What New York City's Very First Pride Parade Looked Like
The annual New York City Pride Parade is happening June 25, 2017. And, with LGBTQ civil liberties threatened under the Trump administration, this year's events feel even more significant than ever. The very first Pride parade in New York came a year and a day after the spontaneous protest that took place in New York following the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, which sparked the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The Stonewall Inn is now the site of a national monument.
The National Parks Service website described the raid as a turning point for the LGBTQ community. The New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn in the early hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969. "The reaction of the bar’s patrons and neighborhood residents that assembled in the street was not typical of these kinds of raids," the website notes. People fought back, which led to six days of demonstrations. According to the National Parks Service:
"Stonewall is regarded by many as the single most important event that led to the development of the modern LGBT civil rights movement. The riots inspired LGBT people throughout the country to organize, and within two years of Stonewall, LGBT rights groups had been started in nearly every major city in the U.S. Stonewall was, as historian Lillian Faderman wrote, 'the shot heard round the world...crucial because it sounded the rally for the movement.'"
One year later, the LGBTQ community took to the streets of New York for the very first Pride parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots and protest for civil rights violations against their community.
"Craig Rodwell, who owned the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, went around to all the groups that had popped up after Stonewall saying we should organize a first-anniversary march," activist Jerry Hoose is quoted as saying in Timeout New York. "We had gotten death threats, so we went up Sixth Avenue really fast — it took maybe an hour to get from Christopher Street to Sheep Meadow. When we started, there were maybe a couple hundred people. But as we kept going, the crowd grew and grew and grew. No one who was there can talk about it without getting goose bumps. I always say that gay liberation was conceived at Stonewall in 1969 and was born at that first march."
Michael Brown, founder of the Gay Liberation Front, called the watershed event "an affirmation and declaration of our new pride" in the New York Times on June 29, 1970. It's still not clear how many people marched in the parade, with estimates varying from 3,000 to 20,000. Similarly, Pride parades also took place in Los Angeles and Chicago.
The Village Voice published a first-person account of the historic event. Written by Fred Sargeant, the story describes how the march gathered momentum as it traveled up Sixth Avenue.
"I stayed at the head of the march the entire way, and at one point, I climbed onto the base of a light pole and looked back. I was astonished; we stretched out as far as I could see, thousands of us," Sargeant wrote in the Voice in 2010. "There were no floats, no music, no boys in briefs. The cops turned their backs on us to convey their disdain, but the masses of people kept carrying signs and banners, chanting, and waving to surprised onlookers."
Before Stonewall, the LGBTQ community primarily participated in silent vigils, including an event called the “Annual Reminder” in Philadelphia. "Since 1965, a small, polite group of gays and lesbians had been picketing outside Liberty Hall. The walk would occur in silence," Sargeant explained. "Required dress on men was jackets and ties; for women, only dresses. We were supposed to be unthreatening."
After Stonewall the event was moved to New York City, and Rodwell and others met in his bookshop to organize the march, which faced many hurdles during the planning stages. Organizers never imagined the ripple effect their actions would have.
The 2017 New York City Pride Parade marks another first — the first time the Pride parade will be broadcast on live television.
"After the 2016 Gay Pride March welcomed two million participants and 35 marching garrisons, it seems that NYC's LGBTQ community has become too loud to ignore, and now local affiliate station WABC-TV is getting in on the action," Timeout New York reported.
Additionally, the network will cover PrideFest, the Pride Luminaries brunch, the Rally, and the Pride Island music festival featuring Tegan and Sara, Years & Years, and Patti Labelle. Visit NYC Pride to learn more.
As you participate in this year's festivities, remember the early days of NYC's Pride Parade — it's come a long way.