Gay Pride: Exploring a Movement, Past & Present

Students learn about the history of discrimination against LGBTQ people in the U.S., and about why June is Gay Pride Month. They explore gay rights movement history, learn about LGBTQ trailblazers, and consider the important role of allies. 


Students will: 

  • Learn about the history of discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender people in the United States

  • Learn about the history of Gay Pride Month, which is in June

  • Learn about the movements for equal rights for gays, lesbians and transgender people

  • Look at examples of people who have been trailblazers in the movement for equal rights

  • Examine their own assumptions about privilege and heterosexuality and how anti-gay discrimination affects everyone 


  • Research

  • Critical thinking 

Materials needed: 

  • Today's agenda on chart paper or on the board

  • Chart paper (or space on the board) for writing timeline and ideas

  • Copies of timeline of gay history


Additional resources:

  • Copies of historical documents and exhibits can be found at
  • More information about the Stonewall riots can be found via Google or here (from PBS).                                                                                                    




Ask students to share a time when either they themselves or another person stood up for someone who was being discriminated against or made fun of (perhaps because of a different accent, the clothes they wore, their body size, etc.). They can use an example from their own lives or something they witnessed.

Check agenda and objectives


Movements for Equal Rights: A Short History 

Note to teacher:  Before beginning this discussion, please read this fairly simple explanation of different sexual identities from the University of Michigan.
Ask students if they have been following the news about marriage equality - that is, marriage rights for people who want to marry people of the same sex. Several states now allow same sex marriages, and the federal government recognizes these marriages as legal. This means that  gay or lesbian couples can now receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples, such as Social Security when one spouse dies. 
You may want to explain some terminology. A hundred years ago, people who were sexually attracted to people of the same sex were called homosexuals. Starting in the 1960s, many people began using the terms gay (primarily for men) and lesbian (for  women). Today, the word gay is often considered too limiting, and so people instead refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people as "LGBTQ." People who call themselves "queer" have reclaimed a formerly negative word to signal their refusal to be confined by society's definitions. 
LGBTQ people have existed in every culture and have made important contributions to society throughout history. Today, we will learn about some trailblazers who have worked to make the world safer for LGBTQ people and why people celebrate June as Gay Pride Month (or Pride Month) in many communities throughout the world. 
Nevertheless, there is still a lot of prejudice, discrimination and misinformation about LGBTQ people. This map shows what kind of discrimination exists around the world. 
The United States has a long history of discrimination against LGBTQ people. In the 1950s, they were not allowed to have federal government jobs (and in many states they can still be fired from some jobs).  Homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and many people thought that being homosexual led to becoming a criminal.
Today, being gay or lesbian is not considered a mental illness, nor are gay people considered any more likely to be criminal than anyone else.  However, discrimination and prejudice continue. In the United States,  LGBTQ youth make up an estimated 40% of homeless youth; many were kicked out of their homes by parents who could not accept their sexual identity.  Because of discrimination, LGBTQ young people are four times more likely to attempt suicide than non-LGBTQ young people.
Fortunately, a powerful movement demanding full rights and respect for LGBTQ people has made huge progress in overcoming discrimination in the United States and many other countries around the world.

Exploring the History of the Gay Rights Movement

Hand out this timeline of movement activity. 
Ask students to break into groups of four. Give them a few minutes to read the timeline. Ask students in each group to talk about what they find most interesting or  have questions about.
Suggest that they look at the years when their grandparents would have been young, when their parents or guardians were young, and when they themselves were younger. How have public attitudes changed for these generations?
Reconvene the whole class and ask for highlights from each group. What are their questions? Note the questions on chart paper. You might ask for volunteers to research these questions.

Stonewall and Gay Pride Month

Give students some background about Stonewall and Gay Pride Month based on the information below. Note: This discussion is about courage in standing up to prejudice. If students make comments that veer toward sexual suggestiveness or other unhelpful directions, be relaxed but stay focused and don't let the discussion be derailed.
At one time it was illegal to serve alcohol to gay people in New York. Therefore, even when people went to what were known as "gay bars," they could be arrested at any time. It was common for police to raid gay bars and arrest the people in them.
The Stonewall Inn was a bar in Greenwich Village, which at the time was considered one of the largest communities of gay people in the country. Early in the morning of June 28, 1969, police raided the bar. But this time the patrons didn't hide their faces and climb into the police van or try to run out the back door.  They fought back, starting what were called the Stonewall riots.
The publicity brought more people to the Village to demonstrate against police harassment and laws that made it illegal for gay people to buy drinks. The protests became a demand for equal rights. While LGBTQ people had formed gay rights groups in the past, many were afraid to join, fearing that they would lose their jobs, their friends and their family if they "came out."
In the wake of Stonewall, gay rights activists formed the Gay Liberation Front and planned protest marches. An activist named Brenda Howard became known as the "Mother of Pride" because she coordinated a rally and then a march to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (the first Pride march). She also thought of having a week-long series of events around Pride Day. The rainbow flag, which represents the diversity of the LGBTQ community, first flew at a Pride parade in San Francisco in 1978 and remains a common symbol of gay pride. 

There are now Pride celebrations around the world. Most are held in June, but some are held in different months - whenever people in that country experienced a major milestone in advancing equal rights for LGBTQ people.  (In the United States, October is sometimes celebrated as "LGBT History Month" because National Coming Out Day is on October 11 and the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was held in Washington, D.C. in October 1979.)  

The Stonewall rebellion is considered the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement, though it built on the activism of others. In 1969, the time was right for building a movement. As one of the participants told historian David Carter, "There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we're going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren't going to go away. And we didn't."

Carter cautioned that "Just to concentrate on Stonewall without going into groups like the Gay Liberation Front or the Gay Activists Alliance is like studying the fall of the Bastille but absolutely knowing nothing about the French Revolution."  Stonewall was important in part because of the organizing that both preceded and followed it.


Every movement has people who are willing to stick their necks out and "live free" rather than give in to discriminatory laws and other injustices. Sometimes these trailblazers lose their livelihoods - or even their lives - because they had the courage to stand up. But their actions lay the groundwork for those who come after.
Tell students about Frank Kameny, an astronomer who worked for the U.S. government. In 1957, Kameny was fired because he was gay. Kameny fought this discriminatory firing all the way to the Supreme Court. He lost his case, but he did not give up.  He spent the rest of his life as an advocate for gay rights. He co-founded the Mattachine Society in Washington, D.C., one of the earliest gay rights organizations. He campaigned tirelessly to stop homosexuality from being defined as a mental illness, to legalize homosexuality, and to defend U.S. Armed Services members who had been  dishonorably discharged because they were thought to be gay. It took thirty years, but his bill to legalize homosexuality in Washington, D.C., finally passed in 1993.  The American Psychiatric Association dropped homosexuality as a mental disorder from its diagnostic manual in 1973.
In 2009, the U.S. Government formally apologized to Frank Kameny for firing him more than fifty years before. In July 2012, Minor Planet 40463 Frankkameny was named in his honor by the International Astronomical Union. The person who discovered this asteroid wanted to honor Kameny for his activism and because Kameny had been denied the opportunity to work as an astronomer.
Another trailblazer is Martina Navratilova, who is considered by many to be the best women's tennis player ever, if not the best tennis player ever. Navratilova came out as bisexual more than thirty years ago. She paid a big price, including millions of dollars in potential sponsorships. However, she blazed a path for many gay and lesbian athletes who came later.
Ask students if they know of any recent gay rights trailblazers in the field of sports.
In early 2014, Michael Sam, a college football player who, it was assumed, would be picked in the NFL draft, came out as gay. He was the first openly gay college player. Later, when he was picked by the St. Louis Rams, he became the first openly gay NFL player. (See our TeachableMoment lesson.) 
In 2013, Jason Collins of the NBA came out as gay. (See our TeachableMoment lesson.
At the time, Collins was a free agent. He was the first active male athlete in one of the four major North American professional team sports to go public with his sexual orientation.  For a while, it looked as if no team would take him, but in 2014 the New York Nets invited him to rejoin the team. Collins wears a jersey with the number 98 on it in memory of Matthew Shepard,  a young gay man whose 1998 murder in Wyoming is widely considered a hate crime. 
Martina Navratilova called Collins a "game changer," because he was the first male team player to come out. She noted that people who played in more individual sports such as tennis, might suffer for coming out, but not as much as someone who has to depend on teammates and coaches for support. She wrote about a group called Athlete Ally, which is made up of straight athletes who stand by gay athletes. (For more on this see Sports Illustrated piece.) Navratilova said of Collins: 

Collins has led the way to freedom. Yes, freedom -- because that closet is completely and utterly suffocating. It's only when you come out that you can breathe properly. It's only when you come out that you can be exactly who you are.... Millions of kids will see that it is OK to be gay. No need for shame, no need for embarrassment, no need for hiding.

Ask students if they know of LGBTQ trailblazers in other fields. Record their responses for possible further research.

Heteronormativity: How discrimination against LGBTQ people hurts everyone

As sociologists have long documented, the dominant group in any culture or community tends to think that whatever it does is "normal," and what other groups do is not. Thus, if everyone in the town has brown eyes, the blue-eyed person is considered weird. If most of the people in a country are of one religion, they think that anyone with a different religion is weird. If a majority of a group has a certain accent or dresses in a certain way, the people who don't conform are considered weird.  People who are in the minority and therefore "weird" are sometimes threatened or attacked. They can be attacked even if they simply look as if they belong to a targeted group.
Fortunately, negative ideas and harmful actions against about those who are considered "not normal" can be challenged and changed, as activists throughout history have proven.
Ask students what they think "heteronormativity" might mean in this context.  It means that some people think the things heterosexuals do are "normal" (because they are the majority), but the things gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans people do are not normal.
Ask students to talk in pairs about a time when they or someone they know has been targeted for not looking totally heterosexual. (This might be because of their clothes, hair, or other aspects of their appearance.)  Do students sometimes hear people say, "That's so gay" about anything they don't like or that makes them feel uncomfortable?
Ask students: Have you ever worn something or behaved in a certain way to keep from being teased for being "gay"?
Ask students for their thoughts about this and write them on chart paper.


Every group that has ever been discriminated against has fought against that discrimination. And every group that is discriminated against has found allies: people who are not in the group being discriminated against, but who understand that their own freedom is bound up with other people's.

Tell students about the German Lutheran pastor named Martin Niemöller, who stood up for those being persecuted by the Nazis. At first, Niemöller supported the Nazis, but when he realized what they were doing, he became outspoken. He spent seven years in a concentration camp, imprisoned even before the war started because the Nazis saw him as a threat. Nazis targeted not only Jews and political opponents, but LGBTQ people, Roma, and developmentally disabled people. Nazis made Jewish people wear yellow stars and gay people wear pink triangles so that they could more easily target and kill them. LGBTQ people sometimes wear pink triangles at Pride events or use the symbol in other ways as a statement of pride and defiance. 
The following poem, a famous one, is based on speeches Niemöller made about his experience:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Ask students to talk in pairs about a time they saw allies speaking up for someone who was being discriminated against - or when they themselves spoke up for someone who was not part of their group.

Ask for their thoughts and write them down on the chart paper.

Suggested Activities 

Ask students to pick an area (dance, theater, Armed Forces, baseball, education, economics, any field) and find the gay and lesbian trailblazers in that field.  Some have more than others, but all have someone.
Ask students to research famous gay writers, performers, and artists.
Ask students to look for articles about Gay Pride during the month of June and make a bulletin board exhibit.
Ask students to find out about discrimination in their own city or state: Are gay people allowed to be married? Are there any laws against gay people holding certain jobs?


Ask students to name one way that they could be an ally to another person this week. They do not have to commit to doing it, just to think of it.