Brenda Howard: Bisexual Activist and The Mother of Pride
Is Pride for Bis?
Of course Pride is for bi people! Though many LGBT+ people may not realize it, Pride was first invented by a bi woman named Brenda Howard.
Though bi people often feel invisible or marginalized at Pride month celebrations, and within the LGBT+ community overall, the LGBT+ community owes its bi members credit for the existence of Pride celebrations as we know them today. Without one bi woman in particular, we wouldn’t have Pride Month or Pride parades. Brenda Howard, a bi, polyamorous LGBT+ activist is known as the “Mother of Pride,” and for good reason.
Who Was Brenda Howard?
Brenda Howard is known throughout the LGBT+ community as the “Mother of Pride. Before becoming a well-known LGBT+ activist, she grew up in New York. Brenda Howard attended Syosset High School and earned an AAS degree in Nursing from the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
In the late 1960s, Brenda Howard was very active in the movement against the Vietnam War. She lived in a commune of anti-war activists and draft resisters in Brooklyn, New York in 1969. She also became involved in the feminist movement soon after this as well. As with many other women who were part of the anti-war movement in the US during this time, Brenda Howard was critical of the military’s domination by men.
As a bisexual woman, Brenda Howard was most well known for her work as an LGBT+ and bisexual activist. Because of her involvement in coordinating a rally and the Christopher Street Liberation Day March to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which then evolved into Pride Day, and then into Pride Month, Brenda Howard became known as the “Mother of Pride.” Brenda Howard’s legacy lives on today in the annual LGBT+ Pride celebrations that are now held all around the world during the month of June. Brenda Howard is also credited with popularizing the term “Pride” in connection with these celebrations.
Brenda Howard was an active member in several LGBT+ organizations in New York, including the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, ACT Up, and Queer Nation. Because these LGBT+ organizations tend to not meet the needs of the bisexual community, Brenda Howard co-founded the New York Area Bisexual Network in 1987 to help to coordinate services specifically designed to serve the region’s bisexual community. In addition to the organization that she co-founded, Brenda Howard was also active in the bisexual activist group BiPAC. Outside of her home state of New York, Brenda Howard also worked on the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
In addition to being openly bi during a time when bisexuality was still very much stigmatized, even within the LGBT+ community, Brenda Howard was also openly polyamorous. Sadly, she passed away on June 28, 2005 after a long battle with colon cancer. She is survived by her long-time partner Larry Nelson.
Bi, Poly, Switch—I'm not greedy, I know what I want.— Brenda Howard describing herself, as quoted in 2013 by lgbthistorymonth.com, a project of Equality
The Christopher Street Liberation Day March
While the Stonewall Riots were one of the most iconic moments in LGBT+ history, it was the march commemorating the anniversary of this event that would eventually evolve into the month-long Pride celebration that the LGBT+ community now celebrates around the world every June. One of Brenda Howard’s major contributions to the LGBT+ community was her work in organizing the Christopher Street Liberation Day March to commemorate first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This march was one of the first public events where LGBT+ people proudly and publicly claimed their identities.
The Christopher Street Liberation Day March was a turning point in LGBT+ history, as LGBT+ people, for the first time, demanded to be seen by the general public for who they were. This iconic parade in New York influenced other cities around the world to organize similar events.
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.— Larry Nelson, Brenda Howard's partner, in "Remembering Brenda: An Ode To the 'Mother of Pride'"
The New York Area Bisexual Network
Another major contribution Brenda Howard made to the LGBT+ community was her involvement in organizing a network for the bi community in her local area. After a long history of LGBT+ activism, Brenda Howard co-founded the New York Area Bisexual Network in 1987. The New York Area Bisexual Network is a central communications network for bi and bi-friendly activist groups throughout New York City and the surrounding tri-state area. Brenda Howard modeled the New York Area Bisexual Network after other successful regional bisexual networks, including the East Coast Bisexual Network (now known as the Bisexual Resource Center) and the Bay Area Bisexual Network.
According to the New York Area Bisexual Network’s website:
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.
The 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."— Tom Limoncelli, in BiSquish, July 27, 2005
What Does “Pride” Mean to the LGBT+ Community?
LGBT+ Pride events and celebrations are an important part of the LGBT+ community. Pride Month as we know it today grew out of the events organized by Brenda Howard, particularly the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. Brenda Howard also had a hand in popularizing the term “Pride” in relation to the LGBT+ community. This sense of Pride helps to hold together the LGBT+ community and to keep us strong in the face of adversity.
The term “Pride” promotes positive attitudes against discrimination and violence toward LGBT+ people. “Pride” also promotes self-affirmation, dignity, equality rights, increased visibility as a social group, building community, and celebrating sexual diversity and gender variance amongst people who identify as part of the LGBT+ community. The term “Pride” stands up against “shame” and “social stigma” to promote LGBT+ rights movements around the world.
Without the selfless work of bi activist Brenda Howard, the LGBT+ community wouldn’t have the Pride celebrations that we have come to know and love each June.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber