With its annual Pride parade, festival, and community events, Washington, D.C. embraces its role as a hub of the LGBTQ+ community. The District comes together during these annual June events to celebrate the city’s diversity and recognize the past and current struggle for equality.
Containing the nation’s largest percentage of residents who openly identify as LGBTQ+, the capital is also rich with historic sites related to queer activism and advocacy that are an essential part of the city’s cultural heritage. Places like New York and San Francisco may feature prominently in popular LGBTQ+ history, but the Capital City has also been at the forefront of several significant moments in the movement. Checking out these historic sites is an enlightening experience itself—and paired with the Pride festivities, is an especially apropos way to spend a summer weekend in the District.
Join the party at the Capital Pride Festival
Pride Month festivities are a highlight of the year in Washington, D.C. They kick off with an abundance of exuberant marchers, colorful floats, and live music filling the streets around Dupont and Logan Circle during the Capital Pride Parade, which falls on Saturday, June 10 this year. The beloved tradition acknowledges the evolution of these neighborhoods and recognizes the origins and importance of marching in the fight for equality.
The following day, the festivities move downtown when Washington, D.C. hosts the Capital Pride Festival on historic Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. The free and public event is the largest of its kind in the region and features more than 300 exhibitors including service organizations, faith-based groups, educational institutions, government agencies, artists, and more.
The Capital Pride concert starts at noon that day with three stages of acts. Past headliners have included Miley Cyrus, Carly Rae Jepsen, Jennifer Hudson, Meghan Trainor, Wilson Phillips, En Vogue, The Pointer Sisters, and more, as well as the best local and regional LGBTQ+ talent. It’s then followed by The Sunset Dance Party, where an international D.J. spins electronic music as revelers dance in the streets and the sun sets over the dome of the U.S. Capitol.
Reflect on progress made and future struggles
Pride isn’t all about partying in Washington, D.C. In 2009, the city became one of the first in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, and it continues to be a leader in the fight for equality. The long and rich tradition of queer activism and advocacy in Washington, D.C. stretches back decades.
Best of all, you can easily see many of the most prominent sites related to this history during a pleasant walk around the District. Interested visitors should start at the plaza in front of the Supreme Court, where, in 2015, jubilant crowds waving rainbow flags and holding signs celebrated the news of the ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land in the United States.
Next door is the Library of Congress, home to an iconic collection of materials related to the LGBTQ+ community, ranging from the poetry of Walt Whitman to the manuscripts of Frank Kameny, one of the most significant gay activists in Washington, D.C. Anyone over 16 years of age can view the materials by applying for an official reader identification card from the Library of Congress.
LGBTQ+ groups (primarily gay and lesbian) are also represented in the newest exhibition at the Library of Congress, Join In: Voluntary Associations in America, which explores our country’s long tradition of volunteering for various causes. Some groups featured in the exhibition, on view until December 31, 2023, include an early gay rights organization that began in secret in 1950 called the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, the country’s first lesbian rights group founded in 1955.
From the Library of Congress, walk west along Constitution Avenue and past the U.S. Capitol to reach the site of “The Wedding,” a demonstration that took place in 1987 between the National Museum of Natural History and the Internal Revenue Service building (the only place the organizers could secure a permit to gather). It was here that 2,000 same-sex couples assembled at this location to pledge their vows to each other and protest the lack of recognition of same-sex partners in the U.S. tax code.
From that location, you should be able to spot that iconic white obelisk stretching into the sky—the Washington Monument Continue walking west in that direction along the National Mall, where an estimated 75,000 people attended the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979. It’s a fitting spot to reflect on how much progress has been made over the previous decades while also remembering the ongoing struggles that the LGBTQ+ community still faces.
Washington, D.C. has been at the forefront of many significant moments in the push for equality for the past several decades. Today, the city continues to celebrate diversity, particularly during Pride Month, when the community comes together to celebrate and recognize the past and future struggles for LGBTQ+ rights.
Visit washington.org to start planning your trip.