There were no floats, no feathers, or corporate sponsorship.
It certainly wasn’t a month long.
When the first Pride Parade started over half a century ago in front of the closed Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village, it was meant to be a one-time event.
On Sunday, June 28 1970 at around noon in New York gay activists’ groups began their own pride parade known as the Christopher Street Liberation Day to recall the events of Stonewall one year earlier
Less a license to party, being out, loud and proud was a political statement. Gays would not stay in the shadows anymore.
Stonewall would be their tipping point.
Early Saturday morning on June 28, 1969, police staged a raid at the Stonewall Inn, a mafia-run gay bar in Greenwich Village. Unlike the many previous raids that had taken place at the Christopher Street establishment, this time the bar’s patrons fought back.
The Stonewall Riots, as the days-long protest became known, was the spark that ignited the modern-day LGBTQ-rights movement.
To put in perspective the popular sentiment about gays at the time, one need only look at an article that ran on July 6, 1969, in the New York tabloid The Daily News about the Stonewall raid, titled “Homo Nest Raided Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.”
And stinging mad they were.
Inspired by the African-American riots in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and massive protests against the Vietnam war, young gay activists demanded faster and more radical change.
They decided to march.
As they gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn that June, the brave marchers were few- just a couple of hundred people. There were groups from Washington, DC, and Boston, and college organizations from Rutgers, Yale, and Columbia. Some transgender people who were there at the time said that organizers asked them to march in the back, but they refused.
Gay activists Lilli Vincenz and Cliff Witt produced a documentary of that day, Gay and Proud interviewing people anonymously.
In films of the time, the marchers look determined. Many wore long-sleeved, button-down shirts. They carried red, purple, and yellow banners – there was no rainbow pride flag yet. And they had signs on tall wood sticks that said things like, “Gay Pride.” And “I am a lesbian and I am beautiful.”
As they wound their way towards 6th Avenue marching uptown, other people started joining in. By the time it arrived 50 blocks north, at Central Park, the crowd numbered in the thousands. The march stretched 15 blocks — three-quarters of a mile — at its longest, The New York Times reported.
The curious observers on the sidewalks, maybe two or three deep mostly watched in silence. So many people were still in the closet, the straight world was simply unaware of how many LGBTQ people lived and worked beside them.
Standing there, arms crossed, some shook their heads and smiled a little, thinking it ridiculous.
But there were darker notes.
There was a sign referencing Sodom and Gomorrah. One man told the filmmakers the march was a communist plot to divide America. He called it “disgraceful and disgusting.”
Some things haven’t changed.
As the day progressed, the marchers started to relax and enjoy themselves. They held hands. They chanted things like, “Out of the Closets and Into the Streets.”
When they got to Central Park there were thousands of them. Some reports later said two thousand. Others said five thousand.
There were no speakers because the organizers hadn’t thought they would even make it to Central Park.
But it was happening!
It was “gay-in” like the “be-ins” of the time.
There was folk music and a kissing contest. Men rested on their lovers’ stomachs and women leaned gently on their partners’ shoulders. Daring stuff for the times.
The NY Times wrote that marchers “gathered to protest laws that make homosexual acts between consenting adults illegal and social conditions that often make it impossible for them to display affection in public, maintain jobs or rent apartments.”
Around Sheep’s Meadow, the protesters voices reverberated through the park as they shouted at the top of their lungs: “Say it loud, gay is proud.”
Today again we proclaim“Say it loud, gay is proud.”
Happy Pride Day!