Watch Footage from New York City’s First Gay Pride March (1970)

The fore­cast­ed rain held off, the poor air qual­i­ty caused by Cana­di­an wild­fires had abat­ed, and the world’s largest Pride parade stepped off with­out inci­dent in New York City on the final Sun­day in June.

It’s grown quite a bit since the last Sun­day of June 1970, when Christo­pher Street Lib­er­a­tion Day March par­tic­i­pants parad­ed from Sheri­dan Square to Cen­tral Park’s Sheep Mead­ow.

Seek­ing to com­mem­o­rate the one year anniver­sary of the Stonewall Upris­ing, when a police raid touched off a riot at the Green­wich Vil­lage gay bar, the even­t’s plan­ners took inspi­ra­tion from the orga­nized resis­tance to the Viet­nam War and Annu­al Reminders, a year­ly call for equal­i­ty from the Philadel­phia-based East­ern Region­al Con­fer­ence of Homophile Orga­ni­za­tions.

Parade co-orga­niz­er Craig Rod­well imag­ined a more free­wheel­ing pub­lic event involv­ing larg­er num­bers than Annu­al Reminders, some­thing that could  “encom­pass the ideas and ideals of the larg­er strug­gle in which we are engaged—that of our fun­da­men­tal human rights.”

In the lead up to the parade, Gay Lib­er­a­tion Front News report­ed that soci­ety stacked the deck against open­ly gay indi­vid­u­als, an obser­va­tion echoed by a marcher in les­bian activist Lil­li M. Vin­cenz’s doc­u­men­tary footage, above:

At first I was very guilty, and then I real­ized that all the things that are taught you, not only by soci­ety but by psy­chi­a­trists are just to fit you in a mold and I’ve just reject­ed the mold. And when I reject­ed the mold, I was hap­pi­er.

Look care­ful­ly for plac­ards from var­i­ous par­tic­i­pat­ing groups, includ­ing the Mat­ta­chine Soci­eties of Wash­ing­ton and New York, Laven­der Men­ace, the Gay Activists Alliance, a church, and gay stu­dent groups at Rut­gers and Yale.

Esti­mates place the crowd at any­where from 3,000 to 20,000. In addi­tion to marchers, the parade drew plen­ty of onlook­ers, some voic­ing sup­port like a uni­formed sol­dier sta­tioned at Fort Dix who says “Great, man, do your thing!”. Oth­ers came pre­pared to voice their vig­or­ous oppo­si­tion.

“He’s a clos­et queen and you can find him in Howard Johnson’s any night,” a marcher cracks when asked his opin­ion of a counter demon­stra­tor bran­dish­ing a sign invok­ing Sodom and Gomor­rah.

Pre­sum­ably the sec­ond part of this marcher’s com­ment was not intend­ed to sig­ni­fy that the gent in ques­tion had a pow­er­ful attrac­tion to the ven­er­a­ble Times Square diner’s fried clams, but rather its upstairs neigh­bor, the all-male Gai­ety strip club.

Com­pared to the flashy fes­tive cos­tumes and boom­ing club music that have become a sta­ple of this millennia’s Pride March­es, 1970’s pro­ceed­ings were a com­par­a­tive­ly mod­est affair. Marchers chant­ed in uni­son, pro­cess­ing uptown in street clothes — hip­pie-style duds of the peri­od with a cou­ple of square suits and fedo­ras in the mix.

A clean cut young man in a wind­break­er and nat­ty star-span­gled tie expressed frank dis­ap­point­ment that May­or John Lind­say and oth­er polit­i­cal fig­ures had kept their dis­tance.

Younger read­ers may be tak­en aback to hear Vin­cenz ask­ing him how long he had been gay, but grat­i­fied when he responds, “I was born homo­sex­u­al, it’s beau­ti­ful.”

By the time the marchers reached the Sheep Mead­ow, a num­ber of men had shed their shirts. The parade mor­phed into a pas­toral cel­e­bra­tion in which rev­el­ers can be seen play­ing Ring Around the Rosie, pluck­ing weeds to dec­o­rate each other’s hair, and attempt­ing to break the record for longest kiss.

A man whose bib over­alls have been cus­tomized with iron-on let­ters arranged to spell out Stud Farm express­es regret that he spent so many years in the clos­et.

Co-orga­niz­er Fos­ter Gun­ni­son Jr.’s wish was for every queer par­tic­i­pant to leave the parade with “a new feel­ing of pride and self-con­fi­dence … to raise the con­sciences of par­tic­i­pat­ing homo­sex­u­als-to devel­op courage, and feel­ings of dig­ni­ty and self-worth.”

That first parade’s mar­shal, Mark Segal, cofounder of Gay Lib­er­a­tion Front, summed it up on the 50th anniver­sary of the orig­i­nal event:

The march was a reflec­tion of us: out, loud and proud.

Enjoy a glimpse of 2023’s New York City Pride March here.

Via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Untold Sto­ry of Dis­co and Its Black, Lati­no & LGBTQ Roots

Dif­fer­ent From the Oth­ers (1919): The First Gay Rights Movie Ever … Lat­er Destroyed by the Nazis

Sig­mund Freud Writes to Con­cerned Moth­er: “Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is Noth­ing to Be Ashamed Of” (1935)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.