposed one of the two bills, anti-trans positions are repeatedly voiced and expressed at party conferences. In the UK, there is outright agitation against trans people.

CSD is only for homosexuals? Wrong.

And that’s exactly why it’s good, important, valuable and the only right thing to do to celebrate Christopher Street Day. We should all, whether queer, trans, bi, homosexual or asexual, straight, BDSMer:in or vanilla, show up at the Pride Parades, the Christopher Street Days or the “gay carnival” events if we have the opportunity to express our support.

Because it is no longer just about showing that homosexual, queer and trans people exist, no longer just about commemorating a dramatic case of arbitrariness, police violence and discrimination from the past. It is about the here and now.

We all have a duty to stand up for the rights that we enjoy here but are trampled on in other countries. That we show our siblings and non-binary people from the LBGTQ+ community that even if we don’t share their orientation, sexuality or identity, we are there for them and we will defend their rights.

This privilege should not be a privilege. It should be a given.

By the way: If you are affected by hate and hate speech, especially online, you can find an interesting guide on how to protect yourself here.

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