LGBTQ+ History Month: Gay Pride March

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New York City’s first ever Pride March was held on Sunday, June 28, 1970 (the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising), and, much to the organizers’ surprise, attracted thousands of participants. Known at the time as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, the route began on Washington Place between Sheridan Square and Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, moved north up Sixth Avenue, and ended with a “Gay-In” in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow.

At the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising on Sunday, June 28, 1970, a group headed by Craig Rodwell, owner of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, led what became the first annual NYC Pride March (then known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March). Rodwell had been an organizer of the annual Fourth of July Reminder Day demonstrations in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, from 1965 to 1969. Among the earliest significant LGBT protests in the United States, these were held to highlight the community’s lack of basic civil rights.

The last Reminder Day took place on July 4, 1969, only one day after the end of the Stonewall uprising. Rodwell chartered a bus of younger people from New York, who joined the Philadelphia demonstration but did not adhere to the strict conservative dress code, nor did they follow the “orderly” rules of conduct of previous years. It was clear that the events at Stonewall had already changed things. In October, in Rodwell’s and his boyfriend Fred Sargeant’s apartment at 350 Bleecker Street, meetings were held to discuss an action to replace the Reminder Days. In attendance were Ellen Broidy, Linda Rhodes, and other members of the newly formed Gay Liberation Front, and activist Foster Gunnison, Jr.

At the final annual Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) in Philadelphia, on November 2, 1969, the following resolution was proposed on behalf of Rodwell, representing the Homophile Youth Movement, and Broidy, of NYU’s Student Homophile League:

“That the Annual Reminder, in order to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged – that of our fundamental human rights – be moved both in time and location.

We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY.

No dress or age regulations shall be made for this demonstration. We also propose that we contact Homophile organizations throughout the country and suggest that they hold parallel demonstrations on that day. We propose a nationwide show of support.

All at the meeting voted in favor except for Mattachine Society of New York, which abstained. The march ended up taking place on a Sunday, June 28, so that more people could participate. The marchers first gathered on Washington Place between Sheridan Square and Sixth Avenue. From Greenwich Village they followed a route up Sixth Avenue to Central Park, where the march ended with a “Gay-In” in the Sheep Meadow. This incredibly brave, for the time, public march ended up attracting thousands of participants, much to the surprise of the organizers. As historian Lillian Faderman commented, “Never in history had so many gay and lesbian people come together in one place and for a common endeavor.” The annual March contributed greatly to solidifying the significance of Stonewall in LGBT history.

The first marches were both serious and fun, and served to inspire the widening activist movement; they were repeated in the following years, and more and more annual marches started up in other cities throughout the world. In Atlanta and New York City and the marches were called Gay Liberation Marches, and the day of celebration was called “Gay Liberation Day”; in Los Angeles and San Francisco they became known as ‘Gay Freedom Marches’ and the day was called “Gay Freedom Day”. As more cities and even smaller towns began holding their own celebrations, these names spread.

In the 1980s, there was a cultural shift in the gay movement. Activists of a less radical nature began taking over the march committees in different cities, and they dropped “Gay Liberation” and “Gay Freedom” from the names, replacing them with “Gay Pride”.

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