Yesterday, I posted a story about LGBTQ advocates Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson being honored with statues in New York City. While there was some unnecessary transphobic pushback to the article, there was also a justifiable correction to the post. Namely, I had called the two “the mothers of Pride,” and that’s simply untrue.
But who is the real mother of Pride? Well, let me educate myself, and some of you out there, by giving a brief history on the Bronx-born woman named Brenda Howard.
A month after the three-day Stonewall riots of 1969 occurred, Howard participated in a march honoring the event. Then for the one-year anniversary in June 1970, Howard organized the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. This march then became a historic marker and precedent for several others in history, much like other LGBT organizer Bayard Rustin did for the March on Washington.
Howard, a bisexual woman who was married to a man, structured the logistics of the march. She also created workshops, talks, and other proceedings as smaller events for the festivities. This eventually led to the idea of not only a Pride march but a Pride festival.
Howard was also known for her advocacy on bi visibility, BDSM culture, and polyamorous relationships. “Bi, poly, switch,” Howard once said during a speech. “I’m not greedy, I know what I want.”
On that front, Howard co-founded the New York Area Bisexual Network in 1988. That organization still stands and helps to create a communication hub for bisexual people and allies in New York City and the tri-state area.
“The mission of the New York Area Bisexual Network is to facilitate the development of a cohesive bisexual community in the New York Area. Which in turn will promote bisexual visibility, protect the bisexual community from discrimination and bi-phobia and assist and empower our individual community members and their families to live full, rich, safe and happy lives.”
Howard also founded the first chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous specifically for bisexual people. And speaking of the March on Washington, she also lobbied for the inclusion of bisexuality in the 1993 march, which was focused on gay men and lesbians.
Unfortunately, Brenda Howard’s activism didn’t go without conflict. She was arrested several times for her advocacy work. She was once arrested in 1988 when she protested for free national healthcare, the fair treatment of women, people of color, and people living with HIVE and AIDS. She also was arrested in 1991 for fighting against job discrimination when an out lesbian in the Georgia state attorney general’s office was fired over Georgia’s anti-sodomy law.
Unfortunately, Brenda Howard passed away on June 28, 2005, which happened to be the 36th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Now, her legacy lives on in every Pride event happening around the globe.
In addition, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) launched a Brenda Howard Award to honor bisexual advocates. Winners have included her husband Larry Nelson and Denarii Grace.
What was initially a mistake has resulted in a great history lesson. But Brenda Howard’s name should be as famous as Marsha P. Johnson’s and Sylvia Rivera’s. All three were great advocates for LGBTQ rights, but one is often forgotten in time. So for this Pride season, let’s raise a glass to Brenda Howard. Without her, we wouldn’t have the freedoms and rights we so happily enjoy today.